Friday, October 8, 2010

NewTwitter v. TweetDeck and Lists

As always, let me start by reminding you that these opinions are simply my own at now official statements by Intel.
I've tried the #NewTwitter. It is better. If I were a casual user of twitter, I can't imagine wanting anything more.

However, I'm a twitaholic. I'm a retweet addict. I'm a junky for my stream. I can't get enough twitter. I follow over a thousand other tweeps, well as best I can.

Therein lies the rub. By the time I was following 50 or so other people, it got to be more than I could handle. I was drowning in too much good information. Now, the problem is at least 20 times worse.

Part of the solution is simply giving up. Don't get too attached to your stream, you can't hold onto it. Appreciate what it gives you, but let the part you've missed go by. It will anyway.

However, there are other tools that can help get your stream to you in a better fashion. In particular, I'm talking about lists and tools that bring up multiple lists as multiple columns. If you really want to immerse yourself in your stream, I highly recommend this as the way to do it.

The first thing I recommend is finding a multi-column client you like. My personal favorite is tweetdeck. However, many people I know use seesmic. For a while I used a client called peoplebrowsr.

Now, what is a multi-column client? A multi-column client is a twitter viewer that shows several different twitter streams at the same time, in columns.

Different streams you ask? That's where twitter lists come in. You take the people you follow and divide them up into lists. Some useful categories are those tweeps you follow because they relate to your work. Others you follow because you like to chat with them for personal reasons. Maybe another group are your news sources.

I have lists like that: Originally, "security-all" were all the people I followed who talked about computer security. That was until there were more than 500 of them and I had to add "security-2". I have a separate list for "online-safety" who are those tweeps who give security advice. I have yet still a fourth list "parenting" for tweeps who give parenting advice. I also have a "law" list and one for "CIO/CISO" tweeps.

I also have a list of "Intel" people. Those are folks I work with, or who often talk about Intel, where I work. Since I have spent most of my life as a computer person, I also have a "programming" list.

Then, there are personal lists "personal" and "potential".

As you see, you can slice and dice the people into as many categories as you like. You don't even need to strictly divide them. I have several people on more than one list. That helps keep their tweets from scrolling off the screen.

Now, I don't necessarily recommend that you have quite as many lists as I have. Yes, you can finely divide your world, but even with a multi-column client, you can only see so many lists at one time. I have a nice high-resolution monitor and I can only fit seven columns on the screen at once. Moreover, you can't really watch even seven columns. Well, at least I can't. So, if you make too many lists, you will find yourself following some less than you like.

But, the point is with seven columns on the screen, each representing a different aspect of what I am interested in. My twitter world is very rich for me. I can almost always find something in one of the columns that is relevant, pull up the link in the tweet, read more in depth, and then if I like fire off an RT.

And, the different columns because they represent different aspects, never get completely filled even by the most aggressive tweeter. The most such a person can do is hog a column (or two) and other tweeps still get my attention. Which is nice, I can follow people who tweet a lot and still hear those still small voices of the quiet ones too. I like that.

Thus, there is your recommendation for the day. If you find following your stream too hard, divide into smaller pieces so you can more easily digest it. A multi-column client with some lists is one way to do so.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Retweet As A Calling Card

Anyone who has followed me on twitter knows that my favorite form of communication is the retweet (or RT for short), sometimes with comment and often without. This is not just that being an introvert, I have little to say. It is actually intentional and planned as a firm believer in the aphorism, "On Twitter, Love is spelled RT."

For those of you not addicted to RTing as I am, let me explain this plan, so you can consider whether it is something you want to adopt also.

The primary purpose of a retweet is to share information. Always remember that. When you retweet something, you are taking that meme of information and reinforcing it. Therefore, the first rule in retweeting is to pick things to retweet you wish you had said.

However, thinking of retweets as sharing information can give you another clue as to what you should retweet. Pick items to retweet that you think people might not have seen otherwise. You probably have some people that you follow that most of your followers do not. In fact, unless you have a small tightly knit group of friends you tweet with, most of your followers probably don't follow all of each other. The exceptions to that are the top-ranked tweeters and celebrities you follow. You can expect that those people are generally followed by anyone who is interested in what they say.

When you think about that, that means you can pretty freely tweet anything written by some one with a thousand or fewer followers. You will probably be introducing those people to new potential followers.

