An idea of its time

strawberryj.am
History is filled with instances of simultaneous invention, also known as multiple discovery, where more than one person or team arrives at the same point independently.

Classic examples are Newton and Wilhelm with calculus, Darwin and Wallace with evolution, or Bell and Gray with the telephone. It's as though the answer was always there just waiting to be discovered and was destined to be found at that time.

But multiple discovery doesn't always have to be simultaneous; it is possible for people to reach the same outcome independently at completely different times without being aware of, or influenced by, the other. This happens when something just makes sense and takes an existing situation to its logical conclusion.

From my own experience, one instance is the notion of channels on Twitter which I first proposed in 2011, was separately suggested by a Twitter engineer in 2012, attempted with Event Pages, and which we now see evolved into "followable" Moments.

But one example I'm surprised more people don't mention is the invention of social link gathering services.

Nuzzel

Nuzzel has rapidly become a tour de force on the social web born out of the frustrations associated with content overload. Incredibly popular, loved by those who use it but it is not the first of its kind.

Strawberryj.am began in 2011 as a web based system to find and show only the most popular links shared by those you follow on Twitter with a count of how many shares each received. Sound familiar? It also let you search by specific users and hashtags. I used to use it all the time but, unfortunately, it did not survive and never emerged from beta.

I recently asked Jonathan Abrams, founder and CEO of Nuzzel, if Strawberryj.am had influenced its development but he was not aware of the previous service - to be fair, I think it did slip below a lot of people's radar hence the lack of comparison between the two.

jonathan abrams twitter

Two services, extremely similar in function and purpose, so why should one succeed and the other die out?

Nuzzel has captured the imagination in a way its predecessor never could and I can think of three reasons why:

Users

In September 2011, around the time Strawberryj.am launched, Twitter reached 100 million global active users - less than a third of its currently reported MAUs. In comparison to other social networks, 300+ million is now considered small fry but, for an auxiliary service, there must be a tipping point that allows it to maintain sustainability; a point when the percentage of Twitter users that would utilise such a service is enough.

Nuzzel, however, also supports Facebook which instantly exposes it to a much larger audience of potential users, although I suspect that it curries greater favour amongst those who link it to Twitter.

Smartphones

Mobile has changed the world with smartphones giving life to so many apps that would not have otherwise existed. While both Strawberryj.am and Nuzzel started out as web based apps the latter's native move to mobile devices has undoubtedly fuelled massive growth.

Although we were firmly in the grip of the mobile revolution back in 2011 the desktop web still controlled far more of our attention and the impact of mobile apps was not felt quite so keenly.

The rise of social news

RSS readers had been in decline for a while, with many preferring to source their news from their social networks, but they were far from dead. Google Reader closing in 2013 reinforced this move to social news which is a big shot in the arm for something like Nuzzel; it instantly boosts the percentage of users who are more likely to use such an auxiliary service.

Timelessness

Solutions are usually built in response to a particular need, often that need is an individual one that just happens to coincide with the need of others. When someone is not aware of an existing solution, but experiences the same pain points, it is not unusual for them to build a similar solution.

Some ideas are timeless and will succeed whatever the prevailing conditions but others, whilst being obvious in their need, require a specific set of circumstances to come to fruition. If conditions had been different in 2011 perhaps Strawberryj.am would have thrived and there would be no need for Nuzzel.

An idea of its time

Does the IPO herald a new dawn for Twitter?Comments

How can Twitter grow to satisfy investors after the IPO? Is change essential, will it foster much-needed engagement or does it come at a cost?

TwitterOver the past couple of years I have found myself going in circles when writing about how Twitter might develop; ideas that seemed fanciful wishes might actually become a semblance of reality. In the run up to its IPO, the company is making the news on a regular basis with much of the focus around how it will make money for potential investors, if at all, and whether a new design or functionality may contribute to this.

When the company's S-1 filing revealed that there were only around 50 million monthly US users and that mobile growth seemed to be stagnating (a worrying sign for a "mobile first" company) talk, obviously, turned to growth, where it might come from and how it could be achieved.

Mainstream

Some tech news outlets took to wondering if Twitter would ever become mainstream but, as I wrote before, being mainstream isn't just about the number of users but exposure to data and how engrained into our daily routine a service can become.

Just as when Google+ was accused of being a ghost town, seemingly low monthly active users isn't necessarily cause for alarm just yet (numbers did increase slightly in the latest figures albeit at a reduced rate) but the network does still need to expand its user base and this is indeed a challenge.

As Josh Costine pointed out over at Techcrunch Twitter's very nature could be part of its problem.

I first asked if Twitter needed to change at the beginning of last year and, while it is widely acknowledged that filtering the main Twitter feed would be a bad idea, you have to wonder about other options to both present and consume the data.

Visual

It was reported recently that Twitter is working on the next, more visual, revision of the service with new mobile apps to enhance the user experience. Part of this reworking is said to be the removal of the #Discover tab in favour of a more media led main feed. If #Discovery is to be removed, how much of its functionality is going to pass to the primary stream?

Part of my original idea for change was iteration of the #Discover tab and for it to become the default view - the main, unaltered feed would still be available. Are we seeing the network take a similar approach but by merging #Discover with the main feed?

I have no doubt that #Discover would have been far more popular if it had not been a secondary view.

Contradiction

Twitter falls victim to contradiction: it knows it needs more engagement, which is why we have the conversation view, but the current appearance is not very engaging. I have previously referred to it as being "awash in a sea of links".

At the risk of repeating myself, there needs to be enhanced discovery to allow people to find interesting content. In this context many tweets would become almost comments on those discovered items - a ready-made conversation starter.

The new @eventparrot account illustrates that although Twitter is already a real-time broadcast network it needs to make better use of the data and actually get it in front of people. By sending notifications of breaking news events via Direct Message you not only engage those who are currently online but also, because many will have either email or SMS alerts set up for DMs, draw people back to Twitter to see what's going on.

The company now also allows you to receive DMs from anyone who follows you without the need to follow them back first. This is opt in (at least for now) and is obviously designed to increase engagement (especially for brands) but could be a double-edged sword as it leaves the door open to increased message spam.

It would appear, however, that Twitter may have tried to preempt this as some are reporting that most links can no longer be included in DMs, although this could be a glitch or the first signs of a complete messaging revamp.

It's in the cards

Twitter CardA new visual approach will make much greater use of Twitter Cards and the network has been sowing these seeds for a while. Things could go further.

If more media is going to be available pre-expanded and visible in the stream then Twitter could work with e partners to provide better text summaries of news items and, maybe, allow more characters.

We are not online 24 hours a day and often miss breaking news (especially in other time zones) so why not utilise cards to summarise key tweets while you were away? Resurfacing popular or breaking content from when users were offline could be a good way of kick-starting a new wave of engagement.

Management

As has been demonstrated time and time again, people are usually terrible at managing their social circles: lists are underused on Twitter, Circles are poorly managed on Google+ etc. To counter this could Twitter benefit from employing Facebook-esque smart lists? Would automatic classification of some of our connections into pre-defined groups help us manage our feed more effectively?

Twitter placed the hashtag firmly in our minds but has since seen its implementation surpassed by the likes of Google+ inserting up to three related hashtags automatically. While Twitter has maintained its simplicity this could have been working against it.

The network could take advantage of the automatic application of related hashtags for enhanced discovery and extend the conversation especially when a tweet is identified as relating to a trending topic.

With an increasing amount of data appearing outside of the body of a tweet can the network start adding meta data of this nature to cards? It was always argued that all data had to be retained as parts of the tweet body because of those using the network via SMS but with the increased prevalence of smartphones running applications capable of displaying this data is it time for Twitter to give in or, at least, offer a two-tier service with available functionality scaling to your method of use?

All will be revealed

Twitter has been trickling out new small features regularly in the run up to IPO no doubt in an attempt to convince the market that it is innovating and has more tricks up its sleeve.

