Saturday, December 31, 2011

A New Year's Resolution -- No More Follow Fridays

As always, these are purely my own opinions and musings and not some official announcements from Intel.
To everything there is a season and all good things must come to pass. Even the most fervent of addictions burn themselves out, perhaps especially those.

For some time now, my work environment at Intel has changed and my time on twitter has not been viewed universally positively. As a result, I haven't been tweeting during working hours, nor when I've been busy (and I'm busy most of the time) even when at home.

Thus, the amount of content I've been sharing has been dwindling. That has had the effect of making the percentage of my tweets which are simply Follow Friday's go up. Not that I'm doing more of them, just less of other stuff. The old usenet term for this was that my signal to noise ratio was going down.

Therefore, I'm making my first ever personal New Year's Resolution. I'm going to drop out of the Follow Friday culture.

It's not that I view it as a bad thing generally. I still think it is a great idea.

However, my participation in it has served its purpose. Most of the Follow Friday lists I participate in them are people I already know, and ones I've already introduced my followers to. Thus, I'm not giving out new information. And, old information is just clutter in this case. So, it is time to de-clutter my stream.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Twitter Thank Yous, Good Mornings, Waves, Hugs, and Follow Fridays

As always, these are only my own thoughts and impressions and not official Intel policies or recommendations.
Twitter is a microcosm of real-life where the whole world has been shrunk down to a small community, sort of like the town in Kansas where I grew up, but with much more diversity. As a result, it is a surprisingly comfortable and friendly place. However, the diversity means that the is a wide variety of cultural norms to respect (or trip over, when one doesn't). With that variety comes the fact that what is pleasant and polite is not universal.

One of the examples of that is the exchange of greetings. Most everywhere in the world people exchange greetings, except when on crowded city streets. For the most part, twitter is not like a crowded city street. There are several forms of greeting that flourish on twitter.

The first obvious greeting is the thank you. When someone does something nice on twitter, e.g RTs something, the person who was retweeted often says thank you. Another pleasantry that is common on twitter is the good morning or "how is everyone" tweet. A variation on that is the wave or hug tweet, where one calls out to specific friends on twitter. There are, of course, other pleasantries that are exchanged on twitter. The most famous remaining one is the follow friday tweet, where one lists people one thinks are worth recommending and suggests to the twitterverse that these people should be followed.

Now, these various pleasantries come in numerous variations and actually overlap in both their use and what is said. For example, many people do follow fridays to thank the people who have retweeted them in the preceding week. Others do so as a form of wave. In reverse, some people have gone away from individual replies and offer only blanket thank yous to all who have retweeted, mentioned, or follow fridayed them.

Similarly, people reactions to the pleasantries varies. I regularly read blog postings where sending a follow friday with a list of names (especially if there is no commentary as why the people should be followed) as irritating spam. At the same time, one often receives a thank you (or a retweet) from the people listed if one sends out (or retweets) a follow friday in that form.

Therein lies the rub. How does one find the right balance to weave one's way through the differing and even conflicting expectations of what is polite on twitter?

Not having the answer, I can only tell you what I do and why. This will hopefully help you think about what you do and why also. Of course, any feedback or commentary is appreciated. You might convince me to change my ways. More importantly, any other readers may see and resonate with your opinion.
  • Thank Yous:

    1. If someone retweets something about a blog posting I wrote, I thank them. I generally batch these up so I'm sending only 1 per day. I don't write many such postings and they don't get wide circulation generally, so I'm very appreciative. I believe in the maxim of praise publicly and criticize in private, so I like doing these openly. People should know who is nice on twitter.

    2. I don't do thanks yous for individual retweets, especially not if I wasn't the original author of the tweet. I retweet a fair amount of material and get retweeted enough that thanking for that would generate much more noise than signal. Similarly, I don't generally expect to be thanked when I retweet someone, but do appreciate a thank you from the person who originated the tweet to begin with.

    3. Finally, blanket thank yous seem impersonal and worse than not acknowledging anyone at all. I know some tweeps have become very busy and don't want to spam all of twitter with thank yous. However, if one did the thank yous as batches and formatted them as @ messages to the first person on the list, they would seem both personal and not spammy, as most people wouldn't actually receive them. One of my favorite tweeps does it that way and it makes her seem very engaged.

    4. Lastly, try to avoid appearing like a sycophant in your thank yous. If you only seem to converse with and thank the twitter elite, you will slowly distance yourself from the bulk of other twitter users who will being to perceive you as not engaged.

