Posts about twitter

‘No longer the province of elites’

In a Guardian interview, UK PM Gordon Brown says that the internet changes foreign affairs forever:

He described the internet era as “more tumultuous than any previous economic or social revolution”. “For centuries, individuals have been learning how to live with their next-door neighbours,” he added.

“Now, uniquely, we’re having to learn to live with people who we don’t know.

“People have now got the ability to speak to each other across continents, to join with each other in communities that are not based simply on territory, streets, but networks; and you’ve got the possibility of people building alliances right across the world.”

This, he said, has huge implications. “That flow of information means that foreign policy can never be the same again.

“You cannot have Rwanda again because information would come out far more quickly about what is actually going on and the public opinion would grow to the point where action would need to be taken.

“Foreign policy can no longer be the province of just a few elites.”

Neither government nor business nor education.

The API revolution

It soon will be – if it not already is – known as the Twitter revolution in Iran. But I’ll think of it as the API revolution.

For it’s Twitter’s architecture – which enables anyone to create applications that call and feed into it – that makes it all but impervious from blocking by tyrants’ censors. Twitter is not a site or a blog at an address. You don’t have to go to it. It can come to you (as newspapers should). Twitter is an outpost in the cloud and there can be unlimited points of access from every application and site using its API, so the crowd can always stay ahead of the people formerly known as the authorities. That, I believe, is the keystone in the architecture of the new infrastructure of unstoppable freedom of speech and democracy. That’s what enables Clay Shirky to declare, “This is it – the big one.”

It isn’t merely “social media” that make this a step-change in the internet’s impact on society and government, as the reporters who’ve been calling me and other pundits want us to say. Sree Sreenivasan tweeted, “on CNN just now, I asked – China quake, Mumbai attacks, US election, Iran… how many times can one technology ‘come of age’?” RIght. See January 16, 2001 when, as Howard Rheinhold recounts in Smart Mobs, tens of thousands of protesters against Philippine president Joseph Estrada were brought to a square with an SMS. See Mark Zuckerberg proudly talking about the Spanish-language Facebook being used to organize Colombians against FARC. Iran is just another example of people organizing themselves online for a cause or a revolution. The people will avail themselves the latest available technology to serve their needs and cause.

Twitter is different because it’s live and social – the retweet is the shot heard ’round the world – and because that API lets it survive any dictator’s game of whack-a-mole. But it’s by no means the final word in digital revolutions. I know we will soon see witnesses and participants to events such as these broadcasting them live from their mobile phones. We will see people organizing with Google Maps. We can’t imagine what will come next.

Twitter has been used in many ways in the Iran story:
* Citizens of Iran are using it to inform each other.
* They are using it, most importantly, to organize.
* They are using it to inform the world.
* We outside Iran are using us to see what people were saying and doing in Iran. Journalists are using it as a tip service to news and a way to find witnesses to interview. I’ve said in Twitter – to respond to the obvious complaint I hear – that, no, Twitter is no more the final source of news in and of itself than Wikipedia is the only source of knowledge. But it is a tip service for journalists who then still need to do their job and report.
* We can use it to see the interests of at least the Twitter demographic – limited though it may be – and then to use that to beat up CNN, Fox, and MSNBC for their terrible news judgment last weekend as they all but ignored a revolution.

Of course, Twitter – and Facebook and blogs and camera phones – alone cannot win a revolution. They cannot protect their users from government’s bullets and jails, as we have seen all to tragically in Iran. (This thought led Tom Friedman to the worst line on the New York Times editorial page, worse even than the worst of Maureen Dowd: “Bang-bang beats tweet-tweet.”) Fighting for freedom requires courage and risk we must not underestimate. But at least these tools allow allies to find each other and to let the world know of their plight. For thanks to the fact that anyone in the world – outside of North Korea – now has a printing press and a broadcast tower, they can be assured that the whole world is watching.

I recorded a Skype video interview for Al Jazeera English that will air at 20000 GMT today and looked at the camera and said, “Despots, beware.” Your days are numbered. This is more than a revolution. It is an evolution in the architecture of speech and freedom.

: LATER: Note that not just Iran is censoring the internet. Germany wants to, seeking a censorship infrastructure that can be used for one purpose today, another tomorrow. Oh, when will they ever learn?

When CYA can BYA

It’s lawyer day at Buzzmachine….

In this week’s kerfuffling on Twitter and blogs about the Wall Street Journal’s anti-interactive interactivity rules regarding Twitter et al, a New York Times editor took a few of us to task for not recognizing that this was just a case of a CYA – cover your ass – memo from lawyers. I responded that CYA can now BYA – burn your ass – when such memos become public, as they will, and speak for you.

This memo was all about how Journal journalists may – or actually may not – communicate, interact, and collaborate with the public (read: us). So it was a memo about us. The Journal didn’t understand how inherently insulting it was to say that it’s dangerous for journalists to talk with us.