It is unlikely we will see any major changes before the company goes public as there is a danger that drastic action could negatively affect the opening share price. Although this will be a risk at any point post IPO, after the Facebook fiasco, there is a need to make a good initial impression.

Twitter has plenty of options to modify the service in an attempt to increase engagement but it all depends how far it is willing to go without over-complicating the service or alienating existing users.

Does the IPO herald a new dawn for Twitter?

Twitter going mainstream by not being social.

Not a social networkIt's hard to believe that it was over five years ago that I started talking about social media's dream of going mainstream.

I said that it would happen when social services became part of everyday life, part of what we normally do and sat invisibly in the background.

We can talk all we want about having billions of accounts but numbers are only part of the story; we need to look at how services are used. Twitter, more than the others, seems to finally be achieving this new status with the likes of TV agreements (making it the second screen network of choice) and the recent announcements of instant NFL replays and crisis alerts.

By being a data channel rather than a social channel (albeit one that allows for social interaction) Twitter is positioning itself as a bite-sized traditional media style service for the Internet age.

Context

Service updates such as the recent conversation view keep us in the social mindset but the new ethos leading up to the IPO involves making Twitter a point of discovery for anyone with or without the need to actually be social.

Social discovery is something I've been going on about for a while, especially in the context of Twitter. The service has needed a way for new users to be able to find interesting content and things that matter to them in order to invest in the platform and, possibly, start tweeting.

The #discover tab started moves in this direction but didn't iterate as much as expected. The rumours that it will be shelved in a future update is, therefore, not that surprising but a better alternative must be found.

Why Twitter?

You can see what Facebook was trying with Home: altering the context by taking your social content outside of the social sandbox. Facebook was also first to have strong connections to the 'normal web' with the Open Graph so why is Twitter the social network that seems to be making the biggest "mainstream" inroads?

There are two factors, in my opinion, which have caused Twitter to lead the way:

  • its innate simplicity, even after UI & service changes, and
  • the deals it has done for content originating outside of the network

Here is the news

Twitter made it's public mark as the go-to home of real-time, crowd sourced news as far back as May 2008 when a massive Earthquake hit China. On the ground reports from normal people "as it happened" far faster than normal media channels could manage made the world sit up and take notice of a service that had been previously seen as just a geek playground or a passing fad.

I remember watching Robert Scoble collating all the information he could find and retweeting it to the rest of us mere seconds after being published - it's a small world on Twitter!

Events such as this led many to view social, especially Twitter, as an RSS replacement years before Google decided to sunset Reader. Not only could you follow the accounts from your favourite blogs (who would be tweeting their posts) but get the thoughts of others and a wider context all in one place.

Bring this right up to date and you have shared links served up within Safari on iOS7 - social news without the need for a social app. Some have criticised Apple and Twitter for tucking this away in Safari Favourites but they are thinking "socially" rather than as Joe Public - there is a different mindset at work.

By the back door

I used to say that social would go truly mainstream via the back door (by incorporating it into our normal daily tasks) and this certainly appears to be the way we are heading with the current shift in focus.

Twitter is embracing the non-tweeters with content while Google+ seeks to expose itself to a wider audience via it's commenting service. The trick is to latch on to whatever people already enjoy doing and add a social element without placing too much of an imposition upon the user.

Twitter seems to be closest to finding the right balance.

This post is an updated version of one that originally appeared on Google+ here.

Image by whatleydude

Twitter going mainstream by not being social.

Thoughts: Twitter conversations

Twitter conversationsTwitter recently introduced an update to make it easier to identify and follow conversations "in stream" linking related tweets by a blue line and placing the tweets in chronological order (first tweet on top).

We are used to the reverse chronological nature of social streams but, to follow a thread effectively, it needs to emulate how we normally read text: all together and from the top down.

An enhanced conversation view should be welcomed but has it gone far enough? Is anything more possible in a stream-like context? By introducing the new feature Twitter has already broken convention so why not go further?

Softly, softly, catchee monkey

The new conversation view need not be the end of the line and could herald further changes in future. twitter, however, has to be careful and not rush too radical a change.

How could we move on from here? I have written before about different ways to implement more conversational structures within Twitter:

  • beyond the hashtag -> could be achieved with modified event pages
  • native chats -> could be achieved with modified event pages
  • buying Branch -> spin out conversations based on a tweet but within the context of Twitter

It is widely recognised that the Twitter feed does not suit everyone and it has never been a very strong conversation platform. In fact, the busier it gets and the more people you follow the harder it is. This is why Twitter's move to group conversations in a more obvious visual manner is essential.

The whole point of "social" media is talking to people but the Twitter feed makes that hard so that we can end up with a broadcast of contextually redundant statements and a sea of links. For the casual user this doesn't offer much value.

Twitter conversationsI went on record in the past to say that I will continue to use Twitter despite finding more utility elsewhere but the inability to have decent conversations, as opposed to somewhere like Google+, has limited my usage. It is harder to feel involved on Twitter when you are not part of a regularly conversing group.

Short and sweet

The decision to stay with the 140 character limit has been a subject of discussion for quite some time as many feel you can't have a proper conversation in such short bursts but, with a proper conversation view this need not necessarily be the case.

Social conversations tend to follow a status + comments structure and this is what Twitter has been missing. The new conversation view is certainly a step in the right direction but I still feel that the service could be bolder.

Any change to an established paradigm is obviously going to be divisive - people don't like change - but a change such as this (and subsequent user comment) shows the fickle nature of the tech press who first hailed the feature before later comparing it to Twitter's Quick Bar which was universally lambasted and later removed from the iOS app.

Thin Blue Line

The current UI change might not be perfect and will most likely be modified in future iterations but it does show that Twitter is taking conversation tracking and discovery seriously; it has to.

Personally, I hope that this is just the beginning and that more advanced views appear in future, possibly akin to my earlier suggestions.

Thoughts: Twitter conversations

What if Twitter introduced native chats?Comments

Twitter chats are an extremely popular, and many say powerful, way to utilise Twitter for specific topic discussion and it is, perhaps, surprising that the network has not made strides into this area. What if Twitter chats went native?

Twitter ChatI have made no secret of my recent personal dissatisfaction with Twitter, not as a product but as a medium in which I can express myself and obtain sufficient social value.

In case you missed it: I can't.

Facilitator

It was over five years ago that I first said "Twitter is a facilitator":

It facilitates connections, friendships, citizen journalism but what is really doesn't facilitate is conversations in situ.

Twitter Chats became the de facto way to get round this but there has been a lot of noise in certain quarters about chat applications closing because they were "killed" by changes to the Twitter API.

Twitter Chat applications manage topics by focusing on a single hashtag, only displaying tweets with that tag and then auto-appending the tag to any tweets you make from within it - this is reminiscent of my original ideas for Twitter channels.

I'm still of the opinion that Twitter needs to move beyond the core feed experience and, unlike my suggestion of integrating Branch, need not sacrifice simplicity to do so.

In house

DiscoverMuch to the chagrin of third-party developers, Twitter has a history of taking user-built functionality and incorporating it into the service. Hashtags, retweets, cashtags, URL shortening, an image upload service - the list goes on - all went in-house after proving to be popular with users.

Social discovery is key for social growth.

We have seen iterations to the #discover tab and search improvements (although neither were as ground-breaking as they might have been) but discovery and focus is still an issue.

Twitter tested Event Pages which promised to be an effective way of natively following a single topic but these disappeared, never to be heard from again.

Video

video recordingWith Vine and the recent announcement of TV ad targeting it is apparent that the company feels video is a good direction to take its service but what about a potential next step: video chat?

Skype, Google+ Hangouts and Facebook Video Calling all point towards a common destination for social with Hangouts really serving to prove the popularity of multi-participant, face-to-face communication which has yet to be matched elsewhere.

