The Washington Post told it’s journalists to keep off of Twitter after a staffer spent 140 characters defending the publication of an unpopular editorial. The piece, by the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, made a case that gay teens committed suicide because they were mentally unhealthy. It predictably raised the hackles of gay activist groups, who criticized the very idea of allowing such opinions to be published – which just as predictably led to the Post’s representative standing up for the First Amendment and the need for a broad marketplace of ideas.
It may seem ironic that, after a representative of the post contributed to this public conversation by citing the need for a public conversation, the Post shut down public speech from its employees. In fact, Mashable roundly criticizes the new policy:
The Post is clearly trying to do some damage control, but in a time when it is often difficult to encourage traditional journalists to embrace social media and dialogue with readers, this will only discourage it further. News organizations should be encouraging dialogue and debate, not stifling dialogue between readers and journalists.
Actually, the Post’s policy is a good one.
Think of this in terms of a classroom debate. A teacher poses a question. A few students argue for one side, other students argue another. The teacher provides facts and information, but shouldn’t be taking one side versus the other, right? In fact, by removing their journalists from the discussion, the Post can do more to promote a discussion by not taking a side.
It’s important for media outlets to connect with their audience – as purveyors of information, they have to know what’s relevant, understand the various viewpoints are out there, and appreciate which issues pieces of information is most important to readers or viewers. But if a journalist is supposed to (try to be) an objective resource, why would he or she want to participate in the debate? Wouldn’t any journalist who did start to lose some credibility or give evidence of having some sort of agenda or bias?
Like Mindy Finn of Engage and others, I’ve been trying to figure out Foursquare – not necessarily because I like it, but because it’s my job to know how it works, and how it can be applied.
Vincent Harris of TechRepublican has some good ideas about it, and businesses like Whole Foods have gotten on the bandwagon by asking users to check in. Some offer discounts for check ins or mayorships.
Yesterday, I was chatting with a small business owner and soon-to-be restaurateur about ways he could use it for his business. He wasn’t sold on its utility. When I checked in at Nationals Park to watch the Washington One-Man Show, a Facebook friend made fun of me for playing “that stalker game.”
It seems like many just aren’t quite sure what to make of Foursquare yet, which is reminiscent of another social media/network craze from a few years ago: Twitter. When Twitter first hit, it instructed users to tell everyone what they were doing – making it sound like a glorified Facebook status update. When people started understanding the ability to communicate in public conversations with 140 characters – and the concept of microblogging – Twitter became more than its founders probably imagined it would.
As Foursquare becomes more prevalent, more businesses, organizations, and campaigns will start to take advantage of the ability for people to check in electronically from their phone, and the utility will become more obvious. Until then, here’s a very telling metric that indicates this isn’t a passing fad: Foursquare’s current value is $95 million, and they’re planning to expand.
This week, Pennsylvania Attorney General (and candidate for Governor) Tom Corbett issued a subpoena to force Twitter to reveal the identities of two members who have been highly critical of him. The official line from the AG office is that the identity could be relevant to an ongoing criminal case:
A spokesman for Mr. Corbett, Kevin Harley, said the subpoena had nothing to do with the criticism of the attorney general… He said the subpoena was related to a criminal case concerning Brett Cott, a former political aide convicted in a political scandal known as Bonusgate. That long-running investigation concerns bonuses paid to legislative staff members and whether they were illegally related to political campaign work.
For Corbett’s sake, I hope this isn’t simply an attempt to shut up anonymous critics, because it’s hard to think of a less effective way to do it. Consider that, between them both, the accounts probably have no more than 1,000 unique followers, and that comes after a round of national press coverage that has surely inflated those totals. Everything Corbett has done has only driven more eyeballs their way. And any type of censorship – or perceived censorship – of political speech tends to be a bad issue for a candidate.
David All of TechRepublican has a really good post following up on the Poltico story about the early online organizing for 2012 Republican presidential candidates. All, who was quoted in the story, chronicles a brief back and forth between himself and some Sarah Palin backers over the former Governor’s Twitter account. All had criticized Palin’s online team for starting a new Twitter account when she left office (and thus having to rebuild her substantial follower list). Apparently, when she left office, state officials claimed her Twitter handle was state property, forcing her to sign up for a new account.
All correctly identifies that whether or not Sarah Palin could have (she could have) or should have (she should have) laid claim to the account name, a bigger issue is at play:
The state-level IT folks, likely a problem in every state, pushed back on the account ownership question because they don’t understand how best to treat emerging situations that are not black and white technically, legally or politically… But we’ve now identified a problem which we should work to address collectively: How should the accounts of government officials be treated once they leave office?
