What if we’d had Twitter on 9/11?


If you're still able to hear from wherever you are, Amy, this is for you.

One of the more more formative events in my life — from the perspective of shaping my attitudes about politics, war and my industry (news) — was the series of terror attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001, collectively known as 9/11.


Amy Toyen [via]
There is a whole cohort registering to vote this year who might vaguely remember their parents' reactions that day, another getting drivers licenses who were too young, and more becoming bar and bat mitzvot who were just being born.

It was 13 years ago, and it's very much etched in the brains of almost every adult today, but very soon that won't be the case.

I was walking my neighborhood at 4 a.m. one night last month – a night that ended with The Associated Press confirming the death of a sprint car driver after our normal closing hours. We found out minutes before The AP moved a story thanks to a Tweet from a local reporter.

We didn't have Twitter on 9/11. We didn't have Facebook. We didn't have YouTube. We had Google, but it was still nascent and not doing enough traffic to be archived multiple times daily as it is now — the Way Back Machine picked it up on Aug. 23, 2001 and didn't come back until Sept. 17 of that year.

Residential broadband was just coming into being. Cell phones were really just starting to become a thing everybody had, though most people were still hanging onto their home phones (many because they needed a home phone line to access the Internet).

Despite our seemingly limited ability to communicate (ha!), we still had a problem then knowing when to shut up. News went on for days about 9/11 to the exclusion of just about everything else. NPR, CNN, Fox, it didn't matter. The stock market was closed the rest of the week. Baseball was shut down. If anything else was going on in the world, it was invisible to U.S. media.

The early reports — yes, we did have 24-hour cable news and the Internet — were crazy. 10,000 were dead, another hijacked plane was heading for L.A. and one maybe toward Chicago. And then it was over, and we sheltered in place around our TVs for three days.

Despite the initial reports being highly speculative and wildly inaccurate, we did not yet have the dreaded Internet rumor mill — you know, the one that kills celebrities and retires basketball players.

Can you imagine what Twitter and Facebook would have looked like on 9/11 — especially considering that, even today, nobody with any first-hand knowledge (as in, having been there) would have had any cell phone service (much like that day)? It might have taken days to dig out some facts, instead of the hours it took us.

Let me ask, then: Do you use your social networks responsibly?

Related:
10 Septembers, 20 Septembers
Memorialize 9/11 by being more awesome





Six of weeks of listening on Twitter: What I learned

My last Tweet was a share of launching a Twitter listening experiment back on February 19. I haven't sent out a Tweet in six weeks, then. I have responded to a couple of direct messages, but nothing any of you all would see.

My thinking was, "I spend an awful lot of time on Twitter, I don't follow many people, and I feel like I give a lot more value than I get." So I followed some more people, and read when I wanted to read, but refrained from tweeting. Here's what the last six weeks have shown me.

The numbers. I gained 20ish new followers and, after an initial drop, my Klout score increased by 4. I recognize that Klout is influenced by my other networks, and a short series of posts specifically influenced that jump.

I got engaged and didn't feel an immediate need to share. Major life event, yes. The world needing to know? Not right away. That felt kinda good. We actually waited a full 24 hours before telling anybody. We called our siblings, parents and uncles and aunts, emailed a bunch of people, and then put it on Facebook 30 hours later (it's amazing how many people are looking at Facebook after midnight on a Friday night/Saturday morning).

I went on vacation and just enjoyed my family. We went to Charleston, S.C., to visit my parents, with a side trip to Savannah, Ga. And, while I pulled out my phone frequently enough to log the places we visited, it felt good to be present with the people and places, without using Twitter as interlocutor. That included the drive down and the drive back, by the way.

New favorite follows. Among the new people I'm following I enjoy most for what they share are Maria Popova (@brainpicker) and Open Culture (@openculture). Dedicate a couple of hours on your next day off to reading the links from one of their feeds.

I missed idle chatter. Sometimes we just talk to Twitter like we talk to the dog. We know the ears will perk up for a second but no one needs to respond. So let me tell you, I've done a lot of talking to the dog, and it's the wrong venue to share things like the story of the guy who was killed when he tried to ride his lawnmower across a highway.