On the other hand, retweeting everything that your favorite celebrity or news source tweets, even if you are adding comments, is probably not introducing your followers to something they don't know. Still, if you have someone like @techzader, you can also easily retweet them, as long as you are selective. The top tweeters generally put out lots of information and much of it goes by too fast for us ordinary mortals to follow. So, if you find an interesting tidbit or two from their stream, you can certainly retweet it and not worry about filling your stream with non-content.

Okay, now that we've established that you can retweet your unique people any time and the well-known people, when they say something that catches your attention. Let's look at this plan.

It starts by reviving an old tradition, "the calling card". Back in Victorian England one used to leave a calling card when one wanted to visit with someone. This was the precursor to the modern day business card. The point of the calling card was to catch the recipients attention and to introduce oneself.

One can use the RT the same way. It works because when you retweet someone, your mention of them gets directed to their attention. Most people, especially those whose business it is to tweet, keep track of when they are mentioned. Which probably means this technique will be less effective on celebrities, since they probably aren't tracking every time they get mentioned.

So, assume you would like to get to know some specific tweeter. One simply finds something interesting they are writing about--and if they aren't writing interesting stuff, why are you getting to know them? Now, that you found the interesting tweet, go ahead RT it, either with or without comment. If you are really brazen, follow up the RT with an @ message to them. However, even if you aren't feeling that bold, simply wait. Often when you RT something, someone has written, they will thank you for it. You can then reply to that. The exception here being if the tweet you are retweeting is something they they have retweeted from somewhere else, you are more likely to get the thank you from the original author.

If the first retweet doesn't work, wait a day or two and try again. If repeated retweets don't work, don't continue to pursue the matter. There are people you won't reach no matter how hard you try. Better to concentrate your efforts elsewhere.

Note that you don't have to just retweet to get introduced. Calling cards were used for any time one wanted to visit. Retweets work the same way. If you want to reinforce the reason why you found the person interesting, or renew an acquaintance that is fading, retweeting another tweet is a perfectly acceptable way to do so.

In fact, if a person has an interesting stream, there is no reason not to retweet them regularly. If you make the right connections, that will become a reciprocal pleasure and both of your audiences will grow.

To see the effect of this, consider how you found this. Chances are that you read this because you follow my tweet stream which is almost entirely RTs. However, I don't worry about that, because I try to pick carefully what I retweet, by tracking that which interests me, with the hope that others will also find it interesting. And, if you didn't find my stream directly, it is probably because the person who retweeted about this blog entry finds my stream interesting. So, it's all good.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Why I Didn't Quit Facebook

As always the opinions expressed in this posting are solely the author's and do not reflect any stances held by Intel.
A recent article by @mediaphyter asked the valid question about whether those who were threatening to quit Facebook over privacy issues actually ever quit. While I don't believe I actually ever threatened to quit Facebook, I certainly found the privacy issues compelling and considered it at least for a while. Moreover, I certainly posted enough tweets about the topic to be considered to be an agitator, because even if I tried to conscientious about being balanced, there was certainly more noise and more news on the outraged side than the opposite.

Thus, in all fairness, I must ask myself if I am being hypocritical by not quitting. At the same time, those of you following along at home can ask yourselves the same questions. Which of these answers ring true and which are mere rationalizing? Do you have reasons for quitting or not quitting that vary?

First, I have little to lose by quitting Facebook. Literally. I have perhaps a dozen or so friends on Facebook. Now, while there are some Facebook connections that I don't have contact with in any other way, I don't actually connect much with any of them. On would hope that most Facebook users would have more to lose if they lost the Facebook connection. (I would certainly feel that way if we were discussing Twitter, losing those connections would definitely be felt. The obvious presumption is that most people would feel the same way about their Facebook accounts. Asked that way, it is understandable why many people are stuck, which is what prompted one of the comments in the article above about "people talking about quitting not really wanting to do it".)

The next question the seems most relevant is whether I would act hypocritical after I quit. If one is quitting in protest, one should not continue to perform acts that line the pockets of the entity one is protesting against. That means that upon quitting Facebook, one shouldn't visit web pages hosted on Facebook. That would prove to be a much stiffer challenge. There are definitely sources like Cruel's Not Cool and F-Secure that I visit quite often by clicking links on Twitter. It would be difficult to exclude those sources from things I want to re-tweet simply because I was protesting Facebook's privacy policies.