This is no small question for governors who chose to run for President. Could Democrats in the Minnesota state legislature start calling for an investigation on Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s Facebook friend list to make sure the governor doesn’t pull the modern media equivalent of swiping office supplies? Would Republicans in Montana have a right to do the same if Gov. Brian Schweitzer started to make waves with eyes on the 2016 ticket?
It would be wise for states to figure this out seriously while the issue is still non-controversial. In the absence of a policy, politics are sure to fill the void.
The Library of Congress will collect and store the full volume of Twitter for “scholarly and research purposes.” Twitter is psyched because it’s another demonstration of legitimacy:
It is our pleasure to donate access to the entire archive of public Tweets to the Library of Congress for preservation and research. It’s very exciting that tweets are becoming part of history. It should be noted that there are some specifics regarding this arrangement. Only after a six-month delay can the Tweets will be used for internal library use, for non-commercial research, public display by the library itself, and preservation.
As evidenced by events like the Iranian election protests, Twitter users can act as documentarians of history as it happens. The Library of Congress’s recognition of this is another sign that Twitter has grown up a bit; the timing couldn’t be better, coming just a couple days after they announced their advertising model.
For the vast majority of Twitter’s data, this announcement is really a non-story – after all, there’s nothing stopping anyone from visiting Twitter and accessing all public tweets. What about accounts that have been deleted, though? And what about the accounts that get deleted after the Library of Congress makes an official historical record of them?
Buried in Twitter’s blog post is a much “friendlier” strategy for making Tweets a part of history: Google’s Replay service, which allows users to revisit moments in history and watch events unfold through Twitter and other online media.
As with most announcements, the difference lies in the semantics. Google Replay would pinpoint specific times and issues – in other words, it would gravitate toward tweets which were sent with the idea that they were for public consumption. The idea of Twitter turning over a hard drive full of information to a government office may be no different in practice or outcome, but it sounds a lot creepier. Suddenly, you may find yourself perusing your own Twitter feed to see if you have anything to worry about. A better announcement might have been a joint release by Twitter, Google, and the Library of Congress discussing a way to incorporate publicly broadcast real-time updates into research. It might have looked like a tool on the Library’s website, powered by Google.
The nature of Twitter makes this a minor issue, but it isn’t the only place that history is recorded in real time. Facebook and Google Buzz have both incorporated elements to mimic Twitter’s free-flowing stream-of-consciousness format. That means they’re just as potentially attractive to the Library of Congress as part of the “historical record” – even though their data is decidedly more sensitive.
Though they haven’t shown up quite yet, the phrase of the day is “sponsored tweets” – Twitter’s long-overdue way to make money off its product. (When you hear anyone say “sponsored tweets,” scream real loud!)
I’ve searched a few terms that seemed like good candidates for these ads to show up but haven’t seen a sponsored tweet yet – which may be the first time anyone has ever wanted to see advertising but couldn’t find it.
Sponsored tweets do offer a new political tactic in advance of the 2010 elections. Candidates have been using Google ads to frame themselves and their opponents for years, and 2010 will be no exception. Search engine and Facebook ads, though, are closer to traditional advertising: you see creative (text or a picture), and if it’s interesting enough you take some sort of action. Clicking on an online ad is a more instant (and measurable) reaction that buying something after seeing a television commercial, but the concept is the same.
Twitter ads appear to be more message advertising – so the “creative” may not even come directly from the ad sponsor. Lets say you’re working for Republican Keith Fimian, running against Rep. Gerald Connolly to represent Virginia’s lovely 10th district (which includes this blog). If someone searches for Connolly on Twitter, you might sponsor a tweet from a voter or activist – rather than from the official Fimian campaign Twitter account – that calls on Connolly to get heaved out of office.
This strategy has been tested somewhat with Google ads, but mostly as a joke – searching for John McCain, for instance, might bring up sponsored links for the AARP. But Twitter ads give brands – political or corporate – a chance to use third party voices to frame search results. No doubt this will become as much art as science as the 2010 elections approach.
Leave it to Joe Biden. After a year of contentious debate followed by 36 hours of talking heads trying to make sense of what the health care overhaul means, the Veep’s tidy summary was at once true, painfully obvious, hilarious, and in character with the caricature of Biden as an elder Dan Quayle redux… Which meant that the internet would have a field day with it.
Within hours, the Twitter feed @BigFnDealer was mocking Biden and chronicling the reactions. This comes just a few months after Carly Fiorina’s “Demon Sheep” web video spawned @DemonSheep. And @BOTeleprompter has been mocking Biden’s boss just about as long as the President has been in office. Sarah Palin and Michael Steel have been targeted.