  • You're Welcomes:
    I don't say you're welcome to a thank as often as I should. However, I generally try to not forget if it is the first time I have interacted with someone. It is a good way of saying hi. However, there are some people whom I retweet regularly and who thank me regularly too and I don't say you're welcome to them on the same regular basis.
  • Good Mornings:

    1. I don't generally send out good mornings or what's up messages. I also don't respond to blanket ones, unless they ask a question that prompts a specific response. The goal is to try and only tweet out things which will be interesting to other people, which keeps me from doing much idle chit-chat.

    2. There are a couple of groups of friends who send around good mornings to a list. I do try to up my sociability and participate in those. When the message is addressed to a specific group, then one isn't sending it to the world. Presumably the people on the list are friends and thus chit-chat with them isn't spamming the world and is engaging the people who are receptive to it.

      Note that in this case, it is appropriate to start the tweet with the list of people so that it becomes an @ message. This keeps the conversation relatively private. Other people can see the conversation, but they aren't subjected to it unless they follow both you and the person who is at the start of the list (or they are on the list themselves).

  • Waves:
    From what I've seen waves tend to go to a list. Again, it makes sense to make certain one has formatted them to be an @ message, which makes them more private.
  • Hugs:
    The third variation on the good morning theme, but this one feels more intimate. That may just be mid-western bias though and they are really like Hollywood or Parisian air-kisses. Therein lies a good caution, I would not send a hug to a person of a different culture, unless I'd seen them exchange hugs with others. Even then, I might wait to let them send the first hug.
  • Follow Fridays:

    1. Follow Fridays are meant to be public. Responding to them in private seems wrong. Moreover, the person who put the follow friday together clearly had some idea that the people were related, even if the only relationship is that these were people who had retweeted that person during the week.

    2. As a result of that, I nearly always retweet the follow friday, removing my own name, and adding the original author's name to the list. Removing one's own name avoids the awkwardness of retweeting one's own name. That feels too self-aggrandizing. Adding the original author's name gives credit where it is due, whatever was special about the list, the original author probably has that characteristic, and thus deserves to be on the list.

    3. Note, I do not retweet retweets of a follow friday list. I only retweet the original author. Retweeting retweets is only encouraging what some consider spam to become an even larger nuisance.

    4. Many people rightfully take umbrage at a follow friday that is just a list of names with no explanation. So, even when retweeting a follow friday, if there is space and no explanation, I try to add at least one word to qualify why the group is worthy. Sadly, this is often impossible.

    5. Finally, in terms of formatting, I try to ensure that my editing of the follow friday retweet starts with the letter RT and fits within the 140 character limit. This is because their are tools like Klout, Twitalyzer, and Retweet Rank which measure how many times a person has been retweeted or mentioned and I think it is polite to give those people who deserve a follow friday the maximum credit into the ranking tools. This also partially explains why I take my name out. Not only do I not want to be constantly shouting my own name in front of my followers (if they are reading my tweet, they already know who I am), but I don't want to "game" the rating system.

    6. It is also wise to check the names on the follow friday list. Occasionally, spammers try to sneak the fake "bot" accounts in via follow friday. You don't want to help them propagate. Plus, if there are names on the list you aren't following, here is a good chance to make new contacts. After all, that is the purpose of follow friday.

    7. The last thing worth mentioning is follow friday cliques. Some of the follow fridays I receive are actually more like waves. They are ways that some of us who have talked on twitter for awhile stay in each others memories. While those cliques may not be as useful in generating new people to follow, they still are useful in their own right.

  • Retweets:

    1. Now most people wouldn't consider a retweet to be a pleasantry, but it does share some of the characteristics, so it is worth talking about. If you retweet to amplify what someone else has says and to give their words more space and emphasis, it is simply a form of appreciating them.

    2. Doing it to your own words is boastful (or needy). So, don't retweet people who are retweeting you just to repeat your own words. The one exception would seem to be if someone writes something nice about something you wrote (e.g. they are tweeting about your blog article), you can retweet them. That is appreciating their kindness to you.

    3. It is also fair to retweet something wrote "to you" (e.g. an @ message) and then reply publicly to it, as long as you aren't doing it as part of an argument or fight, but are simply expanding the scope of the discussion so that other people can hear their insightful comments and your responses. However, if the message comes via DM or from a protected account, make certain that you ask permission first. Nothing like violating someones privacy in the process of making them more widely known. Most people like publicity, but you don't want to offend someone who doesn't appreciate it.

