Real time, right time – it’s all about ‘me’ – so what about Twitter?

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A recent article The Future of Mobile is Right Time Experiences by Maribel Lopez got me thinking about mobile and the future of the web.

It is an especially important topic to consider now that Twitter is seeking to further control and constrain the way that its users interact. A good outline of the issues at play here is Nick Bilton’s piece: For Twitter-Owned Apps and Sites, a Cacophony of Confusion.

At Web 2.0 Summit 2011 (video) Twitter CEO, Dick Costolo, noted that he is inspired and ‘mentored’ by Apple. Any admiration for Apple and the way it does business is likely to be coupled with a desire to control the user experience.

The interesting thing to note is that control of the end user experience has never been a big part of the Twitter world. Instead their strength, and indeed a reason for their survival to date, has been a willingness to throw open their doors to a broad app ecosystem.  Further, significant innovations that have improved Twitter (e.g. hashtags) have come from the community and have been adopted by the company.

But Twitter is a company that is growing up, emerging from its startup phase and evolving into a ‘real’ business.  ‘Real’ businesses do things like consolidate infrastructure to better manage costs, and they seek to add layers of management control over the business.

This desire to control the user experience is fairly typical of a ‘real’ business.  It signifies the development of an organisation that is developing a command and control structure typical of the late twentieth century.

The problem is that end users of the platform have started to evolve beyond command and control models. We are using many different devices – PCs, tablets, smart phones – and we use them as we need and in different contexts.  We do not necessarily want the same experience across each device we use. Increasingly we are using a mobile rather than a fixed device, even in the home or office.

What we do want is the right experience in the right context.  We are hungry for a kind of ‘just right’ interaction with our favourite platforms. And we also seek to remove friction from our online interactions.  We flinch away from interactions that are scratchy, our friends say ‘come over here, it’s better and easier’, we use the power of our social networks to seek out the newest way to improve our online existence.

This means that the API revolution has arrived at just the right time to meet user needs.  And it means that businesses that resist the desire to exert absolute control over the user experience can harness a vibrant API ecosystem to power their business.

I think that consistency of user experience across multiple platforms is overrated. But I do wholeheartedly encourage consistency in APIs so as to enable rich user experiences that drive engagement on the user’s terms.

Businesses that fail to realise that the command and control world of the late twentieth century is dying risk killing their businesses.  It is already happening with the news media. It can happen with newer businesses too, such as social networks. As Mark Pesce noted we face a business environment that is “fast, frictionless, and on fire“.

Note: I had a brief chat about the recent changes to the Twitter consumer app ecosystem with Stilgherrian, Leslie Nassar, and Henare Degan on the Patch Monday podcast, one imagines it will be up on the ZDnet site in the fulness of time.

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What will change the world? Welcome to the hive mind of Twitter.

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One of the things I love about Twitter is the way it enables serendipity on a grand scale.  Recently, I can’t remember how, I ran across @blogbrevity (a.k.a Angela Dunn) whose Twitter feed resonated with me and we followed each other.

On June 9th she invited me to join #Ideachat – Twitter Chat & Salon for Twitter Thinkers About “Ideas”. The topic for discussion was “What is the one long-term trend that will change the world?“. As food for thought Angela shared an interview with trend expert and curator Cecile Poignant of TrendTablet.

This topic fascinates me and it aligns nicely with other interests, like Social Innovation Sydney. Also the more that people start to talk and think about things like this then the more likely we are to take action.

The chat was dynamic and thought provoking.  And it got me thinking.

One of the recurring ideas was collective action, and some of the themes are nicely summed up in these tweets:


I started to realise that the big trend is something that enables the self organizing of co-creation. The big trend is the evolution of the hive mind.  It is only with social communication platforms like Twitter that something akin to a hive mind can emerge.

The always on and ambiently connected nature of Twitter is ideal for the emergence of a hive mind.  We begin to shed our privacy and to live within the omnipresent gaze of the group. We are connected into the minutiae of other people’s lives in ways that were not possible before.  We are connected to people in distant places and to the events that occur in their orbit as well as in our own.

Here the very minutiae of chats on Twitter, that so many disparage mindlessly, are important in creating the connections of the hive mind.

Once one becomes accustomed to the continual connection, to knowing the news before it makes the news media, to finding answers to questions faster and better than a search engine, then the connection to the hive mind comes to seem normal.

Then from the connection to the hive mind, one begins to sift out those individuals and groups who hold similar ideas and beliefs.  And from that pool of people the self organization and co-creation can begin.

Some people will try to tell us that feeling weird and strangely out of touch when disconnected from the hive mind is a kind of psychopathology. But they have not yet understood or experienced the new reality of constant ambient connection to the hive mind.

Nor have they seen the results of loose ties in action, network amplification of communication, the reciprocal knowledge engine, and the power of a hive mind working together to co-create change. I suspect that this is just over the horizon.

UPDATE 15 June 2012


Following are a few recent posts that have informed my thinking on this topic:

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Twitter and the great iPhone rescue mission #140conf

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You know that moment? The one where you realise you’ve left your mobile phone somewhere.