Fake Twitter have been giving alter egos to characters both fictional (@DarthVader) and real (@Michael_Bay) since Twitter launched. They have generally been a hobby, but as the political examples show, they can also be a way to advance a message in a comic, snarky way. Because they are generally anonymous, they are tough to engage unless the account owner does something stupid (like trying to claim the actual identity of the person being mocked).
As @BigFnDealer shows, getting in on the ground floor is a necessity – the internet moves fast. And of course, satire only works as a powerful message advancement tool if it’s good; lame jokes tend to backfire.
But when it works, what better way to needle your opponent than to put words in his or her mouth?
I joined Google Buzz this week. It was easy – I didn’t have to do anything except log in to GMail. Google had transformed my private email – including my contact list (which it automatically populates based on my email traffic) into a social networking experience, a hybrid of Facebook and Twitter. After several privacy complaints, Google made opting out of certain features a bit easier. It’s still a little creepy.
Tellingly, Buzz allows you to integrate your Twitter feed but not for Facebook profile – another sign of the coming Armageddon between Google and Facebook, which Google will likely get to right after their fight with Apple and possibly after their fight with Microsoft.
How big is Google? There were three separate stories about Google which made headlines this week. That’s not three articles – but three separate issues which made news independent of each other. First was the aforementioned Google Buzz; second was Google’s plan to become an internet service provider; and now comes news that Google is butting heads with the Department of Justice over intellectual property rights of authors as part of their ongoing effort to become a latter-day, digital Library of Alexandria.
That these are all separate issues leads to them becoming one issue. Google is seeking to define how you get to the internet, how you communicate with others, and what information/content you receive. If this scenario continues on the same logical course, Google would become to the internet what AT&T was to the telephone networks before it was broken up by a federal antitrust suit in 1984.
Is Google at risk of an anti-trust lawsuit? Possibly, but they have certainly done their best to make inroads with the government that would prevent that from happening. The relationship between Google and the current administration is well-documented.
And if you believe the balance of power in Washington will tip back to Republicans in 2010 or 2012, Google is ready for that to – they are sponsoring TechRepublican’s Digital Boot Camp at CPAC this year.
This past weekend dropped a foot and a half of snow (or more) on the Washington, D.C. are. And since six inches is enough to grind Your Nation’s Capital to a halt, the Blizzard of ’09 was dubbed the DC Snowpocalypse.
The weather event was a fitting way to end a year that has seen an increased level of attention paid to online social networks. Those of us glued to the local NBC news coverage found elfin weekend meteorologist Chuck Bell giddily inviting users to get involved by emailing him pictures and name suggestions (his favorite was “Shopper Stopper”). A Snowpocalypse page quickly popped up on Facebook, and those on Twitter used the hashtags #snOMG and #DCsnowpocalypse to discuss the onslaught.
This week, both Twitter and YouTube released their 2009 trends list, much as Google did a few weeks back. Unlike Google, though, these trend lists say more about the way each site is used rather than social trends.
Twitter Trends: The Iranian election was not the top story of the year in American media, but it did top Twitter’s news trends list – largely because Twitter itself was such an important tool in organizing street demonstrations. In Entertainment, movies Paranormal Activity and District 9 ranked highly. Both became early examples of what is being called the “Twitter effect.” Real-time fan reviews on social networks gave both films an instant box-office boost. (The same effect may have sapped the excitement around other top-Twitter-trenders GI Joe and Watchmen, both of which did worse than expected.
Predictably, there were other trends that lend credence to the “I’m-sitting-on-the-porch” pointlessness of Twitter when misused. However, these examples also speak to the potential advantage of Twitter as an organizing tool – whether the goal is overthrowing an unpopular regime or flocking to a better-than-expected movie.
YouTube Trends: YouTube is interesting in that it can report two trends: the most-watched videos and the search terms.
The top viewership trends on YouTube centered around you-gotta-see-this viral sensations such as Susan Boyle’s performance on Britain’s Got Talent and the famous wedding party entrance to the tune of Chris Brown’s “Forever.”
Top search trends, which were broken out by month, centered around news and entertainment events but weren’t always directly related. For instance, the death of Michael Jackson led to an increase in searches for the Thriller music video. What does this mean? Probably that a generation that doesn’t remember the dawn of the music video era was looking for a famous short film that was frequently discussed but seldom seen. YouTube’s slogan is “Broadcast Yourself,” but it may as well be “Catch what you missed.”
Year in review lists are a chance to look back at the big stories of 2009, but those are common knowledge. Digging into the trends can, however, show how people are using the online tools – and give insight on how to reach them.