Posts about twitter

The temporary web

I’m fretting about forgetting things, not just because I’m getting older (on top of middle-aged surgery and its inconveniences and a dicky ticker I now have sciatica; I am a parody of age). I’m fretting about us all forgetting things because we’re using Twitter.

Twitter is temporary. Streams are fleeting. If the future of the web after the page and the site and SEO is streams – and I believe at least part of it will be – then we risk losing information, ideas, and the permanent points – the permalinks – around which we used to coalesce. In this regard, Twitter is to web pages what web pages are to old media. Our experience of information is once again about to become fragmented and dispersed.

I talked about this shift on a recent Rebooting the News with Dave Winer and Jay Rosen (audio here; shownotes here).

My own worry is that I’m twittering more and blogging less. Twitter satisfies my desire to share. That’s mostly why I blog – and that’s what makes the best blog posts, I’ve learned. I also want to store information like nuts underground; once it’s on the blog, I can find it. But when I share links on Twitter, they’ll soon disappear. I also use my blog to think through ideas and get reaction; Twitter’s flawed at that – well, I guess Einstein could have tweeted his theory of relativity but many ideas and discussions are too big for the form – yet I now use Twitter to do that now more than this blog.

It’s not as if I couldn’t and shouldn’t also blog about what I talk about on Twitter; tweets can become the trial out of town, the blog Broadway (a book Hollywood). But Twitter competes for my time and attention. It is so much faster and easier. It’s good enough for most of my purposes. So the blog suffers. And I suffer. I discuss less here; I’ll lose some of you as a result and you are the value I get from blogging. I lose memory. And I lose the maypole around which we can gather.

On Rebooting the News, we also talked about what it takes to get an idea, a meme to critical mass. Blogs, I said, are better at that because they can gather attention over time. On Twitter, an idea can, of course, be spread but its half-life is that of a gnat. I’m proud of this post – The future of news is entrepreneurial – and it got retweeted for almost 24 hours, which is forever in Twitter time. Most things come and go in matters of minutes. So Dave and I were talking about getting new conventions used on Twitter but Twitter turns out not to be a great way to make that happen because ideas and conversations disappear in smoke.

Paul Gillin just asked whether soon, everything you’ve learned about SEO will be worthless. That’s because search is turning social and our search results are becoming personalized, thus we don’t all share the same search results and it becomes tougher to manage them through SEO. Put these factors together – the social stream – and relationships matter more than pages (but then, they always have).

It means nothing that I fret or worry about any of this. Change is inexorable, even – especially – in the agent of change. But it’s always important to stand back and see the implications in change and I think we’re going to need to find new ways to hold onto memories and make memes happen. That or I have to hold true to my vow to blog more.

: OH, AND… I got distracted by reading Twitter (really) and so I forgot to mention the other Twitter issue: distraction. I’m finding it much harder to stay focused on doing one thing because I now can do so many. That doesn’t mean I’ll end up thinking less for a blog post (or book), only that the stream interrupts the thing (the post, the page) in more ways.

Tinkering with the news

This morning, Glam.com – the model of the new network model of media – extended its Twitter aggregator, Tinker.com, into news at Tinker.com/news. It’s very simple and that’s what makes it intriguing: headlines mixed with current discussion of them.

Yesterday, New York Times digital strategy head Martin Nisenholtz also talked about adding value to Twitter and news here.

“If you go out and search Twitter, it doesn’t work very well,” he said. “It’s very literal.” But if The Times can build multiple search products for Twitter that better understand context, there “is a lot of power in organizing and curating this world.” Therefore, the company is looking into building similar Twitter aggregators for what could be “thousands of categories,” he said.

Note, by the way, that Nisenholtz was misquoted in Twitter yesterday (which I retweeted) saying that 10% of Times inbound links came from Twitter. He emailed to correct. What he said was that they were about to move into the top 10 referrers, based on the current growth rate.

Also note, by the way, that Glam just reached profitability. Many media execs I know scoffed at Glam but now they’re dying and Glam’s growing. The network model works. And the link to people’s conversations – in both these examples – will not only help media but will be a key driver of value. I’ve pointed out here before that Google News causes a billion clicks a month but so does Bit.ly (and it represents only part of Twitter’s traffic). At the Knight-funded Aspen event on new business models for news, Marissa Mayer said we must find the ways to insinuate news into everyone’s stream (and, I’ll add, vice versa).

A poor craftsman blames others’ tools

Compare these two columns about Twitter: one by Mike DeArmond, a sports hack in Kansas City, and one by Roger Cohen in The New York Times. They are each frustrated that Twitter doesn’t fit into their set-in-concrete view of what they do and what journalism is – and how others fit in.

The sports guy’s column is, of course, the sillier:

Let’s quit tweet, tweet, tweeting like the birdbrains do. I don’t care what your friend had for lunch. . . .

I really don’t object to the message so much as the medium. . . .

I became a journalist because I love words. The way they can be used to paint an image, to link observation and explanation.

It is why I think it is wonderful to write about how some questions are so rambling that they climb the wall, scoot around a corner, take a stop in the men’s restroom, and only then arrive at their intended point.

You can’t do that with Twitter. You’re limited to 140 characters. And most people waste even those.