However, the question that is most pressing is whether Facebook's privacy changes have swung back far enough to be acceptable. All of us have probably read fundamentally negative reviews like this one in eWeek. The key point in the article is that privacy now requires an opt-out decision where it used to be opt-in. That is that privacy used to be an easy default to get and now it takes more work.

Having actually tried the most recent changes to the privacy settings, I can report the pages to do so seemed very easy to navigate. Yes, if you want fine-grained control like I do, it isn't simply a one-click operation. However, one-click did get a surprising number to be close enough. Being relatively technically savvy, I will not make that a blanket pronouncement. The one-click solution is not one-size-fits-all, and the options underneath are still numerous and not necessarily obvious. Still, it did seem possible and not overly difficult to return Facebook to an essentially private service.

More important for me was the ability to opt-out completely and conveniently from the instant personalization. That is not only a privacy but a security issue. I consider identity theft and spear-phishing, using available information to formulate a more credible fake message, to be very significant problems that I don't want to be exposed to unnecessarily. Therefore, I keep most personal information off the web, with the exception of the resume information I publish on LinkedIn. Being able to restrict information from being given to applications that I am not using was a priority and one of my major concerns. Fixing that item was key for me in deciding not to abandon Facebook.

Does that make me happy about the changes in Facebook? No. The change in Terms-of-service which eroded my privacy was not welcome. Any changes that appear to erode my rights are not welcome.

Moreover, it certainly added to my levels of concerns and actually raised my consciousness about privacy and security threats I had not previously considered. Like most people, I would be quite satisfied to be blissfully ignorant as long as doing so isn't putting me at risk. Making those risks apparent may be good for me in the long run, but they are not pleasant to discover.

Therefore, I did not quit Facebook. I am not planning on doing so. However, I am still not happy about the reasons why it was worth considering quitting.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Toppling Facebook

Recently Facebook's changes to their privacy policy and privacy controls have made many people upset. Enough so, that there are quite a few who are leaving Facebook at least temporarily.

Just deactivated my FB account.less than a minute ago via DestroyTwitter

Others are facing the prospect of monitoring and changing their Facebook settings on a frequent and regular basis just to maintain the status quo.

I bet I will have to change my #faceboom #privacy settings. Again. It's becoming a weekly event, no?less than a minute ago via TweetCaster

This flap has inspired an almost endless stream of "how to adjust your Facebook privacy settings" or "how to delete your facebook account" tweets, blogs, and articles, such as this one by Senator Al Franken.

This article on wired goes so far as to suggest that an open source alternative to Facebook be built. As a programmer, this caught my attention. The technical challenge isn't that great. In fact, it falls into the domain of what open source is actually best at, capturing, recreating, and evolving software. This makes it from an implementation viewpoint a very do-able project.

What seems to be hindering the start of such a project is the impression that Facebook is too large to challenge. That is the impetus for this post. Facebook is certainly large and it does have an installed user base that gives it tremendous leverage. That allows it to do many things. Including its current attempt to "monetize" all that user information.

However, the one thing it doesn't allow it to do is anger and drive away its users. Users on the internet are actually quite fickle. Facebook is not the first site to have an overwhelmingly large user base. In fact, it wasn't that long ago that Google was considered to be irreplacably the core of the internet. More similar to Facebook is MySpace which saw a huge following erode very quickly. Going back further, there was a time when "everybody" had an AOL account. Prior to that, there was CompuServe. I don't need a show of hands to see how few of you even remember those two.

The history of the internet tells us one thing: Something new will eventually replace whatever we consider to be key today. It is not a question of "if" it is a question of "when". The internet game of "King of the Hill" is just like the child's version. No one stays on top forever. Therefore, don't be intimidated by the number of users Facebook has. That's just a potential market to be tapped by something better maybe even just something fresher.

Now, I can't promise that an open source version of Facebook will be an instant success. More importantly, I can't promise you that you will get rich building it. In fact, if you want to truly tap the ope source community, you should put those dreams aside.

However, I am willing to assert that if you build a set of open protocols that allow different providers to create mini-Facebooks and link them together, you will gain traction, just like the web did years ago, by allowing sites to put up pages that referred to each other via URLs. A grass roots project is possible. Some people will even find ways to put very innovative services on that scaffolding, and some of them will make significant money.