Could video chat work within the context of Twitter? Is there room within the established market for another video conferencing service? I believe so, yes as heavy Twitter users would probably relish being able to enhance their connections, just as Google+ users do, without having to leave the network.

Could Twitter purchase a company such as ooVoo which already supports multi-participant chat, recording and a Facebook app?

Native Twitter Chats?

As stated above, chats are an extremely popular way to focus on specific interests whilst working within the Twitter environment and I feel it is a prime example of user-led functionality that could be incorporated into the network.

As third-party applications remove the conversation from the stream, any solution would need to emulate this so what if Event Pages could be reborn as native chats?

To extend this idea, what if Twitter allowed for creation of scheduled "chat events" with reminders and notifications?

What if Twitter introduced "Chats on Air" with core participants in a group video chat sat at the top of the event page while others contribute, as at present, via tweets?

Live simpleKeeping chats limited to tweets would maintain consistency with the "simple" mantra championed by management which would, no doubt, preclude the inclusion of Branch-like discussions and long form posting despite the acquisition of Posterous in March of last year.

Community

Building Twitter communities is currently big news with services such as Nestivity giving users ways to engage followers in a more meaningful fashion. Providing native chats, with or without video, would serve to enhance community building whilst negating the need for users to go off-site.

Images by derekbruff, swanksalot, Katie@!

What if Twitter introduced native chats?

What next for Twitter?

TwitterTwitter is doing well for itself with burgeoning user numbers, ever more tweets, increasing revenue from advertising and the introduction of new functionality such as the #discover tab and Twitter Cards.

I have long been asking, however, if things needed to change.

I suggested a form of channels to sanitise the stream and keep topics contained which "Event Pages" seemed to agree with but then disappeared as quick as they appeared.

I thought that Twitter could iterate and develop the #discover tab, using it as the default view or a focal point for content discovery.

I also recently proposed the idea of buying and integrating Branch to add an additional level of conversation to the mix.

Depth

Twitter is a media darling, unbeatable for real-time discovery and breaking news, but I have personally felt that there needs to be something extra to back this up; something to let users take it to the next level and translate discovery into discussion - a way to get more in-depth.

Prior to the launch of Google+ I was of the opinion that Google suffered from having no "destination" as its primary business was all about getting you to go elsewhere and leave the Google ecosystem behind.

I wonder if Twitter is looking at a similar situation now that the stream is full of links.

I keep asking the same questions:

  • is the stream enough?
  • will it continue to hold the attention?
  • will it be engaging enough for users?
  • does the network need more?

Many wondered about the possibilities once Twitter acquired Posterous and I am still of the opinion that there is an opportunity to extend Twitter's functionality and remit in a way that goes beyond 140 characters, away from the main stream.

But yesterday I had a realisation, a moment of clarity.

Twitter, it's not you, it's me.

MindMy mindset has changed and I can no longer think in 140 characters but am I just an edge case?

When I first heard about, and then joined, Twitter back in 2006 I knew we were on the cusp of a new era of social. The service excited me in a way that MySpace and others had never been able.

For the past couple of years, however, I have been in two minds about the social/information network with my desire to see something else on the one hand whilst declaring its simplicity as its key for success.

Longevity

Having existed for over seven years with a largely unaltered recipe, history would appear to suggest that Twitter has a winning formula so why should it need to shake things up to cater to the likes of me?

Previous changes to the service have been absorbed and embraced by users as they have left core functionality largely unaffected but I keep wondering if living the simple life is enough to sustain the network in the long-term.

While I will still use Twitter it will no longer be a social priority but my concern for the network is that I can't be the only one thinking this way.

What next for Twitter?

From interaction to transaction.Comments

Social networks are continually widening their scope to cover more than our just connections and status updates. As usage expands and we search for ever simpler means of achieving our online goals, how far will the networks go to become everything we need in one place?

Perhaps, more importantly, will the regulators allow them?

Back in 2010 I asked "Are social platforms the next Microsoft?" and then last year "Are social networks a threat to the internet?" meaning that their remit would expand beyond social to encompass other areas thus threatening to usurp companies already operating in those areas.

We've already seen the first steps:

  • Facebook comments and the open graph extending out to the web
  • Twitter eating into its ecosystem by adopting functionality originally offered by third-parties

Despite encroaching on other products and companies, however, these actions are still intrinsically linked to social. Google combining social with the rest of its ecosystem via the social layer started to move beyond this but Google is in the unusual position of already providing non-social services but now linking them with a social aspect. Could this be seen by some as an unfair advantage?

We have already had the case of Peoplebrowsr taking Twitter to court over what it feels is unfair loss of access to the full fire-hose so what would be the reaction of companies like PayPal, for example, if social networks cut out the need for third-party payment services?

Encroachment on the normal web by social networks is already making waves but if those networks extend their remit to other areas is there going to be sufficient ill will to cause an investigation into social practices?

Buy here, pay here

From interaction to transaction

Twitter recently introduced new Twitter Card types including Product which will show info about a product and link out to it on the web. Is it a stretch to imagine that the company could implement its own e-commerce system in future allowing for direct purchase via Twitter itself - perhaps in return for a small fee for each transaction?

Give Twitter your credit card details and cut out the middle man!

A number of third-party platforms already provide for the creation of "storefronts" on Facebook but what if the social network introduced a native system?

Give Facebook your credit card details and cut out the middle man!

Just as Google has created interactive posts which can include a Buy button why couldn't Twitter do the same thing? Currently, Google's interactive posts take you to external pages to complete the transaction but what if social networks decided to own the whole process?

With promoted tweets advertisers are charged on the basis of interactions rather than impressions so why not implement a system to charge per direct sale? Twitter's ad sales are said to be approaching $1 billion a year but inbuilt e-commerce could provide yet another revenue stream.

Give and take

Deep linking from the new Twitter Cards to mobile applications may be seen as the company extending an olive branch to developers by allowing them to build value but what happens when Twitter wants a piece of the resultant action?

European privacy regulators have already investigated Google over the single privacy policy so it is perhaps just a matter of time before social networks over-extend their reach and we hear calls of "monopoly" both from regulators and those services who have built a business on the back of these social platforms.

This post builds on initial thoughts over at Google+ here.

Image cropped from a Brent Moore original

From interaction to transaction.

Facebook’s updated news feed owes as much to Twitter as it does to Google+

Facebook new news feedMuch has already been written about the new redesign for the Facebook News Feed (and I have purposefully tried to avoid most of it) including the inevitable comparisons to Google+ but that is only natural - Plus is constantly compared to Facebook after all.

I have said a number of times about how products and services will gravitate towards the "social norm" because of trends and customer expectations. Facebook says that the new look is following current trends for cleaner apps and a more visually appealing approach so, to call the new News Feed a Google+ clone is too short-sighted.

Conformity

Just as with individuals, products and services are influenced both by competitors and current prevailing themes; when writing about social influence recently I stated:

Normative conformity is compliance with the influence of others so that we may be liked and accepted. There is no guarantee that there will be an attitudinal shift but there will be a behavioural shift to conform with the social norms of the influencing group.

For products and services conformity means adapting to current fashions and the whims of your customers; since the rise of services such as Instagram and Pinterest the fashion has been for an increasingly visual web resulting in images and videos taking priority over the written word.

Competitors constantly influence each other - Google+ recently rolled out new profile pages with larger cover photos, for example, just as Facebook, Twitter and App.Net have all done before.

#f5f5f5; border: 1px solid #e0e0e0;">"Conforming to social norms creates a degree of homogeneity with periods of innovation being short-lived" (Tweetable)

Clean and consistent

Rather than just copy Google+ (a service currently in the ascendancy) Facebook has taken a leaf from Twitter's book in designing a simplified and unified experience. Twitter sought to make the core user experience with its network across all platforms as consistent as possible and Facebook has followed suit whilst realising that a "mobile look" is cleaner than the existing web site.