It happened to me recently in New York. I was on the train to JFK airport, heading to Los Angeles, when that sinking feeling was accompanied by a vivid memory of my iPhone recharging in the hotel in midtown Manhattan.

I’d been staying at the Pod Hotel in New York while attending Jeff Pulver’s remarkable and diverse 140 Conference: Exploring the State of Now. The hotel staff had been very helpful and friendly during my stay, and the location in midtown was convenient for both the conference and socialising.

But the day of my departure was an early start (I’m not really a morning person) and it was a rush to get to the airport in time for the flight to Los Angeles.

As I sank into a seat on the AirTrain and reached for my phone the horrible feeling hit me. I realised it was too late to go back and retrieve the phone. The only thing to do was press on and get to the airport. But without a mobile phone there was a dilemma – how to contact the hotel to secure my phone?

Upon arrival at JFK airport it was a delight to discover that JetBlue has free wifi and thus it was possible to use my iPad and Twitter to make contact with the hotel.

Luckily the Pod Hotel is on Twitter @ThePodHotel and they responded to my desperate tweet and follow up email immediately. The staff at the Pod Hotel retrieved my phone and promised to hold onto it until I could arrange for its collection.

Another tweet to an Aussie entrepreneur in New York – Josh Anstey – secured his assistance in rescuing the phone from the hotel. He kindly retrieved it and handed it on to a buddy of his who was flying back to Australia the following week. It arrived yesterday. And was handed over to Josh’s dad (another Aussie entreprenuer) – John Anstey – who’s dropping it off in Sydney on Monday.

Operation iPhone Rescue is almost over. This could have been a complete disaster, but there are a number of elements that make this a happy ending:

  1. the excellent customer service from the folks at the Pod Hotel in New York (it’s great to see them monitoring their social media channels like that)
  2. the remarkable kindness of people like Josh, his mate and John
  3. the amazing fact that, without a mobile phone, I was able to organise and coordinate the entire thing via Twitter while I continued my travels

Everyone who helped to get my phone home has my sincere gratitude. And more than anything they’ve reinforced my belief in human kindness.  Best of all the photos of my new nephew are not lost thanks to the efforts of everyone involved in Operation iPhone Rescue.

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Twitter turns 5: will it rule? via @stilgherrian

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I had a chat with Stilgherrian (@stilgherrian) on ZDNet’s Patch Monday along with Open-source software advocate and developer Jeff Waugh (@jdub) and James Purser (@purserj) from Collaborynth, a consultancy that develops collaboration tools for business, government and not-for-profits.

You can listen to our discussion on this nifty embedded player:

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Why the revolution might not be tweeted; or why Gladwell was right but for different reasons

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Malcolm Gladwell obtained the ire of many social media folks when he argued Why the revolution will not be tweeted back in October 2010.
I thought he was wrong then, and I still think he’s wrong in his analysis. However, in the light of two recent events I think he might actually be right in his conclusion, but for entirely different reasons. The two events are:

  1. The editor-in-chief of The Australian accused a journalism academic of defaming him by her live tweets reporting what a third party said – this is being tracked on Twitter under the hashtag #twitdef.
  2. The release by Wikileaks of a large quantity of US diplomatic cables (their domain used to be http://wikileaks.org but this is unlikely to work any longer) – this is being tracked on Twitter under the hashtags #wikileaks and #cablegate.

Gladwell attributed the non-tweeting of the revolution to his notion that real revolutions only happen offline and that new recruits to activism are brought in solely by people they know in real life. He seems that believe that only offline interactions can build “strong tie” commitment required for “high risk activism”. Gladwell seems unaware that loose tie interactions, like those afforded by Twitter, can give rise to extremely strong ties offline. In my experience Twitter has led to the development of many “strong tie” relationships that commenced with the loose ties typical of social networks.

Why I now think he’s right in his conclusions, but for entirely different reasons, has to do with the two examples mentioned above.

For a few years now the world of web 2.0, social media and social networking have been a ferment of new ideas, new ways of connecting and new systems of almost utopian belief in a good and great future enabled by the web. But that was before the internet of web 2.0 (what I refer to as the ‘social web’) was big enough to matter. Now, with the Wikileaks cable release going global and the ongoing anti-Twitter activism of some mainstream news media organisations, we can see that the social web matters.

It matters enough now that state actors are likely behind the moves to cut Wikileaks off from web hosting, DNS, money, and thus removing from them the ability to communicate further information.

We have seen the organisations that power much of the social web (like Amazon or PayPal) suddenly reviewing their Terms of Service and deciding that Wikileaks is in breach thus requiring them to withdraw access to their services. For example:

PayPal statement regarding WikiLeaks
DECEMBER 3, 2010
PayPal has permanently restricted the account used by WikiLeaks due to a violation of the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy, which states that our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity. We’ve notified the account holder of this action.”

The other matter that grabbed my attention recently was the defamation claims by Chris Mitchell against Julie Posetti (Crikey is curating a list of references to #twitdef).