The one thing you need to do if you want to replace Facebook with an "Open Book" that respects peoples privacy is to actually build something. That is the key thing. As is often said, actions speak louder than words. Real software will trump vaporware. If you create something interesting, you will find people to collaborate with. Trust me. I've been there. It happens.

In fact, if you are serious about it, you might want to join diaspora. or look into really simple social networking at hedgie or boonex from Australia These look like groups committed to building an open source Facebook replacement. I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't others. (That's the down side of open source development, it often produces a lot of starts that never take off before building something that is good enough to have a cohesive faction that supports it.)

And on that note, you will have to excuse me, I have some software that I need to write.

DISCLAIMER: Although, I tweet and blog under the name @intel_chris and do so to promote Intel's products. These ideas are solely mine. Moreover, nothing written above should be considered a commitment by Intel (or me) to build, fund, or support building any specific project, nor to buy or use any such product or service should it get built.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A plug for Pluggio

A few months back, @mistygirlph reviewed what is now pluggio on her blog. Given that I was looking for something to "schedule tweets" to space my tweets out over the day more I tried it.

I like it.

It hasn't become my primary way to access twitter, but it does do some things very well.

Before I go too far, I must stick in the required disclaimer. Although, I work for Intel, I tweet only my own opinions. Nothing I say should be construed as a recommendation on Intel's behalf.

One of the things that works best about it, is that it runs in your browser. That wouldn't seem like an advantage, but it actually is. The reason why that works well, is following a link becomes very easy if you used a tabbed browser, simply click on the link and the text pops up in a new tab very fast. Much faster than from a standalone twitter app. Moreover, when you close the new tab, you are back on twitter.

Another thing that pluggio does really well, is how it handles your inbound and outbound messages. In particular, it has a special category that holds just the tweets you send out. You might not think that is useful, but it really is. If you are trying to figure out if a tweet got sent or not in times of twitter problems, just look at the tweets you have posted and if it is there, you sent it. They also do the same thing with in-bound and out-bound DMs, so you can see just the ones you've received or just the ones you've sent. I really like both of those features and for those alone, I will keep using it.

However, it's main claim to fame is reading RSS feeds and helping you get that content into twitter. It is very easy to follow RSS feeds with pluggio. More importantly, pluggio helps you turn those articles into tweets. If you are trying to build a following by offering links to interesting content, this can be a big boon.

The second feature it offers is scheduling tweets. It has a couple of ways of doing this. A schedule at a specific time option, and a rolling tweet option. If I used pluggio as my primary interface to twitter, I would probably use the rolling tweet option as my primary way of RTing people, as it helps you avoid overloading your stream by sending too many tweets at the same time and then having dead air later.

One feature, pluggio offers that is in several other clients is the ability to manage twitter, facebook, and other social media accounts from a single client. If you want to put your message out across several sites at once, this might be the solution you need.

Now, it is time for some balance. There are two things I get from my primary interface to twitter that I don't get from pluggio.

The first one in multiple visible columns. I have my tweetdeck open all the time, with about 8 columns visible. That really helps me keep up with the "way too many" people I follow. Pluggio only shows 1 column at a time.

The second one is "tweet shrinking". Since most of what I do is RTing other tweeps, I often have to shorten their tweets. Again, there is a tweetdeck feature that gives me a head start on that and pluggio doesn't have that.

The last thing I should mention is that pluggio is "nagware". The free version is truly no cost, but it does gently remind you after a while that to support pluggio's development some people need to get commercial copies. It's reminders are gentle though and not too intrusive.

In the end, you will need to try pluggio before deciding whether it is something you will like or not. I did and I do.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Confessions of a Serial Retweeter

Hi, my name is Chris, and I am a Serial Retweeter. I last Retweeted 15 minutes ago.

That's how the introductions in 12 step programs go. Right?

Hmmm, serial retweeter, that sounds bad doesn't it. Oh, well, it is accurate. It is what I do, what I like to do on twitter. And, this in my own way is my apology for that.

My apology for not being quite as engaging as I perhaps should be. Not writing as many "hello, how are you?" notes as I should. Apology for not writing as many "thank you" notes. Apology for letting conversations drop once someone has posted the answer to a question, or at best retweeting their answer.

