In Brief

The Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook

Needed now more than ever.

Site News

…and we’re back.

After four years, I’ve changed the design of It now runs on the extremely elegant and nicely responsive Twenty Twelve theme released by the WordPress team a few weeks ago. I never thought of myself as a default theme kind of guy until my life become incredibly busy and a much-needed redesign got totally out of reach. Twenty Twelve is an outstanding theme and should do well here for a while. At some point I’ll graft a custom design back on but it’s not a high priority.

What is a high priority going forward is spending more time working with this blog given the precarious state of third-party social networks and data ownership/display rights. Take Twitter’s much-maligned policy changes as an example — Twitter is about to really limit the power of its service, chilling its ecosystem and everything that attracted me to Twitter as a platform in the first place. I’ll still use Twitter and invest some time into it, keeping in mind the caveats going forward as it tries to become a profitable business, but if they restrict clients too much more it’s going to be tough to hang in there. (And I firmly realize that my issues with Twitter are from the standpoint of a power user, but something needs to be said for content ownership and display rights.)

Facebook is a family-and-friends communication tool for pithy thoughts with familiar folks. (I do have subscriptions turned on but I’m not sure who would want to watch.) Again, not a place I want to invest much brain power.

I’d invest more heavily in Google+ if they would open up the write API to, well, anybody other than HootSuite. (Nothing personal against HootSuite, but I prefer native desktop clients.)

Since I have this WordPress blog, I see less utility in installing a tool such as StatusNet or a Tent protocol-capable server. The ability to federate them is the trump card in their favor, and perhaps that’s something I should investigate more closely as an integration into WordPress — it’s just a protocol, and WordPress’s flexibility is why it survived the downfall of mainstream blogging (and, quite honestly, has thrived at an unprecedented scale).

It’s damn good to be writing here again. I seriously regret not doing it more. This blog has missed out on arguably the most important stretch of my life, and that really sucks.

Here’s to new beginnings…

In Brief

Monitoring social media is good for elected officials

I hope the backlash against Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback for his outrageous and constitutionally-questionable response to a negative tweet sent by a high school student does not have a negative impact on public support for elected officials’ offices monitoring Twitter and other social media. It’s an important component to keeping in touch with constituents and is a Good Thing. (It also requires thicker skin than Brownback apparently has.)

In Brief People

Andy Paras, Social Journalist

Andy Paras, Charleston’s favorite Twitter reporter from the Post & Courier, is now blogging about his use of social media in journalism, and he’s off to a great start. I highly recommend his Google Plus review, for starters. I’m glad he started the blog and look forward to more posts.


Pivot towards a cliff: Brightkite (Checkins), RIP

Removing the Brightkite app from my iPhone.

Letting go: removing the Brightkite app from my iPhone.

Today marks the end of Brightkite’s location-based social network, as the company repositions itself firmly in the “group texting” camp. It was my first introduction to location-based social networking, and I’m going to miss it. Brightkite was the only location-based social network that really nailed privacy controls: you could set privacy per-post, per-checkin, be vague to some users but not others, and more. It amazes me that none of its surviving competitors have similar privacy controls today. Placestreams were a really useful feature, featuring notes and photos of people who have left them behind, telling a story about a location. The market leader, Foursquare, still does not yet support attaching pictures to a place. What’s with that?

Update, 12/20/2010: Foursquare will now support photos on checkins and tips.

Brightkite’s service is another example of forward thinking in location-based networking. By doing the work to match disparate locations between several different services in the database, it provided for an accurate checkin across many services. Gowalla recently released a crossposting feature in its latest client; as I discovered the other night, though, it doesn’t seem go to the trouble of using an already-created Foursquare venue to check in. Rather, it will create a temporary place and check you in there. Angling for a mayorship to score a discount? Avoid the Gowalla app. will help you get there, though. (It, too, is waving in the winds at the moment, but hopefully will be picked up for active development at some point.)

In the end, though, a social network is only as good as the number of friends you have on it. (If technical considerations were how social networks won the race, Pownce would have bought Twitter out.) I also think that Brightkite may have been ahead of its time; Foursquare made the placestream concept easier to grok (“venue” is, indeed, a more accessible term) and gave users a reason to check in other than for the sake of checking in.

