In advance of a doozy of a weather day, I’ve spent a portion of my evening revamping the Charleston Weather blog. I’ve installed the latest P2, Automattic’s excellent real-time WordPress theme, and I’ve also (with any luck) enabled PubSubHubbub for posts to the blog. Weather information is exactly what the real-time web is designed for, I think — tomorrow may be a great test of that. So, especially if you’re in Charleston, follow the blog tomorrow along with the alerts we’ll have on Twitter, Identi.ca, and Facebook. Hopefully things will turn out better than the strongly-worded alerts have been telling the story, but it’s tough to say.
Smarterware says geocoded tweets are imminent. Twitter geolocation is a win for newsgathering situations where it may be more expedient to tick off a “share my location” box than it is to check in on Brightkite and start posting notes. They’re doing a couple things weird here, though: scrubbing the data after 14 days (apparently to elude subpoena) and only giving the user control insomuch that they can specify whether location data is embedded in the tweet (though I’m sure app developers will be able to do more to the data before it’s posted). I like this for quick and dirty situations, but the lack of persistence of the geocoded data bothers me a bit. I still prefer the Brightkite approach to places as objects and the association of notes and pictures to those places. I also prefer Brightkite’s privacy controls, as you can still give your location to just a certain subset of people. It will be interesting to see how Brightkite’s data is enhanced by geocoded tweets — Brightkite could effectively hook into Twitter streams and import geocoded tweets into their placestreams (if the user so wishes, of course). I’ll be interested to see how app developers flesh this out. (Thanks to Mandi Engram at Social Media Club Columbia for pointing out this article!)
The latest foray into my meteorologically-themed social media exploration is the Charleston Weather FriendFeed group, designed with some automated aggregation of Charleston weather-related tweets in mind, but also designed as a point for folks to share their weather stories and reports. It seems like a strange, nearly too-narrowly focused topic for a FriendFeed group, but I see it as an important proof of concept stemming from some goals we set for Charleston news reporting in March.
You may remember the Charleston news hashtag summit-of-sorts. The meeting brought together media members, active Lowcountry bloggers, and concerned Twitter citizens. We hashed out a series of tags that would classify tweets accordingly. There are tags for news (#chsnews), breaking stories (#chsbrkg), and the like. The goal of using these — and really, any hashtag — is to bring related content together so people can filter their streams accordingly. These tags have met with moderate adoption; I’ve personally seen some tags more than others. One of them, #chswx, is one focus of my FriendFeed group. Continue reading
As you may or may not have seen, Twitter’s had a rough go of it from its users (including me) over the past couple days as a result of how they’ve handled the backlash from their “small settings change” which removed the option to handle reply filtering. The rough go’s well-deserved, too, as Biz Stone on the Twitter blog cycled through explanations — a no-no! — first calling the reply filtering option confusing and then attributing the sudden removal of the feature to a technical limitation. Then, Biz blogged a change to replies that potentially made the feature even more confusing. I’m not going to get into those gory details; Marshall Kirkpatrick has a good writeup of the changes at ReadWriteWeb (disclosure: I do design work for RWW part-time [including the graphic in the Twitter post]). Finally, Biz set the record straight, acknowledging the communication failures of the preceding day, explaining that the removal of the feature was both a decision relating to user experience as well as technical and scalability issues (the technical issues apparently demanded a sudden removal of the feature) and a clear plan on how to restore similar functionality.
I’m cool with this explanation. What befuddles me is why Biz didn’t acknowledge it was a technical problem in the first place — I suspect this would have been taken far better if he’d done that first. What’s done is done, and I’m eager to see if they can build out a scalable feature which helps meet the needs of the 3% who strayed from the defaults. (The 3% revelation prompted a little fun from Robert Scoble on FriendFeed; thus, the image above, which you can get on a t-shirt if you want.)