Despite redesigning both desktop and mobile versions of its service a number of times Google has not yet achieved parity between them with key functionality not being available for smartphones or tablets - the mobile versions also differ between platforms (iOS and Android) and devices (phones or tablets) giving rise to a sometimes frustrating and fractured experience.

Inevitable

In such a competitive sector as social it is inevitable that services will respond to trends and consumer demands in an attempt to maintain a high user base - frequently this means becoming more like a dominant competitor. Conforming to social norms creates a degree of homogeneity with periods of innovation being short-lived.

This time it is Facebook playing catch up, next time it will be Twitter or Google or someone else seeking to be in vogue or meet consumer demands.

Facebook’s updated news feed owes as much to Twitter as it does to Google+

Branching out – should Twitter acquire the Branch conversation platform?Comments

Branch builds on the Twitter experience by providing a framework for curated conversations but could it succeed as an integral part of the social network?

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BranchTwitter is due a shake-up and I maintain that the #discover tab could become the default view thus enabling the service to further engage the silent 40%. The site has been growing but whether this growth is sustainable with the status quo might be open to debate.

Something needs to change.

Twitter is not a social network, we are repeatedly told this and it is becoming increasingly true as our feed is filled with links. It is hard to have a conversation within the fragmented 140 character environment but people still do it - an enjoy it - and choose Twitter as their primary social destination.

For years I have described Twitter as a facilitator and once a spark has been ignited we should take the resultant conversation to the most appropriate forum.

Is branch that forum?

Branch, when recently opened to the public, is a conversation platform that can be used to discuss anything but its reliance on Twitter for authentication and its close association with the network (via the Obvious Corporation) raise some interesting questions.

For Twitter to continue to grow and become more powerful there need to be mechanisms in place to connect users to information they want and this includes targeting them with relevant ads. As Promoted Tweets are priced on a Cost-per-Engagement (CPE) basis Twitter needs more users interacting with those tweets to gain revenue.

I was asked if Twitter would buy Branch (ignoring whether Branch would even want to be acquired) and my initial response was no, why would they, but further thoughts on the matter present arguments both for an against.

Could Branch be an ideal way for Twitter to achieve the growth it needs? Some knee-jerk, back of a napkin logic says no for a couple of reasons:

  • conversations on Branch are taking you away from the seemingly sacrosanct 140 character limit, and
  • any time you create a branch you are removing people from the feed, away from those all important promoted tweets and away from the ability of onlookers to see - and potentially get involved in - the conversation.
  • and what about losing the service outside of Twitter itself?

On the face of it, an acquisition of Branch would not make sense but what if the Branch functionality were to be re-purposed and redesigned so that it becomes a part of the Twitter interface and user experience? Part of the workflow.

Building conversations

For many, a key component of Branch is the browser bookmarklet which allows a user to "branch out" a single tweet to use as the basis of a curated conversation rather than trying to continue it within the confines of Twitter's restrictions but what if these conversations could be kept inside the network?

Branch conversations from Twitter

If we work on the earlier assumption that the #discover tab (or a future iteration of it) will become the default Twitter view then could Branch-like conversations be an ideal way to get users discussing key topics?

As well as a traditional reply, normal tweet conversations could also employ this mechanism (perhaps via a built-in option to "branch this") with a reference to the branch included within an expanded tweet; could branch become an alternative conversation view so that even multi-user conversations can be better followed and managed?

But, what of the 140 character limit?

Twitter has been keen to stick to its mobile roots so that those without smartphones, perhaps in emerging markets, or in circumstances where there is no reliable data service (such as countries where the government controls web access or during times of crisis) can tweet via text and keep their sharing their messages.

Would the service want to develop a two tier system? Perhaps we could argue features such as #discover and expanded tweets are already doing this but neither the consumption of tweets (either in the stream or on #discover) nor the use of expanded tweets preclude users from sending messages and receiving those from subscribed users via SMS.

As I have previously suggested, users would still be tweeting to their feed if not browsing the latest updates on #discover and there would be no reason to change the 140 character limit for this purpose.

Channels

Almost two years ago I first suggested that Twitter could employ a method of using"channels" to enable discussion about a particular topic in a focused stream without spamming the main feed. Last year, Twitter trialed event pages which showed a separate, curated stream for a particular event - although the tweets still remained in the public feed.

Branches could achieve a similar result by removing potentially noisy, topic based discussion from normal view but with the conversation visible to all just a click away.

Taking a risk

We have to consider if the current system is enough or whether enabling alternative functionality is essential to the continued expansion of Twitter?

Both switching to #discover as the default view and the introduction of an alternative conversation mechanism would be incredibly risky but, if introduced as options, would let users tailor their experience based on their requirements whilst allowing the purists to stick to 140 characters in the primary feed.

Branch is a natural expansion to the Twitter experience and one which could provide significant value for the network if it was brave enough to pursue it.

Branching out – should Twitter acquire the Branch conversation platform?

6 years on Twitter.

Twitter26th December 2006.

Today marks the sixth anniversary of my joining Twitter and what a ride it's been despite me not even being the most prolific of tweeters.

Six years is an eternity on the internet but, while the core principles behind the site remain unchanged and the maxim of 140 characters is sacrosanct, the service has developed in ways we never envisaged.

Third party tools allowing us to “tweet longer” rose in popularity but Twitter was adamant that this was not the way to go. Somewhat ironically, the service now has an inbuilt mechanism which lets us display more info that ever in the form of Twitter Cards.

This time last year I made a number of predictions as to where Twitter (amongst other things) was heading and, with the exception of saying that a more Flipboard-esque UI would be introduced for the #discover tab, was pretty close.

#Discover continues to iterate become more personalised as it caters to the 40 percent and I still maintain that, in future, it will become the default view - the official face of Twitter - or that users may be given the choice between this or site feed depending on how they use the site.

What is fascinating is that, even in the early days before SXSW 2007 when there was virtually no one using Twitter, some of us instantly saw the potential it had to offer and were willing to devote our time to what many viewed as a gimmick or a fad.

I'm glad we did.

6 years on Twitter.

Twitter serving the 40%?Comments

TwitterTwitter acknowledges that around 40% of its users do not tweet - they are consumers and must still be catered for; the company also needs to find a way to encourage them to interact further.

The writing has been on the wall for change for over 18 months.

April 2011:

It is widely accepted that Twitter is not for everyone but this may be a limitation of the timeline format. Perhaps it is time for a bit of a shake-up - they call themselves a consumption company now after all.

December 2011:

By placing an emphasis on content over people Twitter is making moves in a new direction which could encourage users to tweet and I feel that we will see the #discover tab iterate relatively quickly to facilitate this.

and...

Enabling people to comment on stories rather than reply to individual users or tweets Twitter may be able to kick-start the transition from being just consumers.

January 2012

Summify’s ability to filter your feed and pull out the salient items would be an ideal way of enhancing the #discover tab by presenting more personalised news based on your own network rather than a generic list from trending topics.

February 2012:

The feed is dead

Now that our feed is predominantly awash in a sea of links it is not a very inviting place. Perhaps the time has come for Twitter to move away from this means of display and instead use a new enhanced #discover tab as the primary view when arriving at the site.

and...

Could Twitter actually become a place where we “consume” news first and talk about it after? Is this too radical a shift from the service we all know and love or is it a logical conclusion based on recent events?

All fanciful ramblings perhaps.

But now, Dalton Caldwell (co-founder of App.net) has proclaimed that Twitter is pivoting:

The Discover tab is the future. Rather than forcing normal users to make sense of a realtime stream, they can see what content is trending.

and...

The main reason that “normal users” would write messages is as a backchannel to discuss media events such as the Olympics, Election Coverage, or a new television show.