Here we see a traditional news media organisation fighting a rearguard action against new kinds of media, like Twitter. But we see many mainstream media organisations simultaneously arguing that Twitter is not publishing, nor is reporting of news possible by means of Twitter, yet they use Twitter for that very purpose. We are still evolving our ideas as a society as to what media like Twitter are; and Stilgherrian has summarised some of the tensions nicely on Crikey.

Another salient fact in my ruminations is a discovery today that trending topics on Twitter are not a simple first past the post system. Apparently they are managed by an algorithm that rivals Google’s in complexity. According to Angus Johnston, who asked the question Why Isn’t #Wikileaks Trending on Twitter, and Should We Care?:

“It turns out it’s tougher than you’d think to put together a trending topics list that really means anything. If you just go by the raw frequency with which words appear, you’re going to wind up with stuff like “the,” “and,” and “RT” at the top of the charts forever. And even if you exclude words like those, you’re still going to wind up with “lunch” trending every lunchtime and Glee trending every Tuesday. “

It all starts to come together for me. The social web is going mainstream, that means that incumbent media players are finding that their power base is shifting (along with their revenue base); and that they’re not happy about this.

In most businesses and startups distribution is one of the key challenges to be overcome. And for the social web distribution remains the challenge. The social web is dependent upon cloud providers for hosting, DNS, payments etc. Thus producers of content do not really own the means of production AND distribution in the same way that people could in the past (e.g. where they could purchase and setup their own printing press – it’s worth noting that this model tended to have distribution constraints). Modern content producers are reliant on third-parties who, based on the Wikileaks experience, might not always be there to distribute their content.

Further, the enormous quantity of data flying around the social web means that, even with the best will in the world, we might not be able to find out about something significant. Thus the case of Twitter trending topics and #wikileaks and #cablegate it appears that, without any particular malice, the algorithm does not find these hashtags interesting enough to include as trends.

It seems to me that the convergence of these trends might mean that it is quite possible that the revolution will not be tweeted.

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#c3t An Agreeable Swarm: Twitter, the Democratization of Media & Non-localized Proximity

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My co-author, Brian Ballsun-Stanton, presented this at the 5th ICCIT: 2010 International Conference on Computer Sciences and Convergence Information Technology in Seoul earlier today:

You can view a full text pdf version of this paper here
#c3t #ICCIT_10

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Public discourse and private citizens – how free is freedom of speech? #groggate

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A recent disclosure that a Federal public servant has been blogging about matters political in his personal time has come to be referred amongst Australian journalists and bloggers alike as #groggate.

There has been much discussion about the rights and wrongs of this unmasking of a pseudonymous blogger who had the temerity to question the efficacy of the retinue of journalists who were following the election candidates around the country.

The debate about this continues to rage across the blogosphere and twittersphere; and in the publication that outed the blogger it seems they are using the issue as linkbait in fine blogger tradition.

But, as some wiser folks have realised, this matter is not about one public servant and his blog. It is about participation by private citizens in public discourse.

Up until recent times the opportunity for the average citizen to participate in public discourse was extremely limited. Instead participation by private citizens in public discourse was mediated by newspapers, magazines and television channels – the professional news media.

Because of this historical role as gatekeepers of access to public discourse the professional news media in Australia appear to believe that they have a privileged position to maintain. I believe that this feeling was what drove the unveiling of the author of the Grog’s Gamut blog.

It appears to have been a rearguard action by members of the professional news media who feel their gatekeeping role with respect to public discourse is being eroded. Funnily enough they are right. Their role as gatekeepers who set the agenda for public discourse is eroding under their very feet.

Instead we are seeing a fragmentation of the media landscape. Eternal verities such as guaranteed audiences are splintering and nobody really knows what will happen next. And into this shifting media landscape new voices – those of private citizens – are flourishing in niches. Not every new voice is excellent or expert. Not every new voice is skilled in the ways of fact-checking and other journalistic niceties. But some of these new voices are finding loyal and interested audiences. Grog’s Gamut was one such new voice.

But Grog’s blog was written under a pseudonym – it was not an anonymous blog as some have asserted. And the journalist and his publication could not resist the temptation to reveal the real name of the author.

That revelation means nothing to most people. But to this particular public servant it means scrutiny from mandarins at senior levels in the public service and the possibility that he might lose his job over his private opinions shared in his private time as part of his contribution to public discourse.

Further, it means that every other public servant will be watching what happens to the author of Grog’s Gamut. They will be watching to see if it is possible for a public servant to participate in public discourse in Australia. They will be watching to see if it is too dangerous for their jobs to put their heads above the parapet. They will be measuring the possibility of danger and assessing whether or not they should support Government 2.0 initiatives.

Other private citizens – those who work for major corporations – will also be watching what happens to Greg Jericho. Many will assess the risks of their participation in public discourse. Some might be discouraged from participation. But I hope that others will choose to embrace the new media tools and give voice to their opinions. I hope that others will share their opinions, ideas and information. I hope that they will continue to create niches and fragmentation of the traditional media.

We need new voices. We need to democratise participation in public discourse. Some of it will be ill-informed rubbish. But amongst the dross will be some gems and our society needs to find those gems.

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