Thursday, June 4. 2009
Yes, Time magazine has put Twitter on the front cover and got Steven Johnson to write an article on how Twitter will change the world as we know it.
Now I must say here and now that I heard Steven Johnson talk about the future of news/magazines etc at SXSW and he made far more sense than any other "Future of Print Media" session I've ever been to. But I was also at the SXSW #kebab UnConference where Twitter was lampooned as saving us from Earthquakes, the Great Recession and the Nazi Party etc etc (ie there was a certain feeling in the room that its impact was a tad overblown..... )
Now to be fair, Steven is making a good point when he says that:
Yes, the breakfast-status updates turned out to be more interesting than we thought. But the key development with Twitter is how we've jury-rigged the system to do things that its creators never dreamed of.
Its interesting to think about why - A simple 140 characters Unified Comms platform, with a simple UI system, an asymmetric pub/sub architecture, and an open API, have ensured Darwinian development into all sorts of niches that no-on imagined. And as we noted at the time, about Dec 2007 users stopped talking about lunch and started contributing interesting stuff, and that behaviour radically transformed the service's utility from vacuous gossip to useful news filter. And the system's ubiquity has seen it used as a TV backpath, a machine2machine comms system and crowdsource search engine......
But something about putting it all on the cover of Time makes one want to take the p*ss just a bit. And it wasn't just us, there's been a joke going around the 'Net today:
Just heard that YouTube, Twitter & Facebook are to merge. New name will be YouTwitFace. (from Conan O"Brien)
Friday, May 29. 2009
There is an interesting article on Techcrunch on this subject today, and it tallies with what our own realtime search engine tells us when we point it at Twitter in an unmediated way. Techcrunch:
And no sooner does this become useful than it is gamed to uselessness. You can't go to a conference today without someone giving you a hashtag and asking you to Twt to the rafters about it. And as techCrunch notes, now digg like viral posse's are taking it to new lengths:
There is something else as well, which we found when we pointed our own realtine search engine at twitter in unmediated mode (ie not looking for any one thing, just counting the occurrences of things). We found, for example, that those top trending topics are not actually the biggest topics on Twitter at the moment, they are just ones growing fastest. There are some topics that nare much more perennial, with bigger traffic, but their rise and fall (from a higher base) is far less spectacular.
For example, today Twitter says the top trending topics are:
But our system tells us that the following topics, for example are getting more twts:
Followfriday is a friday thing, so we suspect its been moderated out of the Trending area. Identica is a big traffic driver on any day you care to look at, as is Swineflu at the moment, and as for Yay - well its just big and random. Our system also tells us that Wikipedia is a bigger story right now than any sex, lies or talent videos.
Now it could also be that we are measuring over different timespans, or counting different things (metrics veterans will know how easy this is...), but what it shows is the Twitter Trend-O-Scope can be focussed in different ways, and will then give different answers.
Tuesday, May 26. 2009
I was chatting to Caitlin Fitzsimmons and Tom de Grunwald today about whether people liked just receiving streams with only blog posts on Twitter, or preferred a stream with combined Blog post + chat. Our conclusion was that more people like the combination of post and chat.
Our own experience is that the people following the chatstream (@freecloud) outnumbers those following the blogstream (@broadstuff) by about 4:1. Both have been going for about 2 years. Sure, not all of those on the chatstream are avid Broadstuff blog readers (shame on them ) but some are and many are occasional readers, and it is indicative of the trend in my view.
I must admit I haven't looked at an RSS reader for at least a year now. In fact, on reflection, I think nearly all of the people who I used to have an RSS feed from I now followon Twitter. I far prefer seeing their posts come up, seeing the context, and maybe having a chat with them about it.
Which leads us to hypothesise that the simple RSS feed is a dying phenomenon, as Comms with Content and Context is clearly more attractive than Comms with just Content. But looking at Friendfeed's struggles to gain ground, there is an optimal amount of it - too much in the stream and its becomes unmanageable or requires filtering (hence the growth of search and filtering functions, of which more later).
