lovehate: "Getting" Twitter

The greatest thing about the advancements in web technology are that at least, for the time being, they continue. Don't get me wrong, I understand the PC is a tool that will eventually be replaced and the net, as we know it, will become radically different. Just as we went from Grammaphone to turntable to reel-to-reel to 8 track to cassette to CD to download, the PC does have a shelf life as does the this tool we call the web. But, for the time being, the learning curve is immense and expanding.

Perhaps the greatest advantages that I've found lately, however, are not necessarily discovering new websites or technologies, but new ways to use existing ones. Through integration, aggregation, and applications, web programmers are opening up vast new frontiers in web usage and viability.

As an example, I think I'm starting to "get" Twitter. And it's not that I didn't understand the technology or the concept or even the appeal that the platform had to some people. I'd figured there was a way to use the tool properly that I just hadn't figured out (and didn't even necessarily care to take the time understand). In the same way that many non-musicians listen to a jazz improv and find it confusing or self-indulgent noodling. There may even be some who love music and understand the appeal without necessarily it liking themselves. That's kind of where I felt with Twitter.

I was aware of Twitter a long time before I signed up and even longer before I really started exploring it. Going to my page at just seemed stale to me. It seemed, for the longest time, like a weak pretender to a sole aspect of Facebook that was cool enough but not compelling. And I followed the requisite Twitterati to see them lifecasting (which I abhor) and tweeting pearls of wisdom to the adoring masses who sat around all day praying for the @reply. But, as anything on the web, one way communication isn't going to cut it and absolutely no one (I mean zilch) was following me.

I also knew that the easiest way to get followers was to ramdomly follow 10,000 people in the hopes that 1,000 follow you back. I've never been like that on MySpace or Facebook, so I certainly wasn't going to do that on Twitter. I much prefer to pursue an organic growth of followers and, at the time of writing this, I am following 117 people and have 114 followers. Of those followers I assume a certain percentage of spammers and dead profiles. I'm thinking that somewhere around the 100 mark is the stage one critical mass it took for me to find a balance between being just updates from Twitterati and more meaningful content from people that I have formed some sort of relationship with, even if it's just online. I suppose I could have reached higher numbers quicker, but I don't know that I would have cared about what anyone was saying at that point and, as such, may have lost interest altogether.

In addition to reaching this first step of discovering the benefits and relative potential of Twitter in capture my interest in more than an obligatory refresh or two every hour to see how many dozen tweets Scoble had up, the evolution of the API and its associated tools became what truly galvanized this new experience. I found Tweetdeck and, in doing so, gained a whole new appreciation from Twitter by simply being able to visualize the workings and the interactions. I started up search columns devoted to specific hastags and events. I was starting to add followers based on shared interests or, at the very least, evidence of an ability to contribute to something I cared about instead of randomly throwing darts at a print out of the fail whale.

And in learning this first step where I'm getting more out of Twitter than I thought possible, perhaps the most important thing I've learned about this, and other microblogging platforms, is that the API rules the roost. The explosive evolution of snippet commentary has all of its value in aggregation, and in aggregation the value is in the content, and in its content the value is in the users. I know enough to know that a thousand or ten thousand random follows on Twitter will not get me any of the value that 100 thoughtfully chosen contacts will.

Be it Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Plurk, or any social network, you and your content are indistinguishable. Just as when you are not in the room, all that remains is the story of you, social networks are ALL story. The stories are told through podcasts, blog posts, references, subreferences, suggestions, advice, maxims, insights, and links. The snippets are you. How many close friends do you have in real life? How many regular friends? The interaction with one friend over one drink on one night of the week will give you more content and sources for relevant aggregation than a thousand random snippets.

I think I've started to "get" Twitter, but, even better, my hope is that I haven't even started to "really get it".


lovehate: Podcamp - Peaks, Pitfalls, #pcto09

After attending, enduring, and being encompassed by my first Podcamp over the past few days, I'm hoping I can relay some of the peaks, pitfalls and go forward plans on my realtionship with with the experience.

First the good - and there were numerous great things that I experienced as a novice to the proceedings. As I've echoed in previous blog posts about conferences (especially some on the grand scale), the reason most people go to them, I believe anyway, is to be around like-minded individuals that they especially would not be able to hang out with on a regular basis. I'll be the first to admit that my immediate circle of friends and acquaintances that I see every day have little interest in blogs, podcasts or new media in general. Sure, some of them may consumer as an end-user and think they've tapped some vast arcane cool "alternative" thing, but most will get a glazed look in their eyes upon anything that sounds like jargon. So the immediate best thing about my Podcamp experience was being part of the hive mind that made up such an event.