Now Cohen:

Twitter’s pitch is “Share and discover what’s happening right now, anywhere in the world.” That’s what it does — up to a point. It’s many things, including a formidable alerting system for a breaking story; a means of organization; a monitor of global interest levels (Iran trended highest for weeks until Michael Jackson’s death) and of media performance; a bank of essential links; a rich archive; and a community (“Twitter is my best friend.”)

But is it journalism? No. In fact journalism in many ways is the antithesis of the “Here Comes Everybody” — Clay Shirky’s good phrase — deluge of raw material that new social media deliver. For journalism is distillation. It is a choice of material, whether in words or image, made in pursuit of presenting the truest and fairest, most vivid and complete representation of a situation.

It comes into being only through an organizing intelligence, an organizing sensibility. It depends on form, an unfashionable little word, without which significance is lost to chaos. As Aristotle suggested more than two millennia ago, form requires a beginning and middle and end. It demands unity of theme. Journalism cuts through the atwitter state to thematic coherence.

In each case, The Journalist is confronted with something new and if it doesn’t fit in with their world and worldview, they find reasons to reject it, to diminish it, to make it the province of others, not The Journalist – because it’s The Journalist who is empowered to say what journalism is. DeArmond’s going for laughs, Cohen for profundity, but they’re each only showing that they are not imaginative enough to recognize the power that comes from a new tool – no, not the tool but the connection to the people who are using it. I’d never let my students get away with that. I always try to get them to look at a tool and see how it can be used to improve journalism, not just violate its age-old dictates.

In these screeds, we also get a glimpse of these Journalists’ definitions of journalism. I say that news was made into a product by the necessities and limitations of its means of production and distribution in print and broadcast. News is properly a process, I believe. Cohen says, no, it must have a beginning, middle, and end, a narrative he sets, an order he gives, a chaos he rejects. He says elsewhere in his column that presence is necessary to do journalism; he thus says that it takes a reporter to report, that news without the journalist him or herself bearing witness to it is not real news. He puts The Journalist at the center of news. I say the journalist is the servant of news. I tell my students to add journalistic value to what is already being spread – reporting, fact-checking, perspective, answers – but recognize that the news is there with or without them. It is gathered and spread by the people who see it and need it with new tools, like Twitter. Like it or not.

: LATER: But at the same time, here‘s The Times’ David Pogue using Twitter to talk with the public to do his journalism.

geoTwitter and news and more

Twitter announced a geolocation API today and it set my mind to spinning with implications that I tweeted like a Gatling gun:

* For news, it would be possible to verify that witnesses reporting what they see are where they say they are. Twitpics can be geotagged.

* Local news organizations should build apps to track surges of activity around any address. Could be a news event. Could be hipsters congregating (telling one where hippness happens).

* News orgs could also use it as a reporting tool: the fabled pothole report via Twitter.

* A hyperlocal blog could set up a feed of your neighbors’ tweets all around town.

* Over time, the geoTwitter enables what I’ve been thinking of as the annotation layer atop the real world: diners create simple reviews of a restaurant simply around location, anyone annotating any location.

* I wonder about the commercial applications: subscribing to tweet ads near me.

The live web, the social web, and the geo web come together.

Now there are caveats aplenty. Foursquare is similar and hasn’t yet burned up the world and neither has Google Latitude. Laptops need geolocation. There are privacy concerns that may stop people from switching on geolocation (the default is off). There are dangers; geolocation could have made tweets from Iran more credible but also more perilous for the authors. I wonder why Twitter is choosing to erase geo data after time; this diminishes the value of the annotation layer.

But still, a simple API like this can make the mind spin. Now combine geoTwitter with my recent obsession, Google Wave, and imagine how live and collaborative content can be enhanced with geography. Or add geography to Marissa Mayer’s vision of the hyperpersonal news stream. The possibilities are endless.

: LATER: PaidContent sees potential for geotargeted ads. And TechCrunch writes about Foursquare’s alerts to nearby deals.

The John Henry fight of man v. algorithm

I interviewed Josh Cohen, product manager for Google News, this week for the Guardian MediaTalkUSA podcast (out early next week) and asked him how many clicks to news sources Google News causes. The answer: a billion.

And then I saw this PaidContent report on URL-shortener Bit.ly thinking of offering a breaking news service. That doesn’t seem so crazy when you hear how many clicks it causes a month. The answer: a billion.

It so happens I just wrote this in my Media Guardian column, coming out Monday, about the Microsoft-Yahoo search lashup:

Oh, search still matters. But it is beginning to matter a little less. Venture capitalist Fred Wilson recently pointed out that 14% of traffic to his blog, avc.com, comes from Google, down from 29% the year before. Wilson argues that the difference is Twitter—that is, links from people over algorithms. (Note that Wilson is a Twitter investor.)

Now I’m hardly saying that Google is being overrun by the power of mankind. Nor will I argue that every link Bit.ly sends to is news – except more of it is than news organizations would admit if they were wise enough to expand the definition of news to the hyperspecific, a word a commenter below suggested I start using instead of hyperlocal. Your friend’s concert photos are news to him and you. Note also that Bit.ly isn’t the only source of human-powered live links; there’s the rest of Twitter and its other clients, not to mention Facebook and fresh blogging.

But I do think it’s significant that given the platform to collect the power of links by people, it can quickly match the power of the algorithm. I also think there’s even more power in bringing the two together.