Different message

Dalton is arguing that Twitter will complete its move away from being a social network to an information/media company - the idea is the same but the message is very different.

Where I have argued that Twitter needs to change to better facilitate content discovery in an age where the feed is a sea of noise Dalton suggests that Twitter is abandoning its roots (and consequently its users) in a thinly veiled attempt to further promote App.net.

He asks "how is Twitter going to pull off their mid-flight pivot?" but I have already answered: by making #discover the primary view. The feed will still be there but the average consumer will be watching a media channel.

Sometimes it's hard being a small voice thinking no one can hear you, especially when a big voice stands up to say the same thing 18 months later (albeit with an ulterior motive) and the world takes notice.

Twitter serving the 40%?

Why I will still use Twitter.Comments

With a new wave of social tools arriving on the scene is it time to move to pastures new? Is there as big a problem as some would have us believe or are we witnessing a knee-jerk reaction? Here's why I won't be leaving Twitter.

TwitterThere is a fair-sized dose of anti-Twitter sentiment out there at present. From API changes to the dropping of external image services, mixed feelings on the new profile layouts to an iPad app that doesn't play to the strengths of the device, the network is getting hit from all angles.

Is it justified?

What can be said with certainty is that the complaints are primarily from a select group of users who accuse Twitter of biting the hand that feeds it. Unfortunately for Twitter, these users are influential so others users may be convinced of problems even if they do not experience these themselves.

As harsh as it may sound, Twitter seems to think it no longer needs the early adopters, it no longer needs the geeks, it no longer needs the original poster boys. They now form but a small part of Twitter's user base, and not a mainstream part at that.

Twitter is playing the percentages knowing that the bulk of its users are happy with the core service regardless of how it looks or how it interacts (or not) with external systems.

Value

A recent discussion thread on Google+ has posed some interesting question with regards to the value of the service and individual tweets from the perspective of both the consumer and the creator.

It is widely reported that over 70% of tweets come from first-party sources such as Twitter's web page and applications for different platforms; this figure is used to downplay the impact of the API changes and restrictions on third-party clients. Rather then the sheer volume of tweets generated, however, it was argued that the "value" of tweets from different platforms should be taken into account to see if third-party applications actually provided Twitter with more engagement than their own.

The suggestion has been that restricting third-party clients could drive businesses away but, as the premier business client (HootSuite) is one of Twitter's examples of a partner that adds value to the service, is this a valid argument?

Why move?

I may have been an early adopter (I joined the service back in 2006) and may be more of a geek than the majority of users out there but I only manage one account and actually use Twitter relatively little by comparison to many.

Despite everything, Twitter still has its core strengths:

  • familiarity
  • simplicity
  • an existing graph
  • a degree of ubiquity

The interface may be tweaked on a fairly regular basis and additional features may come and go but, at heart, Twitter is still just a short format message broadcast system. The reluctance to step away from its SMS roots, combined with the despite to create a "simplified and unified" experience across platforms, means that we have not needed to rethink the way we use the service - we can still just send 140 character updates if that is all we want to do.

Twitter is fairly ubiquitous and is a mainstream media darling allowing news consumption and citizen journalism in equal measures; its status as a common means of authentication also makes it incredibly useful as an identity service.

Advertising

Whether an advertising model is the right choice for a social network (I will not be getting into that debate here) you have to admit that we have all been advertising ourselves on the service since day one but just calling it status updates.

We are constantly exposed to ads across the web and many sites rely on them to stay alive but we don't stop using them because of it; we may ask why should a social network be any different?

The ads on Twitter aren't actually invasive and, because of the nature of Promoted Tweets it is easier to subconsciously filter them out as we scan our feed. Perhaps, the only time I can find them annoying is when they appear at the top of search results and are completely unrelated to the search term.

Media

While some may decry the move towards a more media-focused network, the evolution of the service is also adding new strengths. As I mentioned before Twitter Cards within expanded tweets will be of great assistance to content creators by resolving any question over attribution whilst presenting more detail than just a link.

Whether we share audio or video, an article summary or just an image, the Twitter Card ensures that the originator is referenced within each tweet and even supplies one-click following.

I still maintain that the #discover tab will continue to evolve and make content even more discoverable in a "non-feed" setting which may, over time, encourage more engagement.

The bottom line

The bottom line is that Twitter is a business which has chosen a path that not all will like and is making decisions it feels are required to support that choice. Until alternative services (such as App.net or Pheed) provide both adequate reach and sufficient reason, in my opinion, there is no cause to abandon a perfectly healthy channel of communication.

Why I will still use Twitter.

App.net is a masterpiece waiting to be discovered.Comments

App.netSo, I finally signed up over at App.net.

Getting started feels like stepping back in time 6 years to the early days of Twitter but with the advantage of hindsight.

The service is a blank canvas waiting for the paint, an unspoilt piece of marble longing to be carved into shape. You just know there's something there waiting to be brought out and shared with the world.

Developers have aspirations of producing worthy, space defining applications that go beyond the normal "stream experience" but for the non-developer it is almost like stepping in to a private members club as a guest where you don't know the rules or any of the other members.

It is early days and we still have a global stream but you can't help but feel that this will only be sustainable for a short while - just like with Twitter it will become unusable as the number of sign-ups increases. Even though I am user 21480 (not a big number by any means) the global stream already seems to move faster than I recall on Twitter at such an early stage. Maybe this is just because we are now so much more socially aware and are able to hit the ground running.

Obviously, the big difference to Twitter is that we have the up-front so there is no need for App.net to back track on any functionality (at least that's the theory).

While Twitter continues to grow into its new clothes there is a section of the community that feels abandoned and are I search of a new playground - App.net promises to be just that.

Meta

There are already complaints about posts being very meta but that's unavoidable on a new service, probably more so on App.net as users and developers seek to define exactly what the open API can achieve.

App.net is much more than a Twitter clone but the initial wave of third-party applications is very much a raft of Twitter-like clients. Netbot, for example, is virtually identical to the iOS users favourite Tweetbot. While the release of the app is driving usage of the service the hope is that it, and others, develop significantly or else App.net runs the risk of stagnating and becoming exactly what it is not designed to be.

Personally, I am using the free iOS app Rivr which begins to go beyond the basics (which is the whole idea) but, unfortunately, sometimes seems to do so in a proprietary manner.

Money talks

Money is an emotive subject - oh, the sordid topic of coin.

The decision to drop the fee for a standard user account and set up a monthly payment option was very much needed (especially the latter) and seems to have driven an uptick in both users and activity - let's be honest, it's why I finally took the plunge.

I have noticed in my short time on the service, however, some posts from early adopter developers seeming to complain about this incursion into their private members club and criticising the "discount chasers". Perhaps this is tongue in cheek, perhaps not - in any event, it serves to create a sense of unease for the new user.

Developers pay $100 dollars a year for access to the API (compared to the new price of $36 dollars for a standard user account) but this should not lead to any sense of entitlement.

Third-party client applications seem to generally more expensive than their Twitter equivalents - Netbot is £2.99 ($4.99) whereas Tweetbot is only £1.99 ($2.99) for a virtually identical app - so developers need to resist any temptation to take advantage of the fact that users were willing to pay for the service, and by extension be willing to pay for a client to use it.

The App.net Developer Incentive Program aims to reward developers by distributing $20,000 per month between those who developers whose apps are deemed by users to present the most value. Perhaps this will serve to prevent any over-pricing I clients.

The last thing App.net needs is a sense of elitism from developers leading to an atmosphere of "us and them" which can potentially drive users away.

Comparisons

It's hard not to currently compare App.net to Twitter - just as many compare Google+ to Facebook - as this is the only frame of reference available. Until devs get past the initial stage of learning how to use the API and start developing more useful and varied applications, as is the intention, then it is a comparison that is going to be unavoidable.