Again, though, I’m feeling a bit better about things now. I miss the increased firehose of my timeline, but at the same time, I’m growing a bit used to not seeing all the replies, and that feeling like I’m missing something is waning a bit. You know what else? It’s nice to know that everybody has uniform settings now. I actually feel better about sending replies to users in public than I did before, because I have a tendency to reply in public a lot and thus would come across as noisy to those who were early adopters or had set the settings to full-blast. Now, I don’t have to worry about that. If someone really wants the noise, @s and all, there’s my FriendFeed, which is honestly better for conversations anyway.
There’s been a lot of griping about the mainstreaming of Twitter, whether it be alpha-geeks being threatened over “normal people” invading “their turf” or, more recently, spammers invading the trending topics with garbage and, in some cases, malcontent. Those items haven’t bothered me that badly; Twitter is richer with more people using the service, and while spammers in the trending topics are terrible, it’s not necessarily a bad problem to have if you’re a fledgling service (“look, we’re being spammed – we’ve made it!”). No, my biggest fear has been Twitter changing the experience and watering down features, and tonight, they’ve forcibly changed my experience in a way I do not appreciate.
Twitter will no longer show me replies to people I’m not following. Previously, Twitter let users control the level of conversation in their streams in three ways:
- See @replies to people you are following — conversation between only those you follow showed up in your stream
- See all @replies — any reply to any user, regardless of whether you were following them or not, showed up in your stream
- No @replies — show no conversation in your stream
By default, new users got the experience now being forced on everyone: They’d only see conversations between the folks they’re following. This was fine for decreasing noise for one-ended conversations, but what if you ran across a side of a conversation that was relevant to you and you wanted to see more? What if the person on the other side of the conversation was very much relevant to what you’re looking for in someone to follow? Discovering folks by conversation you find fascinating is absolutely the best way to add to your following, and to not have at least the option to turn on that full stream to enable that discovery really bothers me, because that was part of what made Twitter so rich.
Change it back, Twitter. You’ve hijacked my user experience and I don’t appreciate it.
First, a note to myself to step away from WordPress when in an emotional moment regarding social media topics (such as, say, trust on Twitter).
After careful consideration and a good conversation with Patrick earlier, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are some flaws in how I’d implement the authentication of Twitter accounts.
The biggest flaw which came out is that if big companies and celebrities were given the option to “certify” their accounts, would that make “normal folks” such as myself automatically invalid? Because, if you think about it, authenticated accounts — one that have been verified by Twitter as “legit” — could unintentionally create a class of “better” users than the standard accounts. The credibility lent those accounts could potentially diminish greatly from a standard account — and after all, there’s a strong sentiment for Twitter to remain a level playing field (all it takes is a search for the Suggested Users feature to see the passion on both sides of that argument).
The second biggest flaw? How in the world would Twitter implement such a system to authenticate users when it can’t keep its system stable? When the basic functionality of Twitter, including updating and following, is more often than not a crapshoot, those required fixes take priority. Period. Twitter doesn’t have the capacity to properly serve up tweets at times, much less authenticate users.
The solution? If you’re a company conducting business on Twitter, or perhaps a celebrity, make sure your Twitter account is referenced somewhere on your website, so we at least know it’s really you rather than an imposter like the false Jerry Rice or the guy who was pretending to be LeVar Burton (which eventually caused the real LeVar Burton to join the service). With this in mind, it’s utterly mind-boggling that Comcast doesn’t reference their Twitter contacts on their Contact Us page — or, for that matter, anywhere on comcast.com. Again, Comcast’s efforts are well-documented in the media, but what if I’m a user completely green to Twitter, who logs on for the first time, mentions Comcast, and is reached out to by one of the agents? The Comcast site doesn’t give me the option of making sure the Comcast Twitter agent is who he says he is. Users are increasingly becoming smarter, and they may be more resistant to outreach efforts if the company’s Twitter presence isn’t noted on their website.