Its interesting thinking about Twitter's evolution too, and where this may go:
My own experience of Twitter was that from when I joined in early 2007 to about Dec 2007 it was full of the sort of people who were telling us what they had for lunch and was roundly and justly lampooned for it. For 2007 I just used twitter to stream the @broadstuff blog feed to those who wanted to use Twitter as their RSS replacement, as "the conversation" was usually so banal I couldn't be *rsed to follow it ( I have a theory that Twitter at the time was full of the same early adopters that find throwing sheep entertaining for more than a day or so? )
But around Dec 2007 something changed - as I noted at the time, people started to realise that if you added useful stuff to the conversation, you got more out of it too and the whole tenor of the system changed. I think it was sparked by some of the more thoughtful people deserting Facebook after Beacon.
Twitter in 2008 was in its heyday in my view, heavily colonised by interesting people saying interesting things, and increasingly passing links to useful articles. At this point I started to bother using it as a comms/chat system, and started passing Broadstuff blog post links in the chatstream as well. A few people didn't like this (and some still don't), but far more did so we continued.
By early 2009 Twitter was shifting usage again, as more Slebs and their mainstream followers came on board. One could argue that this is in fact a new Context + Content mode, as fans get not just news about their favoured slebs, but deeper context about them too, fro comments and the overall stream. Sadly, they have also brought the whole Advertising/PR circus with them (monetize being the mantra). Sadly, a few early users have also gone to "pimp my XXX" mode too, as the earlier social regulation of this sort of behaviour breaks down under the weight of commercial interests.
So where now, as Twitter goes from 2m to 39m users in the space of 2009 to date? One risk is that spam so ruins the content experience that people drop back to "pure" feeds of content again, like RSS. But one of the joys of Twitter is its an asymmetric pub/sub system, so you can cull noisy and vacuous people from your stream with little overall damage. The spammers are then forced to try and @you based in comments you make which is a far more expensive transaction than email spamming. In fact the cheapest spam seems to be to spam the trending #topics, but it is a fairly trivial update to cull that.
Hypothesis therefore is that the Context + Content mode will still be a (the?) resonant mode for Twitter for some time, though how it works will change depending on message and recipient.
With respect to Search - I am aware that "Real Time Search" is a Hot Topic on Twitter just now - here it comes again but in my view this is just a component of the overall Content + Context hypothesis, its just helping the find/filter process as volumes go up.
(An interesting aside: most very early adopters used nom-de-plumes, whereas 2008/9 adopters - coming off Facebook perhaps - tend to use own-names, and in fact a few were quite vocal about everyone having to change to "be genuine" - which is b*ll*cks in a conversational chat medium as its quickly discovered if you are or not, so this had now largely died down. In fact, I wonder if we will see a rise in nom de plumes from newbies as a way of making themselves look like old hands? )
Thursday, May 14. 2009
Tonight, the popular BBC TV program Question Time put UK politicians on the hook about their lyin', cheatin' ways with taxpayer's money and dodgy expense claims
It is a fairly robust program, so a good antidote to the grovelling crocodile apologies of the last day or so...
However, more interesting is that during the show, a few Twitter hashtags were set up to talk about it, one won out (#bbcqt, its trending top on Twitter now an hour later) and a mass group discussion broke out online - ad-hoc, spontaneous and interesting to read (check the above link out). As one person noted:
When there is something REALLY good [on TV], I watch it on Twitter #bbcqt
Loathe as I am to write a paean to Twitter, yet again this tool showed its flexibility in being able to be adapted and rapidly deployed for yet another use.
(Update - interesting analysis about how #bbcqt worked over here)
Its an interesting indication of what Government 2.0 will look like - my favourite was the northern lass saying she was more than happy to scrutinise their expenses for free. Be very scared of very cross northern lasses.......
So, despite the mass poo-bah upon Twitter today*, it carries on doing interesting things...
* We told ya it was a scaling issue
Update - the #bbcqt streamsuffered a mass spam invasion after trending top as "nude cam", "free cd" spam etc posts were continually reposted onto the stream. In chat groups this is solved by viewers being able to block the offending user, but this is not yet possible in Twitter Search - probably needs beefing up against spamsters..
Wednesday, May 13. 2009
Many people in the Twitterverse are incensed today (see #fixreplies here), because Twitter has removed the ability for you to see what your friends are saying to others. Twitter claims it's to enhance service:
Based on usage patterns and feedback, we've learned most people want to see when someone they follow replies to another person they follow—it's a good way to stay in the loop. However, receiving one-sided fragments via replies sent to folks you don't follow in your timeline is undesirable. Today's update removes this undesirable and confusing option.