  • DMs:
    The last twitter thing worth mentioning is DMs. Again, they are not exactly a pleasantry, but they definitely have their own sense of politeness. The first aspect being, DMs are meant to allow private conversations. That is they allow you to say something in confidence to a person you think the person might not want in their stream.
    Note, I did not say you might not want in your stream. Do not use DMs to say things you would be embarrassed to say publicly, nor to harass others. Also, do not use them to send out spam or junk mail. If you would not want the world to know you were talking about a topic, then don't talk about a topic.
    There is one place where an exception is polite. It is fair to use a DM to keep private info private. I will discuss in DM with my friends things about my personal life and family I don't want to be public. It is not that I would not want the world to know that I was talking about the topic, but I don't want the world to know that specific information. That is my right of privacy and keeping one's privacy is polite, as is respecting other's privacy.
    DMs also allow extended conversations with someone you know only through twitter without putting that whole conversation in front of the world. That isn't a case of privacy, but of simply respecting the fact that most of the world isn't interested in everything you and your friends might discuss. Thus, it is polite to "switch to DMs" when the conversation starts to get long (more than a few tweets each worth) and the topic isn't part of a public debate where you want the world to see the alternative points of view. Note, I use DMs whenever I want to talk to someone personally and I'm not just complementing them on a nice tweet they wrote. That way I don't have to worry that I have accidentally shared some of their personal info to someone they didn't want to know about it.
Well there you have one person's take about what kinds of pleasantries are exchanged on twitter and some of the ways to be polite in your use of them. Are there other pleasantries that you have noticed that weren't mentioned? Do you have extra suggestions about how to be polite? Do you know of any cultural differences that should be listed if one tweets with different parts of the world?

Finally, this blog entry was written in response to Ten Rude Twitter Habits to Break Today and the comments to it. I recommend reading it also.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

How To Tweet When You've Nothing To Say

As always, these posts are only my own opinions and advice not anything official from Intel.

A lot of people don't get twitter. Some have never tried, but others, you possibly because you are reading this, are trying. One question is, "how does one tweet without discussing what one has had for breakfast or posting drunken pictures of themselves?" Here are a few suggestions to help fix that problem.

The answer is surprisingly simple and amazingly powerful:

Don't tweet about yourself.
Tweet about interesting things you have read or seen.

If you want to be interesting on twitter, give people something interesting to read or to think about. That is very easy to do. Here are four ways:

  1. If you read an interesting article on line, write a tweet that briefly (in 1 short sentence) explains why the article is about or why it is interesting and then gives a link (URL) to the article. Often the headline of the article serves just fine as the explanation.

  2. The resulting tweet might look something like this:
    How To Tweet When You've Nothing To Say:

    Now, if you are paying careful attention, you might have noticed that the link is "short", i.e. not as long as a URL you might normally type into your browser. There are services (web sites) that do this for you, being one of them. Simply copy the web address from your browser. Go to the page. Paste the address into the box. Click the shorten button, Copy the short address from the box and paste it into your tweet.

    If you tweet about articles you find interesting, people who like the same things will begin reading your tweets, because you will become a good source of information for them. That is the ultimate goal on twitter.

    If you follow some of the top tweeters, you will find that many of there tweets are links to other information. It is so important, that there are even tools like twitterfeed that will automatically compose such tweets for you. I don't use such tools, because I prefer to hand select what I send links to, but if you have a blog to promote, it can be a good way to do so.

  3. Copy someone else's tweets. One of the great things about twitter, is you don't have to be clever all by yourself. It is very fair to borrow from others, as long as you give proper credit. The correct way to copy on twitter is to "retweet" someone (often abbreviated "RT"). You can find lots of articles on retweeting, like this one.

  4. The basic idea however, is quite simple. Copy there tweet and add RT @their_twitter_id to either beginning or end. For example, you could retweet my example tweet like this:
    RT @intel_chris: How To Tweet When You've Nothing To Say:
    or this:
    How To Tweet When You've Nothing To Say: RT @intel_chris

    The difference is whether you want to emphasize the source of the content. Whichever you put first will be the first thing people will read and the more likely to be noticed.