I missed joining in. I'm a sports guy anyway, but my job has me covering a lot of sports in addition to what I'd normally follow, so I'm pretty well engulfed in sports from late afternoon until about 1:00 in the morning, when all the west coast games wrap up. I haven't joined any of the March Madness or, even more difficult, baseball spring training, talk.

I missed being helpful. I'm a reasonably helpful guy. I know some people, I know some stuff. When Twitter asks a specific question that I know the answer to, I get some satisfaction from knowing that answer and being able to help out someone who is asking for help. That hurts both me and the answer-seeker, which is just silly.

It may take me a little time to get back full force. Then again, first pitch of the Red Sox' season is in a little under two hours, so it might not. Ta.

A Twitter listening experiment

It's finally happened for me. Or maybe it happened a long time ago and I'm just realizing it now.

Twitter has become a giant time suck for me. I check it without purpose, just to see if anybody's said anything interesting. I write stuff here and there, and, in general, I've been following about a twentieth of the people who are following me.

I just followed something on the order of 100 new-to-me people on Twitter. A handful of them are people I know but for whatever reason hadn't been following. Some of them are complete strangers.

Some of them are just people whose bios sounded interesting. Some of them are people who do things I'm interested in.

From now until the end of March, I'm going to use Twitter only to listen and learn. I'll respond to replies and I'll favorite Tweets here and there that I'd like to refer back to, but I'm going to stop leaving the window open and reading the same Tweets over and over to see if anybody has said anything in the past twelve seconds.

I've been reading a lot of Joshua Fields Millburn (he of The Minimalists) lately, and some things are resonating with me, particularly with respect to relationships and productivity.

So, I'm going to listen and learn and expand my Twitter network and perhaps, from that, my real-life network. I'm going to write long-form a lot more (including here; grab the RSS feed if you want to be informed when I post), and I'm going to spend the time that I'm just staring at Twitter now to do more important things.

If you have some Twitter folk I should be aware of while I'm re-ordering my Twitter life, please @ me or leave a comment here.

Thanks.

[photo credit]

#cmgrchat

I wanted to give a quick shoutout here to Jen Pedde and Kelly Lux, two Syracuse-area Twitter rock stars who co-moderate a Twitter chat called #cmgrchat.

The chat is for community managers (and people who hate community managers, except not really). It's still in its growing stages, but in its fourth week, 126 people contributed.

» #cmgrchat transcripts

I'm learning a lot and I think contributing some useful information as well . It takes a fair bit of concentration to keep on track and to keep up, but ultimately it's definitely worth the hour each week.

Do you have any other Twitter chats worth mentioning, or that I should join in?

New Twitter: Sexy? Sure. Useful? Well…

We all use social media differently. Personally, I rarely use Twitter.com to read Twitter, unless I'm using search. I'm a HootSuite or sometimes TweetDeck kind of guy.

I got to see the new Twitter in action yesterday. It's shiny and new, and admittedly kind of sexy. If there's a photo or video in a link, it will load in the right sidebar. Same with threaded conversations (though, oddly, not hashtags or trends).

That's awesome.

Will I use it? Probably not.

» Kyle Lacy: Twitter is Changing and Exploding Myths
» Chris Brogan: Why I Am Still Not Ready for New Twitter

I keep my following list very low, in the 200 people range. But that's still too many people to entirely keep up with. And that's why I prefer to use an application that allows me to set up lists in columns across the page; I can see my mentions and tweets from people in three lists that are important to me spread across my window, which allows me to concentrate on those people.

There are others I follow whose tweets I don't necessarily want in my timeline during my work day. They're not people who I'm likely to go to lunch with today, or who are sharing information I find crucial to my job. They're people I like (or I wouldn't be following them), but viewing them in my stream would destroy the productivity of Twitter for me.

And that's why the new Twitter, while sexy, isn't enough for me. I can't put those people on hold for part of the time and catch up with them later.

What do you think?

Using Twitter as a Feed Reader

I've been using Bloglines as a feed reader for about five years now, and there are some things I like about it, including the ability to see embedded video within the reader. But as I get more mobile, I find it's not enough.

I've recently launched a new Twitter account at @_ThatJosh (with the underscore; without was already in use). I'm using it as a feed reader rather than a conversationalist, like I do with my main @JoshShear account.

I didn't duplicate the feed list I have in Bloglines. I'm still running image-heavy feeds (like the Dilbert daily comic strip and Josh Spear's trend-spotting blog) through it, but now for the social media, search and entrepreneur feeds I read, I can see what's going on in a list form, with only a headline, a few words and a link.