Brightkite as a company will live on as a group text company — just like PingChat, Kik, and many, many other players. I wish them the best of luck, but I have no need for another group text app right now — as the screenshot above illustrates.

In Brief Observations Technology

Oh, The (Lack Of) Humanity

One feature of New Twitter is that it puts your new followers right in plain view on your home timeline. As someone who doesn’t get new follower e-mail anymore, this is a handy feature. However, it’s just been damned disappointing how many accounts follow me that are either pure spam or just a feed of links to a blog. Come on people. You can do better than that.


Foursquare hits Charleston

Joe Riley may no longer have a mayoral stranglehold in Charleston, as Foursquare, the location-based social game, has expanded to the entire world after a limited beta in certain cities.

Location-based social networking isn’t a terribly new concept anymore, but it hasn’t really caught on in the mainstream. I’ve been using Brightkite for location-based networking since 2008 or so, and it’s proven to be a very useful tool. However, I’ve heard on more than one occasion that it’s a “stalker tool” — and, yes, if used without discretion, it could have some unintended consequences — but with careful usage, it can be a very powerful tool. However, Foursquare’s competitive aspect makes the idea of giving away location on the Internet a little bit more palatable to the general public. It also helps that Foursquare focuses on social venues without putting on undue pressure to check in at work, at home, and the like. Its business partnerships add a lot of value for users, businesses, and Foursquare itself. The to-do list feature, which lets you assign things to do at specific venues and check them off for points, is a cool way to find things to do at a new place.

As a utility, though, I think Foursquare falls a little short. For example, it doesn’t let you attach pictures to a place, which is something that Brightkite does extremely well. It also doesn’t make much sense to use Foursquare in a newsgathering situation (which, admittedly, most people won’t do). A case in point: I’m working on a project right now to create a mobile storm lab to augment my weather data-gathering and reporting efforts. I plan on using a special Charleston Weather Brightkite account to track and broadcast my movements. And despite its lack of popularity compared to Foursquare, Brightkite wins here hands down for a few reasons:

  • The ability to check in at a relative location, such as an intersection, rather than a solid venue;
  • Brightkite’s aforementioned ability to associate and geotag photos with a location, and then post those photos to Flickr and Twitter;
  • The game feature seems extraneous for the intended use — after all, if my mobile storm lab should check in at a place enough to become mayor of it, the place sounds just a tad uninsurable, doesn’t it?

Time will tell to see if Foursquare adds these features, but Brightkite’s focus seems to be on pushing the location-based envelope, as its foray into augmented reality advertising shows. That’s why Brightkite will continue to be the location-based social network of choice for this geek.

I’ve heard a lot about how Foursquare going global means Brightkite’s death knell, but I don’t agree at all. Brightkite’s purpose is different than Foursquare’s and I don’t see why they can’t coexist. I look forward to using both for different things — Foursquare for the rare occasion I try to be a socialite, and Brightkite for other applications that require location but not necessarily the competitive aspect. (I’d like Gowalla, too, but they’re iPhone and Android only — not even their mobile site works on a BlackBerry, and there doesn’t seem to be any alternative method to operate the service.)

Want to give all this a shot? Compete with me on Foursquare, or friend me on Brightkite to see pictures and notes about the places I end up.

In Brief


Increasingly, I’m sharing things that fit my definition of “interesting” over on my Posterous blog. If you haven’t tried it yet, Posterous is a neat way to share cool things quickly (as easily as sending an e-mail!). Some folks use it for their full blog, too. It lets you autopost to as many services as you can think of (including blogs that support MetaWeblog API, as WordPress does), so your shares can be broadcast far and wide. I’m currently posting to Tumblr and Facebook from mine; not quite sure I want to open my Twitter stream up to that just yet. Expect a future revision of to include a spot for these shares. Are you using Posterous? Leave a comment — I’d love to see what you’re sharing.

In Brief Technology

Twitter geolocation ‘imminent’; I’ll stick with Brightkite

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!)


So The Great Facebook URL Rush of 2009 is over, and in the end, my Personal Brand remains intact: We now return to your regularly scheduled geekery, already in progress.