Google+ is moving beyond the "Facebook clone" stage due to its integration throughout the whole Google ecosystem - especially search; App.net needs its own eureka moment where the potential is realised and we start getting applications that go beyond the standard social, status update based paradigm dominated by the very service it is trying desperately not to be.

Only time will tell if App.net proves to be a success and lives up to its promised potential. The service itself is a platform so we must try to avoid the misconception that it is merely a paid for Twitter alternative.

It is up to the rest of us to find new and original ways to build on that platform and achieve something different, something innovative.

Until then App.net presents an ideal opportunity to grow a fresh, uncluttered social graph and it will be interesting to watch how things develop.

You can find me here so come and say hello.

App.net is a masterpiece waiting to be discovered.

Influence redefined.Comments

Is it time to forget the numbers game in favour of a more meaningful measurement of our social influence and should this be service specific?

If a tree falls in the woodsWhen I wrote "The 3 R's of Influence" I suggested that the true measure of influence is a combination of reach, reputation and relevance.

Reputation is closely linked to identity and has, interestingly, been touched on elsewhere with regards to the Google patent for multiple identities or pseudonyms. Relevance is obvious - people will interact more with content that is relevant to their interests and current circumstances such as time or location.

Which leaves reach

Reach is a literal figure - an idealised "potential", a social pyramid scheme.

I wrote that:

Our reach is a combination of our direct first level connections and those secondary connections exposed to our content by re-shares, retweets, etc.

The important word here is "exposed" but this is often overlooked in the quest for quantitative scores rather than qualitative.

Evan Williams, Twitter co-founder, has remarked that reach on it's own isn't enough and that, perhaps, a new statistic should be used to more accurately measure influence on Twitter such as retweets.

We know that the number of followers isn't a reliable metric and reach on its own is an incongruous statistic. Klout attempts to nulify the impact of pure numbers by examining the ratio of engagement to audience - penalising those who amass followers without also increasing engagement - but even this isn't enough.

Just because someone retweets your content and they have 1000 followers, it doesn't mean that all those 1000 followers are effectivly "reached" by your tweet.

Visibility and exposure are key here - someone can only be influenced by something if they read it which is why Williams states the dream metric "is how many people saw your tweet". This means that they must be online and have had the initial tweet or any retweets visible in their timelines whilst "active" on the service.

If a tree falls in the woods...

Measuring

Since the acquisition of Trendly we have been waiting for Twitter to roll out first-party tweet analytics but this has only materialised for advertisers. I proposed that:

influence cannot be accurately measured externally from the data source as there is a limit to what can be gleaned from what is publicly available. The service hosting the data (be it Twitter, Facebook or Google) has a better understanding of exactly what happens to that data including other factors such as link tracking.

Williams suggests that part of the reason Twitter has been aggressively policing access to the API might be to ensure that it gets better data as it has been unable to effectively measure activity due to the use of third party clients.

The introduction of the built-in t.co URL shortening service enhances the ability to track reactions to tweets. Even if a tweet does not receive any replies or retweets Twitter is able to count the number of clicks the shortened address receives and, therefore, gain an indication of its popularity. This is an ideal source of data to feed the #discover tab and could contribute to an individuals influence on the site as well as providing useful metrics for advertisers.

Twitter Card

Twitter Cards

The rise in social curation has lead to a number of curators becoming "social stars" in their own right with large followings and high influence scores. All too often this celebrity is at the expense of the content creator as links are wrapped in increasing levels of URL shorteners with no attribution provided.

Frequently, a curators tweets are reshared by their audience without those followers even visiting the link simply due to the "reputation" of the curator. The curator's influence is increased with no reference to those creating the content.

Twitter Cards will change this.

A quick test has shown that Twitter Cards will resolve the shortened URLs and still display the card information associated with the link which includes the Twitter username of the author, potentially increasing the likelihood of the originating author being followed rather than the curator.

It remains to be seen if Twitter Cards will provide any SEO benefits but I would imagine that having the rich snippet text associated with each tweet will enhance the effect of each external back link generated in this manner.

Time for change

We cannot rely on a single system to calculate influence for all and we also cannot rely on a single score to reflect our own influence and reputation across the whole social web; moving to service specific grading may be a viable alternative.

Each service host is far better placed to measure true activity within its own walls so, while they may not disappear completely, follower numbers might only contribute to an influence score for that particular network based on a wider range of factors.

Is it time for a change?

Influence redefined.

What is a tweet?

TweetA tweet is just a message posted on Twitter isn't it? A "micro publication". It's not actually that simple.

John Battelle hits on an interesting argument with regards to the "ongoing legal battle with a Manhattan court over the legal status of tweets posted by an Occupy Wall St. protestor": who owns tweets? Battelle's post title says "Tweets belong to the user" but I'm not so sure.

The Twitter Terms of Service state:

5. Your rights

You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).

Tip This license is you authorizing us to make your Tweets available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same.

A confusing state ensues. The actual term relates to "submitting, posting or displaying Content" but the subsequent tip references "your tweets".

Is this, in effect, saying that content and tweet are synonymous? I would argue it is poorly worded and the situation is actually more complex.

The sum of its parts

What is the legal definition of a tweet and who really owns what? Do we just own the words?

While we can re-use the content of our tweets elsewhere, because of the non-exclusive rights granted by the ToS, is there a legal separation between the content and the "tweet" that surrounds it?

If a tweet is distinct from its content then it must comprise the format, surrounding buttons, controls and metadata etc.? Is it this additional functionality and presentation that turns content into a tweet?

By this thinking, a "tweet" is a separate entity and this is this how Twitter can justify controlling the appearance of tweets when displayed externally via the API? We are exporting the tweet as a whole rather than just the content.

On the outside

Twitter is effectively stating that it doesn't mind our content appearing externally but not the specific entity which is the tweet - unless, of course, it is displayed in the correct format.

As Battelle says, what are the implications should people:

want to extract some or all their tweets, and perhaps license them to others as well. Or, they may want to use a meta-service (there’s that idea again) which allows them to mix and mash their tweets in various ways, and into any number of different containers

It has been often asked why, after 6 years, is there no ability to export our content. This is seen as a major failing with a supposedly "open" system in these times of data portability.

Even if we could export the data, however, its value may be reduced because it now has no context. Any tweet that was part of a conversation would be isolated; would we then be legally permitted to link back to the conversation, reassociating our content with its host tweet thus restoring the context?

Where do we draw the line?

In conclusion

While the Twitter Terms of Service categorically state that users own the content they contribute to the service, we must make a distinction between that content and the resultant tweet which contains it.

For Twitter to reconcile our right to content ownership with the ability to restrict the way tweets are reproduced via the API I would argue that the tweet must be defined as a wrapper around the content we provide and, consequently, is not created by us but by the service itself when our content is presented in Twitter's standard format.

We may own the words but Twitter owns the tweet.

Image by id-iom

What is a tweet?

Social media and the needs of the self.Comments

The social web is a place of conflict and excess where we can both hide behind usernames and computer screens to be feared and hated or present ourselves as masters of our art to be loved and revered. What part does 'the mind' play in our social interactions? 

When I wrote that participation on different types of social service may be constrained by our own vanity Will Berard directed me to a post where he compares our behaviour and needs on social networks to our needs and wants with regards to food.

While the side of our social interactions governed by vanity is, generally, undesirable it can be said to mirror our food consumption habits where we are repeatedly brought back by our cravings:

very much like eating, nature chose its wiring in the most basic fashion, associating the reward not with the actual thing that's good for you (a healthy, balanced intake of calories/meaningful construction of social relationship), but with a "shortcut" that works just as well (the taste of sweet/fatty foods, or superficial social validation).

This connection and our attitude toward the rewards from social media immediately brought to mind the battle fought within ourselves in Sigmund Freud's model of the psyche.