    You can also add your own sentiment or commentary when you retweet, perhaps saying something like this:

    Easy ideas RT @intel_chris: How To Tweet When You've Nothing To Say:
    or this:
    How To Tweet When You've Nothing To Say: RT @intel_chris how to tweet links

  5. Tweet a quote. There are lots of sources of wisdom, wit, and whimsy. You probably already have some favorite sayings. It is common to include the "hashtag" #quote to mark what you are writing as a quotation. You may want to include the source as in:

  6. Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before. ~ Mae West #quote
    but some quotes can just be written by themselves:
    To thine own self be true. #quote

  7. Tweet a hello, wave, or hug. Twitter is a social network. Being friendly and conversational on twitter plays a big role. Whole cliques exist where people simply send greetings to each other. Such cliques often start by one person picking out a list of their friends and starting of the chain. After that, if the list of friends is sociable, the messages just keep echoing. The main trick is to make the list long enough that it includes some people who will naturally want to chat, and short enough that there is space left for them to do so. An example might look like this:

  8. @geek8ive @intel_jim @intel_rhonda @intel_stewart @intel_jeff *Waves* Hi -- I'm still on sabbatical and you are working....

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tit for Tat Tweeting -- Learn to be Generous

As always, these are my own opinions and musings and not official Intel positions or recommendations.

I love Mathematical Game Theory and one of my favorite areas is the "iterated prisoner's dilemma" which models the human behavior to cooperate and to cheat (defect). Variations on the game and strategies give us concrete ways of describing numerous social behaviors, including con-men, free-riders, and reputation based punishment systems.

The basic principle of the game is simple and played between two players, if both cooperate with each other, they win a reward. If only one of the players defects, that player wins an even better reward and the other player gets less of a reward. If both players defect, both players get a reduced reward. Thus, it is advantageous to a player, if the other player can be convinced to cooperate, but advantageous to themselves to defect. The game is designed so the advantage for both cooperating is the best long term reward

One effective strategy for the iterated version is called tit-for-tat. In this strategy, the player begins by cooperating as that gives the optimal payout for both players [summed together] over the long run. If the other player attempts to cheat and raise their score at the expense of the player by defecting, on the next round the player defects and punishes the other player. That gives a disincentive for the other player to defect, because the other player knows they will be punished for defecting on the round after they defect. If the other player returns to cooperating, the player stops punishing them. Each time the other player defects (tats), the player responds by punishing them (tits) and thus the name of the strategy.

Twitter as a form of word-of-mouth communication is a cooperative system. If you like something that someone else tweets, you can amplify that message by adding your own voice to the message. The normal way of doing this in twitter is called a retweet (RT). The idea is that some people follow what you are saying who might not have followed (or just not have seen) the message the original author wrote. Thus, by retweeting the message, you are emphasizing it.

As a cooperative system, twitter can be described as a gift economy. In a gift economy, a positive form of tit-for-tat is a very effective strategy. It is often called "give to get" or quid pro quo. In give to get, you perform a favor (cooperate) for someone in hopes that they will return it. In twitter, this can be retweeting someone's message, answering their question, or introducing them to someone who has similar interests. In return, you hope they will do a similar favor for you.

Of course, one of the things about a gift economy is that it is based upon "gifts", things one gives freely away. That is a key aspect. If one gives with too much expectation of receiving a precise, fair, equivalent amount back, one will tend to be disappointed. Only by giving generously without keeping tally can one reap the benefit of the strategy.

The nice thing is that the mathematical model of game theory shows us just that effect. In games, where one of the players is playing tit-for-tat and the other has a propensity to cheat, the total score for both players will be lower than if the other player is totally generous.

Generosity is its own reward, especially in systems where cooperation plays off.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Measuring Activity, Influence, and Klout

As always, these are my own thoughts on this topic and not official Intel positions. Intel does permit me to blog and tweet, but not to misrepresent that I speak for the company on any topic. In addition, Intel does measure the impact of our writings, but I have no control over how those measurements are taken nor what tools or sites are used to do so. These thoughts are based solely on my own personal use of the tools that I mention. I have no affiliation with any of these tool makers other than as a user. I have only used the free versions of these tools and not the paid versions. Finally, note I am not a professional statistician nor market researcher and you should do you own analysis before making any decisions.

Recently, I have read a fair amount of discussion on whether one's Klout is related to one's Social Media influence. You may want to read Online Influence Is More Than Just Social Media Activity and 5 Reasons Why Klout is Total BS. Both articles are fairly negative on calling what Klout measures "social media influence". While I have no specific allegiance to Klout's specific measure, I'd like to address some of the criticism.