This is especially helpful when conferences are going on and my feed reader blows up with the live blogging (I still love you, Outspoken and BCI, I'm just making it easier on me).

Here is how I set it up:

1. I created a new GMail account. This gives me the opportunity to use it as a pivot point for anything I decide to do with this particular group of accounts. GMail has a good spam filter, so I don't have to worry about cleaning out the inbox frequently, and Google seems to be OK with me opening as many accounts as I want.

2. I signed up the Twitter account.

3. I went to Twitterfeed and signed in with my Google account (use the "Sign in with Open ID" link). I added the feeds, told Twitterfeed how often to check each, and to post them to my Twitter account.

I use Hootsuite to read Twitter both on my laptop and on my phone (I use the Android application, not the website, on my mobile). I created a tab for _ThatJosh, and put three columns on that tab: mentions (people talking to me), direct messages (private messages to me), and my sent feed, which essentially ends up being the feeds I'm reading.

This is antithetical to how I recommend people to use Twitter, but my goal is not followers: It's a tool for me to make my morning reading routine go smoother. I hope it helps you as well.

Connecting on multiple platforms, or why I’m no longer reading your updates

If you move your eyes to the right, you'll see a box labeled "Connect." It's under the search box, next to my mug over there. While you may not have a Delicious account, there's a reasonable chance you have a Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook account. Even all three. And possibly Foursquare, too.

I use those three social networking platforms very differently. Facebook is primarily social for me, although I do operate a Facebook page or 2 for businesses. I play Scrabble with my sister and other word games with my mom and some friends. I check in on birthdays. On rare occasions I'll check the status updates, but really, that is pretty rare. LinkedIn is purely business; even the stuff that feels social is business – I'm sharing professional information, and since I'm a sole proprietor, that business life sometimes spills over into the personal (and vice versa). Twitter is a mix of everything. I definitely don't over-share on Foursquare, and I only check in at clients, potential clients, and places I have a comment about. And I only share that on Twitter if I have something to say about it beyond, "I'm here."

Sometimes I find something worth sharing on multiple platforms, though I find that increasingly rare. More often than not, it's a photo shared on a Twitter platform that I send to Facebook as well so that I don't have to upload it twice.

If you're just on social networking sites to be there, that's cool. I have goals. Which is why if you're flooding my LinkedIn stream with the same stuff I just read on Twitter, totally overwhelming other connections who update what they're working on once or twice a week, I've pulled you out of my LinkedIn timeline. And really, a lot of us are on LinkedIn for the professional networking – we don't care if you're sharing ice cream with your kid. Save it for Facebook or Twitter.

I've been doing the same on Facebook lately, too.

This has a further consequence, as well: once I've pulled you out of my stream, you're out. It's not like I go back weekly to see if your practices have changed. If you point out to me that your practices have changed, I may go check, but if I've pulled you out of my stream and tomorrow you have an epiphany and decide to share good stuff on LinkedIn, sorry, I'm not going to know, and I'm not going to share it with my network.

How are you using these platforms, and how do you deal with people who use them differently from you?

Collateral Branding: The difficulty of Online-to-Offline

I came across one of these notepads from the SUNY Oswego Metro Center (I snipped that image above; I figured you'd get the idea even if I didn't include all 20ish lines on the piece of paper). I love the Metro Center. It gives people the opportunity to take classes downtown. It opens its doors to groups like 40 Below. I even love these notepads: they're a good size, bigger than a shopping list, smaller than a journal. I even really like Amber Spain-Mosher, who handles the marketing for them.

But the Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn logos at the bottom caught my eye. Because in order to find them, we're supposed to search those sites. And that's fine – if you make yourself easy to find.

Facebook. Facebook has a really good search. In fact, as I was typing, it pre-filled the SUNY Oswego Metro Center page. Very good. The one problem is, take a look at the profile image they use – it's the statue in Clinton Square and The Post-Standard building, as taken from the front of the Atrium, which is the building that houses the Metro Center. There's no way to visually identify the Metro Center when you land on the Facebook page.

