Charleston City Paper’s Lindsay Frost has a cool Twitter piece (jokingly subtitled “Obligatory ‘Hey, Ever Heard of Twitter?’ News Story”) which has a cool mention of the @chswx weather account. It’s really fun to see @chswx get some traction as I think we do some pretty cool stuff with it, especially as hurricane season gets into gear. Also featured in the article are Brian McGee, chair of the College of Charleston Department of Communication; Lyn Mettler, president of Step Ahead Web Strategies; and Andrew Edahl, a College of Charleston student.
At first glance, a city joining Brightkite seems a little strange — where would a city check in if it doesn’t move? However, North Charleston’s Brightkite account could be brilliant. It could be used to check in at events at their exact locations, post pictures of those events, and create quite a marketing stream for the city. Right now it’s just notes being posted at City Hall, but I could see this being much, much more. This is the first municipal usage of Brightkite I’ve seen; I’ll be interested to find more. (You can also find North Charleston on Twitter.)
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.
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.
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.
Almost three years ago (it’s been that long?), I went to a seminar on crisis communication put on by College of Charleston’s Communication Advisory Council. During the seminar, we broke into groups and acted like we were PR for Firestone, charged with cleaning up the mess brought about by the tire blowouts that caused several high-profile Explorer accidents some years ago. The key takeaway? Present a united front, and get it right the first time.
Now, keep in mind that all this happened in the age before social media came about. While the fundamentals we learned that day are the same, Amazon’s current #amazonfail plight is demonstrating that the rules of crisis communication have changed.
After a week and a lot of tweaking by the FriendFeed team, I’m finding that the new FriendFeed beta is pretty great. Its landmark front-and-center feature is its default real-time stream. At first, it was entirely too fast and made me reach for my filters (which, by the way, have been ridiculously enhanced in this new FF) and the Pause button, which stops the real-time stream. However, the FF team made some changes to how the real-time system works and now my stream is a bit easier to keep up with. I subscribe to 283 folks, which makes for a fairly active stream at times (but certainly nothing like Robert Scoble’s 14,000+).
It’s taken some time, but the new FF’s really grown on me. I’m getting more and more comfortable in it, and have just scratched the surface of the filtering functionality, which really cements FF’s reputation as a power-user social media tool. I see a lot of concern that FF can’t break into the mainstream and all that because it’s “too hard.” You know, I’m okay with it not doing that. Perhaps there are some additional things that FriendFeed can do to make it a bit more accessible, but it absolutely should not compromise its power user features for the sake of gaining more folks. FriendFeed does beautifully at what it does and astounds me at how it adds features to cut through the noise to the signal. Plus, its basic features are simple enough — you already use them on Facebook, after all. I encourage you to give the beta a shot and subscribe to my feed if you dare.
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.
So the conventional wisdom is not to talk about a medium using the medium that is being discussed; i.e. you’re not supposed to tweet about Twitter, you’re not supposed to blog about blogging…whatever. These people who tell you this are the same people who tell you that auto DMs on Twitter are a good thing. Thus, I categorically reject this conventional wisdom, because we don’t break any ground with conventional wisdom ANYWAY.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but over the last couple months, I’ve more narrowly focused the blog on social media topics. There’s a lot about Facebook. There’s a cubic crapton about Twitter, all intermingled with some Brightkite, FriendFeed, and identi.ca. Sure, I’ve written about the Super Bowl, but I’ve kept the topics pretty narrowly focused. This is a side effect of my using Twitter; items that I might have posted as “asides” here often end up there because of its sheer convenience. Another thing I’ve discovered: FriendFeed is a stellar way to micro-blog, especially if I need more than 140 characters. It can offer instant feedback and viral promotion via “likes,” and the conversation there is tough to top right now. It’s not just using different services, either. Two of my big topics here of late have been Serious Business show notes and weather, and I’ve shifted both these items off to their own sites in order to let them flourish.
So where does that leave the ol’ homestead? Scrambling to adjust, and reacquire its voice.