The Freudian mind

MindFreud proposed that the mind is composed of three 'constructs': the id, the ego and the super-ego which control aspects of our behaviour and are often in conflict.

The id

The unorganized part of the personality structure that contains a human's basic, instinctual drives. It is unconscious by definition and drive us according to the pleasure principle as we seek short-term, instant gratification.

The ego

The ego acts in accordance with the reality principle and serves to satisfy the needs of the id in realistic ways. It looks for longer term satisfaction and sets up defensive mechanisms to keep us from harm. It is very much the piggy-in-the-middle, coping with the real world around us whilst trying to temper the animalistic urges of the id and the ideals of the super-ego

The super-ego

The super-ego strives for perfection and is our narcissistic drive. It aims for us to realise the image of ourselves that we want to become and introduces a sense of guilt when we do not achieve it.

The social mind

We can equate each of Freud's constructs with elements of our conduct on social services:

  • Id - instant gratification, the need for Likes, +1s and ReTweets, the desire for "affection" regardless of the consequences - "everybody friend me"
  • Ego - longer term planning, building a community to act as a foundation from which we can achieve those Likes and ReTweet's, having to interact with those in our community and relate to them as individuals so as to maintain those friendships
  • Super-ego - the part that only wants to talk about ourselves, the aspect that drives us to create, to blog so that we can achieve the state of perfection in our craft irrespective of others

As in our offline lives, we must achieve a balance in order to function within the generally accepted "rules" of the social web. We cannot endlessly seek out new friends online to satisfy the needs of our psyche so how can we relate all this to our normal relationships?

What of Dunbar?

Our ancestors had a physical need to gather in trusted groups for more effective hunting and greater protection. Base instinctual needs of these groups were consistent with the id-controlled mind: eat, reproduce, survive - all requiring instant solutions. As they evolved and settled so survival became easier and the relationships between individuals altered and started to become more social than functional.

The relative luxury of modern life and technology means that we no longer have this physical need for grouping (although as a species we still need to reproduce) but, instead, we have more a mental need to connect to avoid the psychological and emotional effects of isolation - we are social animals after all.

As children we are born with an id-controlled mind, instinct tells us to feed, to grow, to survive. As we become more cognisant so we learn, and are taught, that society demands the more ego-driven approach to social interaction and we each undergo our own mini evolution.

As we have previously seen, our capacity to create strong, intimate bonds doesn't scale and our relationships are more fleeting the larger our social circles extend. Consequently, the type of connections we establish with others via a social network will resonate with a different aspect of our personality.

Our closest relationships, described by Dunbar as existing within the smaller Circles of Acquaintanceship, are regulated very much by the ego as we seek to make and maintain those friendships by empathising with others, tolerating their views and interacting with them as equals.
Circles of Acquaintanceship

On a more frivolous note we can cast the net of our informal connections much wider and achieve the core, instinctive needs of the id via these extended connections; the selfishness of wanting others to like us (receiving +1s, and ReTweets) allows us to cultivate this form of affection without offering anything in response.

Our vanity sometimes gets the better of us and the super-ego takes over which triggers the notion that some may not wish to be absorbed by a topic and lose their sense of self. In such a scenario it is felt that the super-ego hits a wall and the id is denied direct gratification.

Platforms

It is the role of the ego to show us that "social gratification" can be achieved in a controlled, measured way without the bingeing and any subsequent feeling of guilt (thus placating the id) and that by volunteering ourselves to the greater good we can, potentially, achieve a sense of perfection by using the platform of the topic to improve on our creative skills but within its framework.

The different social platforms available will serve to feed the requirements of each aspect of our psyche:

  • the quick-fire social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Google+) supply instant gratification with Likes, +1s etc. and the selfish gathering of as many friends as possible or gloating over a high Klout score
  • blogs are traditionally the realm of the super-ego where we exist in our self-made playground to do what we will and perfect our vision of ourselves - or at least our works.
  • the new breed of service such as Branch and Medium, however, serve to bring us back to the rational ego, the middle ground where we can still hone our craft and receive the plaudits of our peers but in a more controlled, and less narcissistic, environment.

It is undesirable to obsess over follower numbers, influence measurement and number of re-shares so, while these things can be useful, we should aim to keep the id in check and not let them govern our social experience. Similarly, it is good to write and share our opinion but the narcissisic super-ego must not be allowed to control our behaviour or we will find our 'friends' drifting away.

Evolution

As individuals, and as a species, we have gone from the instinct driven, id-controlled behaviour once essential to the survival of our ancestors to the more ego-controlled mindset required by modern society. We are still, however, at the mercy of both our instinctual urges and the perfection of self required by Freud's super-ego.

As we try to resist the base urges of the id and achieve a sense of ease with stepping out of the limelight then, perhaps, we can truly say that both we, and the social web, have truly evolved.

Social media and the needs of the self.

Twitter, interest graphs and doubts of a freemium account model.Comments

Advertising on Twitter continues to cause much debate, especially now the service is to target users by their interests. There are calls in some quarters for a freemium account model so that those who want to can pay not to be targeted but is this a viable option?

value-added serviceEmploying our interest graph rather than our social graph is something that I've been talking about for a while and we are seeing shifts in this direction from across the social web.

Twitter's move to use its interest graph to target users for advertising is a long time coming but Twitter had to ensure it had sufficient data and a robust enough graph before it could reasonably expect advertisers to cough up their money on unproven technology.

It remains to be seen whether Twitter will enhance the user experience with the interest graph - it would make a lot of sense to do so as I have been saying for quite some time.

We have already seen the initial shoots of growth in this area (NASCAR, #discover to a degree) but there is a long way to go.

I said previously that the #discover tab needs to be tailored more to our interests so, perhaps, establishing a viable interest graph could power this at some point in future.

Is Freemium an option?

Twitter is criticised for going the advertising route with some saying they would be happy to pay a subscription to avoid the ads but Is this viable? While it may work in certain circumstances (mobile apps for example, but they are pulling from a central ad system) I don't believe it would on Twitter.

Each user that pays a subscription to Twitter reduces the value of advertising due to reduced impressions and resultant click-throughs. Will advertisers want to take the risk of targeting a smaller user base?

For Twitter itself the key question would be "do the subscription fees generated offset the drop in advertising revenue?"

How many?

Out of the millions of users on Twitter, how many are likely to be online during a campaign? How many of those would be willing to pay a subscription? How many of those would have been successfully targeted based on their interests and, finally, how many of those would actually interact with a promoted Tweet in some way? It's like a social Drake equation to calculate potential loss.

Potential advertisers loss from a freemium account model

If the total number of subscribers is a very small percentage then, perhaps, Twitter could afford to offer a Freemium model but as the number of subscribers increases I feel it would lose its viability.

Deep impact?

Reducing the number of potential click-throughs by enabling an ad-free option could have deeper implications for the non-subscribers.

I have considered previously the possibility of promoted tweets being expanded by default to ensure that they stand out in our busy streams. In a relatively small survey most said that they would not be impressed by this but, as Twitter is now such a part of our lives, they would tolerate it.

Some users, however, responded that any such attempt by the network to force content upon them in this way would cause them to leave the service so this is another potential area of loss for both advertisers and Twitter itself.

It makes me wonder what other implications a freemium model might have for those who don't want to pay.

Lead image from Tsahi Levent-Levi.

Twitter, interest graphs and doubts of a freemium account model.

Is Twitter the web’s best public identity service?

Are there wider implications from Twitter's decision to cut services off from "find your friends" and do they affect the legitimacy of Twitter as a means of identification?

idRobinson Meyer argues in a post at The Atlantic that there are bigger civic implications of Twitter's API restrictions such as removing "find your friends" access for Instagram and Tumblr.

He states that a primary purpose of a social network is to identify you as a user and by restricting access for external services your very identity is being marginalised.