The memo ended up exposing a cultural problem at the Journal. I got a private direct message from an executive there saying, “Be careful where you go on this, Jeff. You’re assuming more than Robert said.” I’ll write off the vaguely threatening tone to the economy of language on Twitter. I’ll also choose to reply here rather than in a direct message because I prefer to have this conversation in public. And I’ll tell that executive that, no, the memo said more than they think it said. It said it’s better not to use these tools to collaborate with the public. It said it’s better to let the product speak for itself than to open up their process. It said that being closed is better than being open. Oh, it said plenty.

[Correction: The direct message turns out to be about a prior critical post I’d made regarding the Journal and micropayments. My mistake.]

Rather than scolding me and other tweeters and bloggers for scolding them, the Journal’s executives should have listened. They got great advice from no less than VC Fred Wilson (Twitter investor, btw) telling them what they’re missing about the value of these new tools for journalism. Rather than trying to protect the way things have always been done in this new world, wouldn’t it be better to look at the new ways these tools enable journalists to do their jobs better, to involve and collaborate with the public in the process of journalism to produce better reporting, to reset the relationship of journalist and reader on a more equal and human level, to promote the good work of the journalists at the paper, and so on?

But this is where the Times editor is probably right: I smell lawyers. Someone likely went to them and said, “Protect us. There’s something new and strange in operation here. How could it harm us? Stop it.” That’s what lawyers do, right? They protect.

But protection, haven’t we learned, is precisely the wrong response to change today. Newspapers protected their past and they’re dead. They should have bravely experimented. What they needed instead of protection was the license to try and fail. Now I have known good lawyers who will try to enable you to do what you want to do. But at the end of the day, if they do that too much, they’re screwed because it’s not their job, really, to empower you. It’s their job, still, to protect you. But in the counterintuitive internet age, protection is no protection.

I also got an email from a Journal staffer about what appears to be a Twitchhunt in the Journal. I won’t reveal details because I don’t want to reveal the identity of the employee – because, clearly, interacting with me about the inner workings and process of the Journal is now against Journal rules. That’s just what the lawyers want to protect them from, right? Wrong. What should happen instead is that the execs at the Journal should be asking staffers such as this one how to take advantage of these new tools. They should have asked the public what it means to use Twitter wisely – what is the new definition of the words a Journal editor threw at me in Twitter: “common sense.” They should instill a culture of asking the public what they know before the story is done.

Is this the lawyers’ fault? No, it’s the fault of the culture at the Journal, a culture that clearly doesn’t understand the benefits of using these tools to open up and do journalism in new ways. But lawyers aid and abet that kind of thinking. They enforce it. They codify it. They make it seem OK. And then they become the voice of the company with the public. And that’s not protection. That’s dangerous. It’ll burn your ass.

Why Google should want Twitter: Currency

Here‘s a good clue as to why Google should be interested in Twitter. It’s not just search. It’s currency. Google isn’t good at currency. It needs content to ferment; it needs links and clicks to collect so PageRank can determine its value.

But in this report (full PDF here), Google chief economist Hal Varian and analyst Hyunyoung Choi demonstrate that Google search trends are good at predicting the present. That is, rather than waiting weeks or even a month to get aggregated figures on auto, retail, home, or travel sales to be collected and analyzed and released, Google search patterns can give a good indication of sales now.

Note that to do that, Google’s value is not in its analysis of content but in its collection of our behavior, which is faster.

Of course, Twitter is even faster, even more immediate. It collects what we’re doing and talking and thinking of doing right now. I’d love to see Varian et al take its data and put it through their algorithms.

Imagine the value of that knowledge, harnessed, for retail and manufacturing forecasting, stock and currency trading, and politics. There’s the vein of value in Twitter. Monetizing it may not come from advertising but from knowledge.

When analyzing the value of enterprises in the digital economy, it’s important to figure the value of its knowledge. I argue in my book that Amazon is really a knowledge company, that delivering books and stuff – atoms – is the price it pays to know more about our shopping than any other company on earth. Google knows the most about what we’re looking for. With maps and mobile, Google is also trying to be the company that knows where we are. Facebook knows the most about our relationships. And Twitter is headed to knowing more about what we’re doing and thinking. (Next: just wi-fi the brain.)

I tweet, therefore I tweet

I Twittered:

My son says his problem with Twitter is too much Twittering about Twitter. Judging by today, he’s right. And I just added to it.

Then David Weinberger, the Emeril of online thought, kicked it up a notch:

That used to be the case with blogging when it first started. Every other post (including mine) was about blogging. Blog blog blog blog.

If you want to get out ahead of the curve when the next new social writing phenomenon happens, be the one who never writes about it.

Herewith, I put myself behind the curve. And of course, now I’ll tweet about this blog post about twittering. Jane, stop this crazy thing.

LATER: Nice exchange in response to this on Facebook (which might as well be Twitter, so it’s still morally the same):
Eric Effron : It’s only natural, though. I suspect that when people first got telephones, they talked a lot about…telephones!
Steve Safran: Agreed. My parents still talk about how wonderful it is they can email.
Lamar Graham: My mother still calls to tell me she sent me an e-mail.
Steve Safran: I get that too, but I have a feeling it’s just a Jewish mother’s way of saying “why haven’t you answered it yet?”