To do so, I first need to relate a story. About 30 years ago I was in college math and computer science. At the same time my Father was in graduate school studying creative writing. To finance us he wrote some articles, one of which was about a hunger study. The statisticians who did the study wanted to identify the causes of hunger and they measured a bunch of variables they believed that were related to hunger (such as the number of low-birth weight babies) and then grouped the data into a matrix on which they performed a "principle components analysis". Out of that analysis came a list of numbers that were measures of how the data correlated. They labeled the most significant of those numbers "hunger". Now, if you accept their assumptions on whether those numbers were related to hunger and that hunger was the most important factor, then calling that number "hunger" is valid. However, if you don't, then it isn't.

Therein lies the point. Mathematics is like that. Everything is determined by the assumptions one makes and how one labels them. If one accepts the assumptions, the conclusions can be drawn (and proven). If one doesn't, the conclusions don't hold. The numbers Klout puts up are no different.

Social media influence is intangible. No one can actually measure it in a way that everyone agrees with. In fact, I think you would find it would be hard to point to an example of social media influence and get broad consensus as to whether it was or wasn't a good example. Thus, any measure of social media influence is likely to be controversial. A certain amount of this controversy can be applied to any definition of social media influence.

Moreover, there are many people who object to any measuring of these intangibles. The answer to them is simply that it is our labeling that makes these intangibles real. Many abstract and intangible terms are simply our agreed upon convention of what it means. The fact that they mean slightly different things to different people does not prevent us from using them. This holds true for social media influence. We don't need universal precise consensus to make it real. It is real and measurable because we choose to make it so.

The end result of this, if Klout measures as it claims to the number of users who take action after reading a tweet or status update, then it is measuring something related to social media influence. You might quibble about details, but in the end that is what you are doing, quibbling.

Social media influence is also ephemeral. Although a tweet or FaceBook status update may last indefinitely, its ability to cause action is distinctly temporary. I have seen some measurements of how long after a tweet and how long after a status update, users clicked on links. For tweets, the fall off of activity was measured in hours, with essentially no actions taken after a day. For status updates, the fall off of activity was measured in days with essentially no actions taken after a week. You can easily verify these measurements. The reason for this fall off is obvious, if you tweet something, it is a very short time before that information disappears off the recipients' timelines. This is particularly true for the most influential readers who are the ones who most likely have the most connections and thus the fastest moving timelines.

Given that fall of of activity rate, any time longer than a couple of weeks should capture nearly all activity related to a specific tweet or status update. Since Klout appears to use a 30 day window, that definitely captures responses to all recent activity. Moreover, if someone hasn't responded to something you have written in the past month, how influential can you be over that person who responds at most 12 times per year?

Another way of looking at the ephemeral nature of social media is to see the effect of absences. I had two recent ones that are pretty indicative.

Ouch, your Klout score has been falling lately. Share more content and engage with your network and your Klout score will rise!

Most recently I took a short trip that kept me off twitter for a few days and which resulted in me tweeting slightly less for about a week total including the time I didn't tweet at all. The result was pretty clear, not tweeting took me out of the consciousness of some of my followers. Even when I started tweeting again, it took awhile before I was getting responses. Some of the people I had been regularly conversing with me took awhile to return to conversing and some of them have not returned yet. The level of conversation grew as my number of tweets grew.

Before that for much of last year, I had a longer absence, where I was tweeting only sporadically, perhaps as infrequently as once a month. During that absence, only a few of my most committed followers kept in conversation with me. And, similarly, to what happened after the short break, only as I began to tweet more consistently and more intensely did people return to engaging with me. Moreover, some of the people with whom I conversed before that long break have never done so since.

So, while two incidents do not make a scientific survey, they do provide some evidence that taking a break from tweeting does reduce one's influence, at least if one equates influence with the ability to generate responses. It seems clear to me that consistent and frequent engagement are the keys to keeping one's audience's attention. Moreover, it seems quite likely that audience like trust is difficult to build and easy to lose.

Thus, if Klout really emphasizes one's level of activity, it is not clear that activity is not related to influence. Additionally, if Klout is actually able to measure response to that activity, then calling that measurement influence is not a major stretch of the term. It is fair to want to distinguish activity from influence, but it is not clear that one can divorce them entirely and if one wants to be influential one needs to participate in some activity that drives that influence.