Twitter. Twitter has good content search. I ran two different searches and didn't find the SUNY Oswego Metro Center account. For the first search, I simply typed suny oswego metro center in the search box that runs in the right-hand column of a Twitter page. My only result was someone who checked into the Metro Center recently on Foursquare. Then I went to "Find People" and searched for suny oswego metro center (most people search lower case; so do I). I wound up with a list of 20 accounts, including CNN Weather and NASA's Stennis Center, but not SUNY Oswego Metro Center's account.

LinkedIn. You have to know how to search LinkedIn in order to be effective. It's actually fairly difficult. The search defaults to searching people, and it's an all-word search. When I searched for suny oswego metro center under people, I got six results – two were people who worked there (one as a graduate assistant), and the other four had gone to SUNY Oswego and had worked at places that included Metro Center in their name. Next, I tried to search under Companies, and received zero search results (they'd be combined under the SUNY Oswego umbrella).

There are a couple of ways to solve that. One is to list URLs. Unless 1,000 people like your page, that's unwieldy on Facebook (unless, of course, you were to buy MyBusinessNameOnFacebook.com and redirect it to your Facebook page), but then Facebook's search is actually good. My business cards don't list my Facebook URL, but they do list my company website, my blog, my Twitter and my LinkedIn.

Another way is to build a QR code (like the one on the left there). You can include a lot of information (about 1500 alphanumeric characters) in not very much space. As the smart phone market grows (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Palm, etc.), just about anybody is going to be able to read one of these – all they need is to download a free app and have an auto-focus camera. Most applications will give you a button to just add the information to your address book.

What challenges do you face when trying to market your online presence in an offline environment?

Twitter comes through on customer service – again

One of the things I rarely think about when friends and family members ask me about why they should get on Twitter is customer service. Which is weird, because I tell it to businesses all the time. I mean, yeah, we all know the Comcast Cares stories, but Comcast doesn't service my area so they're kind of out-of-sight, out-of-mind for me.

I wrote &ndash about this time last year, actually – about my experience with the Red Cross. I was receiving a lot of phone calls and a fair bit of mail. I tweeted a complaint, and got a letter in the mail apologizing. I was told the phone calls would stop and the mail would get more targeted.

And they followed through.

I've had plenty of success with GoDaddy's customer service via Twitter.

And so when I tried to use Elance's support ticket service with some frustration, I sent essentially a yo, what's up with this? tweet their way. And it was public, so people could see I was frustrated. I even got an amen.

If you're not familiar with Elance, essentially they act as a conduit for freelancers and customers, facilitating the proposal process, handling mediation and setting project benchmarks. They also verify that payment is available before allowing a job to be posted, and their cut is less than I'd give you if you sent me business.

And bingo, they got back to me within a few hours. Someone took ownership of my issue, got customer service involved, and they gave me the VIP treatment getting my problem solved, throwing in some extras in hopes that I'll stick around (and I will).

So there's that.

Businesses: Be available on Twitter. Usually it's not going to be people's first stop to reach out to you (although they might complain about you there first), but if they're frustrated with you, Twitter gives them an outlet. And you have to give the person/people running your Twitter account access to the tools they need to solve problems. It's not just a one-way deal: don't expect to survive just by selling your products.

Individuals: You may not use Twitter all the time, but here's one more use for it.

The social media bill of rights

The good people at the annual Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference this year put together something of a "Bill of Rights" for users of social networking sites. I'm going to go ahead and call it a cute idea, because mostly the "rights" assume that the point of putting together a social networking site is to let users do whatever they want.

In case you've been living in a socialist economy since the advent of the Internet, the truth is that social networking sites exist to sell highly targeted advertising and provide companies with very specific information about users.

No, really – that's the truth.

I can get on board with some of the 14 ideas the conference put forth, but not all of them. Not even most of them. Here we go:

1. Honesty: Honor your privacy policy and terms of service.

This, for me, is a no-brainer. The only agreement you (as the owner of a social networking site) and I make when I sign up for your service is that I accept your privacy policy and terms of service. If you don't stick to it, you've broken our agreement.

2. Clarity: Make sure that policies, terms of service, and settings are easy to find and understand.

When I first got started on Twitter, the Terms of Service was short and easy to understand. And it probably wouldn't have done them a lick of good if they had wound up in court for any reason. It's not like we're a litigious society or anything.