However, please take my retweets as my indication of appreciation, interest, and respect. There are many out there already saying what I want to say, and saying better than I could. My retweeting of them (of you!) is my way of getting my own message out. And, yes, I do occasionally add a tidbit or to onto a tweet to make a small point. Or, write a follow up tweet. Still, all-in-all, I will let my shyness keep me from posting too many things on my own. Apologies for that.

The same goes for blogging. There are already great bloggers out there. Ones that say important things, Ones that are thoughtful. Ones the get their points just right. Ones who are convincing and motivating and persuasive. Ones that are witty or up-lifting.

There are also great reporters out there. Ones that find the news stories. Ones that analyze them. Ones that bring just the right insight to them. Ones the get the news to us quickly.

Neither of those things can I compete with. I'll never be the first to find some news, nor will I be the one to distill it into a bit of insight that motivates people to change in a way that improves the world. So, yes, I will blog some. However, more often, I will take the easy way out, and simply RT a reference to what someone else has written. Again, apologies.

However, hopefully, it is actually the better way. You will get the same news and you will get the same insight and same motivation and inspiration, just from someone who writes better.

So, while I am sorry I am not a better writer and I am working on being more engaging, I will continue to let those who do the hard work of creating great content do what they do best, and I will continue to find items I like and retweet them.

And, now, I will sit down and let our next 12 step participant speak.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New Style ReTweets A Mixed Results Experiment

To the dismay of many longer time tweeters, Twitter added a new (and slightly different) form of retweet, that is supported not only as a convention among its users, but also by code in the implementation. The prospect was greeted with certainly mixed feelings by many. Fortunately, the old style of retweet was still available, since it was simply a conventions, that we as twitter users adhered too. It was something Twitter couldn't take away.

Well, at first, I was not that enthused about the new style retweets, but came to use it more and more. It is a lot easier, and it allows one to RT those tweets that are already near the edge and are difficult to shorten. Moreover, I read a tweet from someone who suggested that it was "better" for those tweets where you specifically want to honor the original source, since the original source appears prominently in the new style retweet.

As time went on, I switched to primarily using the new style retweets. The idea of honoring the people who either originated the thought (or just the ones I read and who keyed me into it) was very compelling to me. In fact, recently my ratio of new style to old style has shifted so that the overwhelming majority are new style.

The one downside of new style is the inability to add comments. So, I always use old style when I want to add a comment. But, to use new style, I have even adopted the convention where I do a new style retweet, followed by an old style (and then truncated) RT where I add comments. That seemed to me like the best of both worlds.

If that was it, there would be nothing worth writing about.


There always is a catch isn't there.

However, I have noticed something from using these new retweets. Less of what I am passing on is getting picked up. Now, some of that can be attributed to the fact that twitter doesn't track intermediaries in the new style. And, I've even noticed some people compensating for that by adding my name as a via credit. (Thank you, for that, that is a very nice gesture.) However, most people who follow me, I also follow, and thus I can see when the retweet something, and yes some of what I retweet new style gets passed along, but much of it doesn't.

Moreover, if I do an old style retweet, I get very good pickup rates. In fact that ratio of retweeting for old style retweets I make to new style retweets is better than 10:1 based on my non-scientific, biased, not rigorously collected, and small sample.

I don't know what the cause of this behavior is. I somehow doubt that it is the small comments that I add to an old style retweet that makes that much difference. I think it is more likely that we want to honor our friends (and most of the people who retweet me are ones whom I also retweet and consider to be a friend, and suspect that emotion is reflected). If I indulge that bit of narcissism, I might even countenance the idea that seeing my avatar helps capture their attention. That works for me, I certainly have avatars that I immediately read upon seeing, even if they are in one of the tweetdeck columns I'm not currently looking directly at.

Still, whatever the cause, the phenomena seems to hold. I'm not going to give up on new style retweets. However, I am considering scaling back their usage. If I find that, it affects the amount of information that gets passed on, then I will probably scale back even more. At some level, I find that a shame. I like the idea of giving more credit to where it is due. However, I won't let that get in the way with getting the information shared. That, after all, is why I am on twitter.


Well, some of you might note that I am on twitter as an Intel employee, and tweeting to improve Intel's brand recognition, especially in the security space. This is certainly true and the sharing of information is simply one way I help accomplish that task. However, I am not tasked by Intel to improve Twitter and don't know of what relationship, if any, exists between the two companies. In this regard, I am just simply a twitter user.