I also met a bunch of great people. Although I'm far from a social butterfly (more like a wallflower moth that dabbles in moments of grandeur) I did get the opportunity to meet a solid group of people that I will maintain some sort of contact with especially around like events.

I like the idea of an "unconference" more than the execution. I love the anarchic feel of having anyone present about anything within the parameters of the event, but I will admit that such a process, or lack of one, does lend to some weak presenters and/or deceptively-titled workshops. I got the feeling that, other than sitting back and absorbing knowledge from someone like Chris Brogan, even experienced Podcampers were willing to sit through a workshop led by someone with less experience if there was a strong interactive component. Let's face it, we want to stamp our tag on everything as communicators and the venue of a "classroom" to wax intellectual about something we know about is too good to pass up. This said, there were still plenty of "traditional" presenters doing the preacher from the pulpit thing that can be engaging with the right dose of charisma and content.

The only trend that through me over the event was the huge number of PR people who were present on Saturday. I get that new media is still media and media is message and message is money, but, without knowing what to expect, my thoughts were that most people there would be indy bloggers and podcasters like myself instead of industry people. That's not to say the culture was bad, but it did throw me for a bit of a loop when one presenter asked how many PR people were in the room at a workshop I was in and half the hands went up out of about 80 people.

My single most gratifying moment, and one that to me summed up a combination of both the business side, the social media, the gathering itself, was the result of a challenge I threw out to a rep from Molson's via Twitter about a week ago. When I learned Molson's was sponsoring the big Saturday night event and saw the rep's name while watching the #pcto09 hashtag (which was the biggest trend on all of Twitter for the entire weekend mind you) I threw out the challenge of having a cold bottle of Molson Stock Ale waiting when I got to the party.

Thinking that, at best, it would be the prompt for some ribbing and casual conversation upon getting there (and quite honestly not even knowing if Molson Stock Ale was still being bottled) imagine my surprise when @molsonferg went behind the bar and pulled out the Stock Ale for myself and a couple of new acquaintances - those of us over 35 remember the original "Blue" with nostalgic reverence. So cheers to Molson for doing up the event right.

I can honestly say I'm already looking forward to Podcamp Toronto 2010 and got more than one prompt to get me thinking about Podcamp Hamilton. So for all you new media folks in the Hamilton, ON area, get in touch and maybe we can get something together.

Let the law of two feet live - so say we all!

Molson Stock Ale

lovehate: In Web We Trust

I remember, as children, we would get into a phase of being smart-asses with parents, teachers and friends... some of us haven't grown out of that phase, but that's the subject of another lovehate. We always sought the tangible and something we could sense before we would believe. It was this time that most of us would start questioning the faith we put in schools and churches.

And it was always the smartass in us who would question the teacher when they told us we would math or writing skills later in life. And it was the ignorant small-mindedness in us who would loudly proclaim, "If I can't see it, it doesn't exist!", or some other like absolute. And it was the same smartass in us who would find a thousand ways to disbelieve an authority figure until they trapped us in a simple geography loop like:

"Well, do you believe Iceland exists?"

And we'd say, "Sure!"

And they'd say, "Well, have you ever been there?"

And we'd say, "no."

And they'd say, "Well then, in your world anyway, Iceland must not exist because you've never seen it."

And we'd reply, "But it's in an atlas."

The truth that hammered home at that point, whether we realized it or not, was what do we put trust in, people or paper? I went through plenty of educational years where the text was gospel and the voice of the preacher at the pulpit was suspect. And now that a couple of decades are working through, I'm wondering how much has changed. Where do I place my trust these days when it comes to information about things from the useless and insignificant to things that are earth-shattering and replete with personal implications?

I'm not talking simple tendencies to believe here, I'm talking complete trust. There may the smattering of iconic Twitterers that you're willing to let guide you through your everyday tech news. There may be a number of bloggers that you're willing to accept suggestions from when it comes to your pop culture ingestion for the week. There may even be a some news outlets that you still believe completely when they report stories both good and bad. Where does our trust get limited with each and all of these sources?

If I get a phone call in the middle of the night from an unknown caller telling me to get down into my basement because a tornado is coming in five minutes, do I get out of bed and run downstairs. How about if I get that call from a neighbour?

In many ways the web has been the great equalizer of authority. While I find little reason to ever go to my MySpace page anymore, I remember how great a tool I thought it was for musicians when it first blew up because, in its nascent pahases, my music page offering up a list of a few songs was no different than the page allotted to some of the biggest recording artists in the world. The commonality between the design became the great equalizer and someone coming onto either page with no knowledge of either performer's works could make an unbiased decision on their musical likes and dislikes, not based on packaging, but on simple subjective like and dislike.