Actually, it's very desirable - or has been so far - because it allows you to find interesting people serendipitously. Also, it was not a default but you had to turn it on as an opt-in, so the suspicion is that this change has little to do with what users want or find desirable - TechCrunch:
In the months since Twitter has grown in mainstream appeal, and especially since it made its debut on Oprah, some of Twitter’s early adopters have expressed fear over a change in the service. With a growing number of celebrities and media presences (not to mention spammers), they worry that the service will lose its tight-knit feel. Before tonight I never paid much attention to this train of thought - after all, on Twitter, I can just follow the people I care about and ignore those I don’t. But it’s clear that Twitter is concerned with appealing to a more mainstream audience, and if that takes making a very simple service even more simple, then by golly, that’s what they’re going to do.
The Twitter argument does not make sense, why disable a feature that you have to turn on anyway, and claim it is undesirable?
A thought I had was there could be another driver, in that this feature drives more transactions so loads up the network, and with the explosion of new people coming on it may be driving a new set of scaling problems.
Update 12 hours later - ha - Twitter have admitted it is a scaling issue - us big back-end infrastructure guys know our stuff, you know )
It seems that there is a defining moment in every growing social network's life, its "Friendster Moment" if you like, when it first shafts its Old Guard members in order to gain some benefit for its new joiners.
Update - Kathryn Corrick notes that a lot of the to and fro of the Digital Britain online debate on Twitter that then led to the Unconference, and the consequent interactions, could not have happened without this feature.
Tuesday, May 5. 2009
Rumours circulating today that Apple will buy Twitter:
Google tried to buy it but was rebuffed by Twitter CEO Evan Williams, says a source with knowledge of the talks.
One can sort of understand an Apple strategic thought process, using it as a groovy unified comms service to run underneath the iPhone, and potentially make it desirable to Twitternuts and get some traffic clawback from the operators - but you don't need to buy them to get those benefits - a commercial deal would do the trick (since it makes no sense to make Twitter proprietary). And Twitter doesn't make money yet - you're probably a $ billion down the hole before any return is seen.
Possibly Apple can derive some benefit from the Twitter social network directories, but being a pub/sub system its hard to see how it is sustainable - if people don't want to hear from you, they tune out. Also perhaps there is some benefit from being a provider of Twitter apps, but again you don't need to own them.
Unless, of course, you are planning to be a mobile Soft Telco down the line, which doesn't make a lot of sense for Apple either - why own the one bit of the value chain that is commoditised by and large, and has huge infrastructure cost, when you have good end to end control anyway.
Also, why would Twitter sell - they have cash in hand for a few years yet and the growth is hardly at its zenith - but a big cash buy is always tempting to investors in "interesting" times.....
If (and this is all still just a rumour) there is something in this, my initial hypothesis would be that Apple is taking a stake in Twitter to underpin some form of commercial deal.
Update - interesting points from Nic Brisbourne
(As an interesting aside the article also notes that the founders were partially cashed out in the last round so they are now “fully aligned” with their investors – a concept we have been pushing here for some time and one that contributed to the success of buy.at.)
Sunday, April 26. 2009
Dave Winer wrote an article today on why there will be many Twitters, the gist of the argument is that:
I think he is right to an extent, in that there will be multiple Twitters, but wrong in that there will be many.
Firstly, I'd hypothesize that Twitter is not "media" per se - its closest in architecture to a unified comms (UC) system, that Telcos have had as a holy grail for years. Thus it is a Telco type system, not broadcast, and the public Telcos tend to have very few players in a space after early shakeout (the UK in mobile being a total exception with 6 (un)viable operators, most countries have 3 (or even 2) in declining order of size).
Secondly, Telcos typically have boundaries, either via network reach or licences which allow many (usually national) multi-operator ecosystems to arise. The internet does not, language is probably the first natural limit and then text characters - so the "big get bigger" faster on the 'Net. Twitter is already global.
