Impromptu Podcast 37: Twitizen Journalism

Yeah, I can ramble a bit, but when someone says "Citizen Journalism" it kinda gets my back up a bit. It's not that I don't think the person on the street can't contribute to the ongoing dialogues and diatribes about everything from the crucial to the mundane. It's simply that, almost all the time, it ain't journalism. And with Twitter, there's even less of a chance... but I digress... give a listen.

twitter journalism

lovehate: Footnote to Favicon

Media authority is getting winnowed.

Even just within the world of the web we've moved from longer form blog entries to shorter form commentaries to microblogging. There has been a persistent belief, since our formalized education, that opinions should be backed up by proof or some other substantiative measure. Such examples used to be in the form of quotations with carefully constructed footnotes and bibliographies all meant to validate the expertise of our sources and the wisdom we showed in choosing them. There was an expectation that if one backed up an opinion from several so-called experts with innumerable of degrees after their names, that the opnion became valid. Authority was reduced to our effectiveness to parse the researched opinions of others and, in turn, call it research ourselves.

Blogging reduced the opinion authority down to a buy-in on the blogger's established integrity, established through experience, or some percevied experience found through a Technorati rating or the like. Opinions didn't have to be so much established as simply linked up to other opinions that, in themselves, were largely unsubstantiated. The authority of a blogger's opinion was given leeway as we expected more entertainment and information than hard facts. We didn't, and still don't, read blogs for news. We read for insight, and the currency that is not evident on most major news outlets anymore. After all, how often does CNN talk about tech gadgets or iPhone apps? Blogger authority was reduced to link selection and how many people linked back to you.

The explosion of microblogs has reduced authority even further because 140 characters offers little more than a sentence with an attached link. What we are left with is an implied opinion that can be gleaned only by a perceived "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" on the link's efficacy. But ingesting information from microblogs is often an exercise in profound filtering as one has to suffer through lifecasting and other such minutae. Not that there isn't a place for those things within the microblog environment, but when searching for information and authority, it seems like most of the credence we are willing to give a tweet or like entry is through what we assume the tweeter is trying to say, instead of what they are actually saying. A funny thing happens though with the persistent use of url shrinking utilities. With shrunken web addresses, it's become impossible to know the source before you actually go there. Relative web and domain experience gets rendered useless when trying to determine most microblog authority. Much of any positive or negative expectation comes down to the microblogger's avatar.

And so we move from footnote to links to avatar with the ultimate reduction in newsfeeds and the shortcuts that take you there from your row favicons on your browser's bookmark bar. A small pixellated area of real estate becomes the annotated bibliography of your life. Where the grad student still spends months putting together annotated bibliographies for research topics, we have reduced years of research to tiny graphics. If anyone asked you to rate or assign a value to any of those favicons, you could probably talk for minutes or hours on each one. You could rate their effectiveness, efficiency and usefulness to you in your daily browsing. Authority for you has been reduced to a small pixel box that guides your day to day web experience.

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: 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: Monetizing Microblogging

One of the greatest things about the web is the freedom that it gives to explore and browse at will anywhere on the continuum between the sacred and the profane. That freedom is further enhanced largely by the fact that other paying for your PC and your monthly server usage, most things can be done for free. Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter's hundreds of millions of users grow exponentially all based on the fact that someone is offering them up a service for free.

Now let's face it, free doesn't necessarily mean your eyes won't wander to the seeming wallpaper ads that start to creep up the sides of your profile pages on MySpace and Facebook. But the ads are just that - wallpaper, and wallpaper becomes fairly innocuous to us as time passes. Quite truthfully, while I know there are side-scroller ads every time I'm on Facebook, I can't for the life of me remember even one by name. And so I continue to equate my media desensitization to free Facebook.

With the expectation of Twitter monetization sometime this year, the question remains: how does one monetize a microblog?Imagine if Facebook could only monetize the status updates... what would they do? I, though not the first or last to wander through such meandering miasma, will try to offer a few possible alternatives for what you might be seeing in your Twitter (or tweets') future.

1) Offer up a Pro Version

Such a Pro version would be a subscription type of service that would offer a couple of dozen customization options, maybe an "official" Twitter client, a 12seconds or Seesmic-like video option, and an opt-out choice on Number Two.

2) Tweet Ads (full Twitter Corporate Accounts)

Whether only once, or once a day, big name companies will buy into forcing tweets onto your page. Picture a Coke or Pepsi ad coming up with a special image or flash animation. Companies could tweet links to Twitter-only coupons and special offers. Dell has done this to great success with it's followers. If the follow choice was taken out of the equation completely a company could ensure millions of direct views a day... maybe they pay extra to keep it at the top of your list for 24 hours.

3) Tweet Ads (specific users/follwers)

Full Twitter ads would cause an uproar, though this uproar could be alleviated if the Top 20 were enlisted to support such a campaign. Imagine if Kevin Rose or Leo Laporte was offered 10, 20 or $50,000 from a soft drink company to push one tweet a day on their followers. Imagine if Jason Calacanis was offered $100,000 for a month's worth of Tesla Tweets. What if Robert Scoble was paid the same amount for permitting Palm to pitch the Pre? Would the loss of the disgruntled followers dissuade from the money to be made? Twitter could act as the agent for such marketing and retain sole denial over any independent ad pitch.