Early blogs allowed for this aspect as well, at least to a certain degree, but the proliferation of "professional" blogs and bloggers has driven a division between a trust based on content and a trust based on perception. If the content is not coming from the stylish "professional" looking site, are we less convinced that the content is true?

And as we move from the blog to the microblog (or essentially a status update) how do we then extend the trust factor. If someone who you just added to Facebook on a lark posts a status update telling you to disconnect your modem, reboot your computer and run a virus scan because a worm has just hit 90% of users on social networks, do you follow the advice? What if, instead of a little known acquaintance, it's a friend who you know is not that strong with computers? What if it's a random Twitter follower, or perhaps one of the Twitterati who should know what they're talking about? Do you follow any of these recommenders solely based on trust, or do you require back up that you could spend valuable time searching for while your hard drive gets more corrupted?

Are we that much different from the student who was willing to disrespect the authority without the paper and text backup? If the link attached to the warning, that directs us to a blog of unknown origin, spells out the threat in detail, yet we are unfamiliar with the writer of the blog, we are in a quandry. Do we trust a story of a virus more than one we might pick up from a reputed tech blog? Do we still need to see the atlas page of Iceland?

If the web is the great equalizer, how are we redefining our concepts of trust around the presenters of such information. I don't know that there are any Edward R. Murrows or Walter Cronkites out there who completely own the undivided trust of this single medium. The web's anarchic authority subjectivity is messy business that I'm quite happy to have muddled and sullied by lies and half-truths, because the day information gets presented in blacks and whites instead of millions of shades of grays and browns it currently resides in, is the day the medium ceases to be culturally relevant and instead becomes as devoid as a newspapers and television reporting.

As much as I never know who to completely trust on the web, I do have faith that the truth is somewhere out there as opposed to the lack of the same faith I have with traditional media. They used to advertise indoor Monster Truck Rallies with "We're turning the arena into a GIANT MUDPIT!" Enjoy the mudpit folks; one day it will be gone and replaced by a parking lot with lots of flourescent signs and big box stores. For now, in web we trust - so say we all.


lovehate: 25 Things I Didn't Want to Know About You

I refuse to participate in the 25 Things meme on Facebook as I don't think Facebook is a good platform for long-winded text entries and I'm half-convinced that the FB gurus started the activity themselves as a means to move people from blogging to staying on the social network du jour.

While I do admit to a lovehate relationship with lists, as evidenced in previous blog entries here and here, I will define my participation in the activity from the reverse angle and present "25 Things I Didn't Want to Know About You"

1) You wet the bed every night until you were 17... you only wet it twice a week now.

2) You voraciously defend Richard Gere's reputation on the gerbilling accusations at the pet store three times a week.

3) Your musical "guilty pleasure" is the Mamma Mia soundtrack... your regular listening habits include the entire ABBA discography.

4) You watch NASCAR, but not for the crashes.

5) You keep lube beside your clock radio.

6) You once mistook Preparation H for toothpaste.

7) You once signed a petition to make LOLspeak an official language using your Twitter name and included the @ sign.

8) You still check the bulletin board in your building every day to see if people have ripped off one of the phone number tags for the flyer you put up about your "Handmade Crafts for Sale" and then rush back into your apartment to sit by the phone with the lights off.

9) You are building a wall in your basement of empty 2 liter bottles of dollar store Cream Soda.

10) You made a conscious decision not to speak "baby talk" to your cat because you wanted him to learn the proper way to yowl for Meow Mix.

11) You have a rash and/or are chafing. (I don't care where it is or how you got it, just don't speak of it any further)

12) You speak of your child's feces like you're gazing on the golden city of El Dorado.

13) You are only fourteen months away from completing your five year photoessay entitled "Things I've Cut or Clipped From Me".

14) You never gave up on the Laserdisc format and it's "close to DVD" resolution even though it's been all but dead for twenty years.

15) You overuse unnecessary articles by always saying "The Facebook", "The Twitter", and "The Skype".

16) You always say you're not "feeling fresh".

17) You decorate your house for the Olympics.

18) You have been hanging on to old issues of Tiger Beat for 25 years because you're sure that when Kristy McNichol makes a comeback they'll be worth something.

19) You scrapbook.

20) You consider shopping a hobby.

21) You once went to a concert because you overheard someone you thought was really cute say he/she was going there and you wanted to run into them and have something in common.