Oh, and I was wrong on @cnnbrk too. Apparently CNN has been working with that account, just in a consulting capacity, over the last couple years, and only recently acquired the account. I still think it’s odd that the account acquisition was just this week, considering it’s been around for a long time, but the fact that CNN was aware and working with the account makes me feel better. I have far less of a problem with something done in good faith than something done to intentionally defraud people.
Clearly, it’s time for a break from WordPress already, and I’ve only been back to writing regularly over the last few days. Jeez. :P
We can’t trust social media anymore.
How is it that the most-followed Twitter account, @cnnbrk, wasn’t even run by CNN until a recent acquisition? Seriously — how many of you out there thought CNN ran it? I know I did. Some folks have claimed to have known the truth behind @cnnbrk for a while, but I consider myself up on social media news and this comes as a saddening shock to me.
Why saddening? Because the trust factor that endears us to social media has been shattered.
Twitter needs a mechanism to authenticate a true identity now. Not in six months, not in a year, but post-haste. Otherwise, how can we truly know that accounts performing customer service over Twitter, such as Zappos or Comcast, are legitimate? When we DM account information to a representative of a company, can we really be sure they are a representative? Are we giving our information to Comcast, or are we giving it to a phisher? It’s well-documented that the Comcast representatives on Twitter are indeed authorized agents of the company, but how can someone new to Twitter know this for sure just by looking at the Twitter site? This CNN thing really hurts any company that wants to perform customer service online, because it underscores the fact that tomorrow, I or anybody else could start an account like “@AcmeCares” and phish Wile E. Coyote for his credit card information over DM after reaching out to his reports on Twitter that his shipment of dynamite didn’t catch the Roadrunner.
We are very fortunate that @cnnbrk was not abused, and that’s likely why James Cox, the person who started the account, is not on the other end of a landmark trademark infringement lawsuit. (Because this is, in every sense of the world, a textbook case of trademark infringement. Also, I’m willing to bet that CNN’s failure to act on this sooner could be interpreted as failure to defend their trademark in a reasonable time, which could have serious legal repercussions down the road.) But this whole ordeal underscores the critically urgent need for an authentication system to be implemented. Otherwise, I will now have serious concerns over any company wishing to engage over Twitter, because there is no way to be sure that they are who they say they are — and that’s sad, because as Comcast has proven, Twitter is phenomenal for customer outreach.
Severe weather season roars back to Charleston today. I’m in “hunker down” mode here, monitoring all sorts of varying weather information. Here’s how to keep up:
- On Twitter, I’ll live-tweet the storm event at @chswx. If you just want warnings and forecasts, I recommend @CharlestonWX. Also see @weatherwatches for advance notice of potential watches. Don’t forget local media, as well, including Rob Fowler, Josh Marthers, Joey Sovine, and the Live 5 Weather Team.
- I’m uploading radar images periodically to radar.charlestonwx.com. There’s an animation script which gives you 10 frames and many Level III products to play with.
- If time permits, I’ll do some writing with more detailed analysis at my new weather blog. Given the fast pace of these storms, blogging may be somewhat prohibitive. (It’s much easier to blog a hurricane than it is a springtime weather event.)
Despite all this technology we now have, your best defense is to have a NOAA Weather Radio and make sure to heed all warnings that come down from the National Weather Service or other emergency management officials. Remember, the Internet is a great tool, but is not intended for life-or-death decisions. Stay safe out there!
It seems oddly fitting that a few local bloggers, tweeters, and folks from local media outlets got together at Juanita Greenberg’s downtown, sat outside, and talked about — what else? — hashtags. These aren’t your ordinary hashtags, though — these tags are designed to standardize news tweeting in Charleston. This way, we can keep things like breaking news, weather, and other news types separate from each other so that — if the tags are adopted the way we hope — people can find news faster. Dan has a great explanation of our meeting today (the culmination of the #chshash conversation you may have seen over the last couple days). Expect to see more written on these hashtags soon.