Thirdly, I'd argue Twitter itself is massively scalable because of the one to one pub/sub architecture. The old Usenet broke down into smaller groups because it was pub/sub at the group (many to one), not individual level. But on Twitter, if you have no interest in say celebrities you just don't follow them. Also this makes it harder to spam which tended to kill earlier many-one architectures.
Fourthly, Twitter;s open API means it is evolving in a "Darwinian" mode for its users as various 3rd parties build on the tools various users want. In fact the reason earlier Telco UC systems (and Pownce, Jaiku and Friendffed) have failed to take off is that they tried to prescribe too much of the user experience - making them complex at first entry, and not work the way users wanted.
Fifthly, Dave is right that its not expensive to start a Twitterclone (we have run up an identi.ca system on an Amazon instance, costs a few hundred pounds in hosting and effort) - but its expensive to run as it scales, especially if you have to fund customer acquisition from competing services. The Slebs are going to migrate to the services with the biggest user base, the people who follow slebs (aka the mainstream) will......follow the slebs. That leaves the other services fighting for the early adopters and some % of the mass market and various niches.
So, if I was to bet, I'd bet on 2-3 major "Twitter" type plays in each language group (where strong national barrriers don't apply) and a number of much smaller niche usage services.
This is not to say that over time no newer services emerges which take over from Twitter, I think thats very likely as this whole area is still in very early stage - just that there is not space for a lot of them at any one time.
Wednesday, April 8. 2009
Twitter Growth data from Comscore
Data from Comscore confirms that Twitter has mainstreamed (not that you needed to see the data to know it - the Great Sleb Rush and plethora of books now being hastily penned on Twitter for Dummies etc is enough data) - see the chart above. (hat tip Don Dodge)
More interesting data from the Comscore report is that:
- the bulk of Twitter users are not in the USA - that's rare, to get a service so global so fast
It will soon, therefore, be time for the Early Adopters to declare Twitter over, jumping the shark, etc etc, as they move on to the Next New Thing - but we know not what it is yet.....
Monday, April 6. 2009
Following Facebook's knock off of Twitter, it was only a matter of time before Friendfeed followed suit. Here's the Blink! memo and the Broadstuff translation in glorious snark-o-vision:
We’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how to improve FriendFeed. And we’ve been tinkering with those ideas at http://beta.friendfeed.com.
Translation: We still can't work out how those f*ckers at Twitter are doing so well with such a trivial app, but after Facebook volte-farced we new we had to follow suit
Translation: Have you guys out there got any ideas on what to do?.....
It’s a pretty significant change for us, and we wanted to tell you a little about what’s new, and also, give you some insight into our thinking behind what’s changed.
Translation:.....we really, really hope you have some ideas!
We didn’t start out with the goal of a radical redesign. Our goal was simple. Make it more intuitive, more consistent, and ideally, more elegant. Here are some things that you'll find in the new site:
Translation: We wanted to do some cool, complex, hard stuff but our VC's told us to get the frigging Real Time IM stuff in pronto cas thats what Facebook has!
Once you see how cool the real-time updating is, see it on your own feed at http://beta.friendfeed.com. (You might also want to check out our tour or read our beta FAQ.) And of course, we’re still adding new features and ironing out bugs, so please let us know your thoughts and comments in the FriendFeed Beta feed and report your bugs here.
And, as well as some ideas, can you debug it too
We want to get feedback from all of you before we flip the switch to make this redesign the primary FriendFeed interface. Our goal is to simplify the FriendFeed experience and put greater focus on the things that our users have found to be most valuable. We hope you’ll like it.
Translation: Our goal is to ramp the thing and sell to some dumb Corporation and get the bl**dy
VC's off our case. We pray you'll help sort it!
More evidence, if it was needed, that 3rd generation social nets are rediscovering what 1st generation ones knew - real time chat is the killer app.
Now, for those of you who feel this is all too snarky, we'd humbly agree, and we'd even agree that the Friendfeed guys are damned smart and we hope thay get it sorted - but hey, this is our schtick so why beat us with it? (And besides, with all the fanboi's on Techmeme a Court Jester may be a necessary function )
Spoof on Twitter and the Attention Deficit disordered via the new "nanoblogging service" Flutter. The more I look at it though, the less I think its a joke and it has real applications, especially in m2m comms. Not so sure about Shttr though.....
(Hat tip Neville Hobson for this video from Slate)
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