22) You have a collection of soaps, shampoos and other sundry bathroom items from every hotel you've stayed at that you keep on a curio shelf and will not open for fear of reducing the product's sentimental value.

23) You think it's quite acceptable to replace every lyric after the first line of a song with mindless monosyllabic gibberish.

24) You spend fifteen minutes in every supermarket you enter evaluating the wobble of grocery carts to ensure the success of your comsumer experience.

25) You would gladly write 50 or 100 things people didn't know about you if only a whacky social network spamming activity would prompt you to.

So that's it - 25 things I didn't want to know about you... or anyone for that matter. Here's an idea; let's pass this idea around and I think we'll learn a hell of a lot more about our friends without feeling like we're playing a bad game of Scruples.


Podcast Thirty Four: Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts

Concerning employers trying to become our new social networks, tech blog entries full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, Comcast pays us to watch porn and the how I'm preparing to blow out the last candle on the integrity of popular music.

lovehate: Glitzy Corporate Portals - Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts

Sitting in a workshop to expound upon the new rollout of a client platform that will become the "new face" of employee interaction over the next few years, I am, at once, grateful and wary. I'm grateful that corporations are realizing the importance of Web2.0 and social networking apps to engage employees and encourage use of technology. I am hesitant and wary at the proclivity of employees to mesh their social networking activities with their employee activities.

The ability of an employer to camoflague their portal software to make it more user-friendly may enhance ease of use and familiarity with the work systems, but when I social network at home my interactions are far more "loose" than they would be on a work system. The informality of Twitter with its tinyurls and profile updates via bookmarklet applets allow us to perform a free association of text/image/video sharing that maybe completely appropriate and expected with my friends, followers, and even the world in general, but this same content could violate Standard Operating Procedure or Corporate License Agreements and lead to a disciplining of employees who decide to treat work relationships and non-work relationships in the same way.

I get it, if companies can make your buy into their intranet as a social network, perhaps you will feel better about your work and work from home. And if you log in from home, you can be tracked. Your work from home becomes data, and the data leads to expectation.

Allow me to clarify some of the background bias I'm entering this discussion with. By profession I'm a high school teacher. The school IS a social network and yet teachers are asked to use technology to communicate with the same children they see every day, in meaningful ways, at home. Teachers are also being encouraged to communicate with parents in similar ways. Imagine, however, that the flippant insignificance that you can brush off with a smiley in an email to a friend is misconstrued with a student or parent. Imagine my new "social network" includes a top list of "friends" that include three of my students, but excludes all others. You are starting to see the dangers of adapting social networking to professional networking.

I am also a teacher in a province where the expectation of the profession includes being a teacher 24/7. There is no end of the day bell that stops my responsibility to not only protect children (which is admirable) but also includes not stretching any social or legal taboos. And I get that the responsibility of any adult should be to protect children, but we've had teachers disciplined for not stepping in to stop a fight between students off school grounds on a weekend, when the teacher DOES NOT EVEN KNOW the students involved.

In addition to the social network portal to the employer's intranet, an iPhone/Touch app has been developed. The intranet/work server becomes your hub and everything sent over it becomes archived and is potentially actionable. While certainly easier and more fun to use, the disguised corporate hub may be loved by some and adopted by several others but how often do the practices of one portal of platform travel with you to another. Can you jump from one browser tab (where you're using Facebook and posting with a little bit of unrestricted abandon) over to the company portal where some of the same friends you have just talked about getting together for a night of intoxication are crossing the lines between personal and professional with their posts?

Just because someone adds commenting, wikis, and ratings to excel spreadsheets, doesn't mean I should be sucked into bringing them home with me. Beware of Geeks bearing gifts.

social network at work

thinglets: Shazbot! Cheryl Mork Sentenced for 3rd through 8th DWI

I don't know if she drank so that she could help see Orson, but apparently Cheryl Mork of Saratoga, Wisconsin just couldn't stay sober (and out of her car) long enough to get convicted for the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, or 7th offence of drunk driving. Instead, they had to package them all together in a tidy bundle that resulted in 3 years in prison, 180 days in jail, and 5 years extended supervision.

During her sentencing Mork apologize by sitting face first in a chair and saying, “I’d just like to apologize to my fellow human beings for putting their lives in danger.” Although she didn't add, "especially that 7th and 8th time 'cause I was really shitfaced! Na-Nu! Na-Nu!"

She was sentenced by Wood County Circuit Court Judge Zappen Jr., whose actions really hold little interest to me other than the fact that it has become my new favorite tongue twister... try it 5 times fast!