So now it looks like this. At least they have tips in there so you can understand it, unlike Facebook's (scroll to the bottom of that and look at how long the list of associated documents is!).

I have to be on the side of social media companies on this, though. If you don't like the terms, don't sign up. If you can't understand them, don't sign up. When you check that box, you're agreeing to those terms. If you don't understand your mortgage and you sign it anyway, you're still responsible for everything in it. Which is why you hire a real estate lawyer. If you really want to be part of Facebook's community but you don't understand the contract you're signing, hire a lawyer to explain it to you. Seriously.

3. Freedom of speech: Do not delete or modify my data without a clear policy and justification.

Let's be clear on this: The U.S. Constitution gives us freedom of speech. That means we can say whatever we want (with a few exceptions). As someone who used to deal with feedback from a large website with a social media component, your right to say whatever you want does not mean someone has to publish it. When the terms of service say, "We have a right to remove whatever we want, with or without cause or explanation," that's what it means. The network can just take something down because it wants to. Deal. You signed the contract, remember?

4. Empowerment: Support assistive technologies and universal accessibility.

This is just a smart move for networks. If you can make your network easy for people to use, they'll use it. That means that if someone with a disability can't use your site, she's not going to use it. If you want everybody to use your site, make it so everybody can use it.

That's not a users' rights thing, that's a smart business decision. If you run a dry cleaner and you have three steps leading up to your door and the dry cleaner next door has a ramp, who's going to get the business from anybody who can't walk steps?

5. Self-protection: Support privacy-enhancing technologies.

This runs entirely counter to why social networks exist. If you as a user need privacy, stay off of social networks.

6. Data minimization: Minimize the information I am required to provide and share with others.

Again, this is not why social networks exist. If you don't want to share information, don't share it. If you want to share it with some people but not others, don't accept those others' friend requests. It's not brain surgery.

7. Control: Let me control my data, and don't facilitate sharing it unless I agree first.

I'm in conditional support of this one. If the terms of service or privacy policy tells me what I can control and what is automatically shared, it's up to me to decide whether I'm comfortable enough to join your network. If you change the rules of the game in the middle, though, I take big issue with it – this is what Facebook did, and it's why my profile is nearly empty and you can't write on my wall.

8. Predictability: Obtain my prior consent before significantly changing who can see my data.

This is essentially what I said above in #7. If you're going to change the rules significantly, give me an opportunity to decide whether I want to play by them before you force me into it.

9. Data portability: Make it easy for me to obtain a copy of my data.

Let's get this straight: Social networks are not your personal thumb drive. No joke. If you want a copy of your information, make a copy. If Flickr went away tomorrow, would you lose all your family photos? If the answer is yes, back them up yourself. Flickr should not have to play nice with your hard drive, or with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any other business it isn't partnered with. Otherwise, what's the point of competition?

10. Protection: Treat my data as securely as your own confidential data unless I choose to share it, and notify me if it is compromised.

Emm, no. If you don't want to share something, don't share it. It's easy not to join a network: just don't sign up. See how easy that was?

11. Right to know: Show me how you are using my data and allow me to see who and what has access to it.

Every social networking site already does this. If you read the user agreement, privacy policy, and terms of service, you should know this information. If you didn't, you shouldn't have agreed to them when you signed up for the site.

12. Right to self-define: Let me create more than one identity and use pseudonyms. Do not link them without my permission.

I disagree here, for the protection of the social networks, who are held responsible if they allow, say, a sex offender to contact a minor. The terms of service of most sites basically say, "You agree that the information you provide is truthful." If it's not, they have a good reason to refuse service to you as a customer.

13. Right to appeal: Allow me to appeal punitive actions.

This would be reasonable business sense, and many sites do allow users to appeal punitive actions. Twitter and LinkedIn do, for sure.

14. Right to withdraw: Allow me to delete my account, and remove my data.

You shouldn't join any social network that doesn't allow you to remove your data. Before iMeem was picked up by MySpace, it didn't let you delete your account, and they made that very clear in the terms of service and also on the help page, in case you didn't read the terms of service before you agreed to them. But they did let you delete the data. Same with Blue Goose News – while I couldn't delete my account there, I was able to delete my blog posts, my name, my email address and anything else that identified me. That was in their terms and I knew it when I signed up.

It all comes down to smart consumerism. If you don't like the way a business operates, don't patronize it.