Identity

Google+ made a very public showing of being an "identity service" and not just a social network (hence the initial requirement to use your real name) and Facebook has been all about who you are right from its conception, in fact it is a core premise and would not work in the same way without it.

Facebook and Google+ provide the ability to restrict access to parts of your content and profile based on permissions levels you grant to specific groups whereas Twitter is all or nothing - you're all public or you're all private, there is no half way house.

Meyer maintains that the open nature of Twitter makes it the best social identity to be used across the web but is this really the case? Does restricting access to parts of your life on other services make their "social identity" any less trustworthy?

Twitter allows the creation of accounts with any name you like, pseudonyms, joke accounts etc. so, from an identity perspective, this is unsuitable for authenticating you as a specific individual across the web.

Trust

I have written before that trust is key to establishing a reliable, consistent online identity (and identity service) and without a real names policy it can be hard to ascribe the same level of trust to all accounts. I compared the major social networks' approach in October last year:

Facebook cares who you are because it relies on your identity for the links you create with others, with brands, with sites across the web via the Like button - it cares because it wants to advertise to you in a meaningful way and to encourage you to spend with these advertisers and spend time on the site earning it money by playing games etc. Facebook relies on your identity as that is how others find you and are persuaded to join the service in the first place - by friending people they know.

Google cares about the connections you create and the content you interact with so that you can be better targeted for advertising. It doesn't necessarily care 'who' you are as long as it can build a picture of your use. It does, however, care that you are not tainting its services with undesirable content so will prefer to track who you are.

Twitter doesn't care who you are - it cares that you are signed in and tweeting - ideally interacting with promoted content.

It would seem that Twitter is the least trustworthy of the main social networks with regards to defining who you are  and, therefore,  not best placed to be used as the basis of a web-wide identity service regardless of how transparent your feed may be.

Who are you?

The removal of find your friends may prevent users from replicating their social graphs across multiple services but does it actually negate Twitter as a means of identification? Ultimately, this has no bearing on that aspect.

Meyer's concern is, presumably, that third-party services may no longer want - or be able - to permit users to "sign in with Twitter" - although this is not actually stated in the post.  I would argue, however, that those third-parties could not risk losing sign-ups if this option was no longer available. I doubt Twitter would want to block this portion of its API due to the potential benefits of having data fed back from those third-parties services.

With no guarantee you are who you say you are, Twitter is not a desirable solution to establishing a consistent online identity with or without the ability to find your friends.

Image by Daniel*1977

Is Twitter the web’s best public identity service?

The changing value of Twitter.

Twitter is in the process of making a fundamental shift and it has been happening longer than you think.

Primary valuesThe Twitter story continues apace and the debate over the rights or wrongs of the API changes will not be going away any time soon since Tumblr became the latest casualty of restrictions on the "find your friend" functionality.

Twitter's decisions, and overall attitude with regards to its API, are attracting much criticism from developers of applications and services across its ecosystem but the various threads to this story are beginning to weave together to form a cohesive picture.

The graph

Dustin Curtis, creator of the invitation only blogging platform Svbtle, has put a face to the points that some, including myself, have been pondering lately when he says that most users "have no incentive to use Twitter outside of the value of its graph" - in other words, they use it to follow their interests without necessarily contributing to the conversation or providing their own content.

This time last year 40% of users didn't tweet, and the likelihood is that this has not altered very much, but this is not initially an issue as Twitter relies on its users for traffic and the potential for clicking relevant ads as well as for filling it with content. While this arrangement may have been fine for a while, the proliferation of other successful web services such as Instagram and Tumblr has meant that there are more places for people to find the information they are looking for.

As Dustin explains, if you can use the find your friends API to export your social graph to another service, which also has the ability to provide information in a more appealing fashion, then this could be potentially very damaging. Is it the case that Twitter is now seeing the "non-tweeters" export their social graph and never look back?

Welcome to the visual web, join us or perish

At the risk of raking over the same ground Twitter needs to change; the feed is dead! In an increasingly visual web services must adapt in order to stay relevant and desirable which is why I have been saying for months that Twitter should pivot:

Now that our feed is predominantly awash in a sea of links it is not a very inviting place. Perhaps the time has come for Twitter to move away from this means of display and instead use a new enhanced #discover tab as the primary view when arriving at the site.

The network must give the silent users a reason to invest more in the network and possibly even coax them in to tweeting by making it feel like that's not actually what they are doing - presenting information in a different manner and making it feel as though users are commenting on a story may be an effective way of doing this. They must be given a voice and persuaded that it is what they really wanted all along.

Is this going to turn some elements of Twitter into a tabloid newspaper? Quite possibly, but it will also accelerate the shift towards being even more interest based. Just as medium is looking to focus on the topic before the author so Twitter can focus on the "story" rather than the individual tweeters in an attempt to become the news destination of choice.

Channels

My original proposal for "Twitter Channels" in March last year suggested that anyone could register a specific topic in order to gather relevant tweets in a single, subject specific stream. The network has since introduced the concept of "Event Pages" to achieve something similar - albeit with a different method of execution. Maybe we won't see Twitter allowing individuals to claim their "page" but it is bound to extend the reach of this feature beyond events such as NASCAR or the Olympics towards brands (take $cashtags as a starting point) and people (read celebrities).

Everything points towards Twitter placing a much greater emphasis on its identity as a news and media network with the movement away from the main stream as the focal point. While we will still be able to interaction with the feed the "tweeters" will become secondary to the silent majority using the service primarily as a means of consumption. Locking those users and their social graphs within Twitters walls ensures that they keep coming back but this cannot be at the expense of those who provide the content by way of tweets.

I believe we are witnessing a fundamental shift on the part of Twitter and that is has actually been happening for longer than most people think.

Image by Jeremy Brooks

The changing value of Twitter.

The Future of Social Networks.

Brian Chappell of Ignite Social Media asked 21 social media practitioners and pundits, myself included, for their thoughts on a few issues around the current state of social media and what may be coming up in future. The brief survey featured the three questions below:

1. Do you think social networking has hit a saturation point and peaked in user interest?

2. Compared to what happened to MySpace, what do you think is the future of Facebook?

3. For businesses and brands that are just starting to ramp up in 2012, what new social networking trends do you see going forward?

The responses were varied (especially with regards to the future of Facebook) and created a real exercise in "compare and contrast" but some common themes did appear and I would urge you to read the full post should you get the chance.

My own answers were as follows:

Don't fear the future1. Saturation point

Social networking has been taking another upturn recently with more mainstream media uses coming to light. TV news channels using Google+ hangouts, more brands including references to Facebook pages in their offline advertisements and huge adoption of Twitter for ease of thought gathering are all-seeing an uptick in consumer interest, which I can only see increasing over the next 12 months.

Social is also starting to combine with our offline lives so that where we are, who we are with, what we are doing, etc., will all have new context and, perhaps, influence our behaviour. Products like Google Now in Android Jelly Bean are at the forefront of the next wave in social.

2. On Facebook

While MySpace wasn’t the first social network, it was the service that first saw widespread adoption and recognition but the Internet and technology as a whole was not in a position to match its potential. Social was still in its infancy and was isolated from the rest of our lives. Facebook has the advantage of existing in a social age where our lives are so closely tied to the Internet. Facebook may have to change and adjust but it is in a much stronger position where it can react to market pressures and stay relevant.

3. What's next?

Social adoption is virtually ubiquitous but the next challenge is social discovery. A simple feed or stream is no longer enough and users are requiring something more advanced. They are looking to actually discover useful information, interesting people and more via social. We are already seeing a shift away from the social graph and towards the interest graph and this will continue as users are more interested in using social as a source of news and information.

It was a privilege to be asked to take part and I may come back to these questions later but, for now, you can find the Ignite Social Media post here:

The Future of Social Networks as Interpreted by 21 Social Media Practitioners

Image by Andrew Coulter Enright

The Future of Social Networks.