Let's face it, if Twitter's monetization ideas are too harmful to the service, it will have to be the Top 20 who effectively kill them.

4) Expand services

Maybe, now that Twitter has ceased to be a real website presence and more of service, it's time for them to get into the Social Networking game full bore: profile pages, widgets, etc.. We're all looking for the next Facebook killer even before Facebook has outstretched MySpace in the US. Perhaps Twitter could provide the social networking platform for the upcoming decade.

While these choices may range from likely to out-of-reach, the simple truth is that VC funding doesn't last forever. With the initial round Web2.0 deaths or fade outs already at our door, Twitter may realize that while the writing's not on the wall, someone's has started to circulate Sharpies. They're stuck between the Scylla and Charybdis - a next step is imminent, but do your take the chance on monetizing, make a mis-step, and start to fade, or do you start to listen to buyout/merger offers while the service is still seen as pristine?

With Fail Whales behind and dollar signs ahead, someone's set to make a bundle if they can walk the fine line between mildly annoying users and plain pissing them off. Walk like a prophet, or run at a loss.

a tweet deal

lovehate: Content Authority on the Web

Web2.0 has taken us to a place where we now have the tools to disseminate any information far and wide through networks of contacts, friends, followers, etc.. Since the web has also become the great repository of content, one would think that the two naturally go hand in hand. And in many cases they do just that. We are about to hit a point, however, where a traditional media critic would shake their head and most people would wander blindly.
We have become far better educated on the workings on traditional media than the outlets would like to have us. For those who care to look, it's not difficult to see that television, radio and print media skew content to affect advertising. In fact, many of us, while we would like to wag our fingers in shame, often just give a wry smile of self-satisfaction that we have once again caught sight of the wizards behind the curtain. We assume there is an agenda behind everything. We're jaded. We may not know the content gatekeepers by name, but we know their motivations and, thus, infer their tactics.
And we do begrudge them in our own ways. Maybe it's because they've cancelled our favorite television show because the ratings never took off. Maybe it's because I can't listen to an afternoon drive time personality without four minute commercial breaks every ten minutes. Maybe it's that my local arts & entertainment weekly seems more concerned with filling up pages with ads for massage parlors and escort services than reporting on movies or music. But no matter how much we begrudge them, we reluctantly "get it" and grin and bear it from week to week.
This is what the traditional media critic understands, condemns and rails against when they think it can make a difference. We try to peddle whatever influence we may have with the gatekeepers to shape our vision of a medium more friendly to the consumer. After all, "shouldn't the public airwaves belong to the public?" we decry in our moral outrage.
Over the past decade for most (and two decades for some) the trickle of information from traditional media outlets to online ones has turned to torrents. Where traditional media often suffers from a lack of original content, the web has an abundance. Where traditional media has stifled creators to fitting a formula for acceptance, the web (on many levels anyway) is free of formula and parameters. If you want to post or upload something, go right ahead. But how many people could get any of their YouTube content broadcast on traditional media outlets? The gatekeepers that we view so cynically would never let an untrusted, unproven element enter their content. Their filters are what has made their media so safe, constrained, and, in many ways, boring.
The New Media critic is one that is more overwhelmed in trying to keep up with, and report on, the vast array of content and technologies. They write articles on websites, blogs, microblogs, streams, aggregators, sms, feeds and every different flavor and alpha and beta associated with them. What I think many of them are missing, or maybe just can't think of an audience interested to hear about it, is the incumbent problem that arises from a system with so much unrestrained content: new media is still media. The rules will remain the same. In an ocean of content, the end consumer needs a boat to sail on - i.e. gatekeepers have evolved from other popular consumers who have been given such authority.
The oft-regurgitated and imitated internet memes are not the result of someone in a suit wringing their hands together in Montgomery Burns-like Machiavellian glee. Instead, maybe it's through sites that offer "suggestions" or "favorites" and then ratings on the favorites. Maybe it's through thousands re-Tweets and site hits based on an innocuous post from a someone with 50,000 microblog followers. And it's not just memes, there is a small group of web authorities that knowingly or unknowingly craft popularity within the medium. And while I certainly don't begrudge them their popularity or their influence, they are a big reason why LOLcats exploded. For every popular web authority that dropped a harmless "this is hilarious" and link to "I Can Haz Cheezburger", 50,000 people went scrambling off in Prell shampoo-like fashion to tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on, and so on....
I'm not saying that New Media doesn't need a gatekeeper system of some sort, but, plainly, we just can't sit idly by and allow a microscopic trickle of content get reduced from the ocean. I'm all for the banal and the idiotic popping up it's absurdist head into pop culture once in a while. But when banal becomes popular, and popularity breeds more banality we're becoming no better than the television pilot writer who decides not to write a script that is controversial because it will never get picked up. Such a pattern reduces, not the entire web, but indeed the popular and public face of it to its lowest common denominator - far from the wild, untamed frontier we might like to think it is.
I hope the pattern isn't inevitable. I hope all the rules of old media don't apply to new media, but our lifetimes of training to be passive consumers have left few of us with any need or want to treat the web any differently from television. While many still see the user-based ownership potential over the web, two things are happening that are very old school: 1) popularity is breeding power and 2) the influx of the general populace means even more people who want to be fed instead of hunt and gather. I fear an impending timeline that will make New Media an outdated concept. The providers of content may be different, but the rules to gain access to the audience will be the same.