Posts Tagged ‘Twitter’

An Ace on Fire is Still an Ace

July 24, 2008

Let me start by stating the obvious: I am absolutely trying to capitalize on the attention my previous post received.

Its not quite as self-serving as it seems.

I’m not looking to increase my rss subscriptions or further my own personal “brand.” What I would like to do is share some thoughts on what I think Twitter can (needs to) do to successfully pull out of the flat spin they induced recently.

I mentioned previously that I thought that Twitter had set their Ace-in-the-hole afire when the latest snafu impacted the community’s Holy Grail: their subscriptions.

I have noticed more and more people commenting that the early adopter community tends to focus on the reasons a product will fail rather than the things that need to happen in order for it to succeed. I want to offer (what I hope will be) a constructive and helpful perspective derived from my experience in the campaign and public affairs arena.

There are certainly a number of marketing/public affairs/public relations professionals with far more experience than me on Twitter or FriendFeed – I hope they will add their own thoughts (but by all means please do so on FriendFeed, put them here an no one will ever see them!).

The biggest threat to Twitter’s survival is not rooted in technology but communications.

What I am going to suggest does not necessarily mix well with the old school PR or campaign regime whose focus often revolves around message control. Many would probably say that Twitter’s current PR/communication approach strikes the right balance between acknowledging the problem and discussing your plan to solve it and being so transparent that you make your product look more unstable than it really is.

There are certainly situations where it is important to find that balance. But not this one.

This is not Multinational Corporation X trying to figure out how to handle an internal study indicating their may be a higher than expected fail rate on their new hard drive, this is Aunt Milly drunk off her ass at the family reunion.

The cat’s out of the bag, we all know it is an infrastructural problem that will take some time to fix. We didn’t leave when we first heard the news so why would we now?

If Twitter fails I guarantee it will not be because they couldn’t fix the glitches fast enough – it will be because they failed to honor and leverage the rare and special community that has sprung up around a very flawed product.

So here are my suggestions – some of them may already be in place and users may simply need to be made more aware of them. Most of us have acknowledged that Twitter has created a very special community of  users – let’s put some action behind that belief.

My suggestions:

  • Update the standard FAIL page to include links to every official update channel. I don’t visit the Twitter blog or developer forum or status page – add links and I will probably click on them when I get the service is down page and feel better that I am not in dark about what is going on
  • Create an official Twitter channel on a video streaming site and make it company policy that someone from the Twitter staff will jump on within X amount of time of any major problem to provide users an update (even if it is to say “we are working to identify the problem”)
  • Identify a group of the most influential users (Robert Scoble, Louis Gray, etc) and provide them with regular briefing via  video conference, be open and transparent, allow for Q & A
  • If further decisions are required as to which functions need to be temporarily disabled (or the order in which disabled functions should be added back) ask the users!

I was verbose enough in the lead up so I wanted to limit my suggestions to what I considered to be the most important.

Again, I understand that the underlying concept of throwing the doors wide open and pushing uber-transparency goes against the grain of most of today’s accepted PR and communication CW but I would put money on their effectiveness in this situation.

Twitter is not your standard application or product – we don’t love Twitter because of what it DOES, we love Twitter because of what it has DONE.

Twitter has created a community out of its users but they will lose that community if they do not show they understand and appreciate its power by using it to ensure the growth and survival of the service.

PLEASE – go back to FriendFeed, Twitter, your blog, WHEREVER and begin your own discussion on what Twitter could do to avoid the ultimate FAIL.

I have no allusions that this post alone will lead to the communication changes that Twitter so desperately needs BUT we all interact with several individuals on a daily basis who have the ability to encourage change – collectively our ideas can and will make a huge difference.

So there are my thoughts – what are yours?

As a user – what could Twitter do from a direct communication standpoint to make it more likely that you not only stuck around but became a Twitter evangelist once again?


Twitter Just Pulled the Ace From Their Sleeve and Lit it on Fire

July 24, 2008

I’ve always been keenly aware of the massive chasm that exists between my core abilities and experiences and those of many of the people I follow on Twitter and FriendFeed (in fact that is precisely why I love following so many of them), so I do my best to leave the deeper analysis to the experts.

Even so I have always been an interested “outside” observer as the ongoing “will they or won’t they make it” Twitter saga has played out.

When I first began immersing myself in new media I was startled by the volatility that exists in the user market for any number of web-based programs and I have always intrigued by the way that Twitter has avoided this pitfall.

Unfortunately, their most recent snafu (see the link at the beginning for a succinct explanation) may be too much to overcome.

I can’t imagine any other service surviving as long as Twitter has while exhibiting the same level of near-constant problems they have and I think the underlying lesson, while extremely intuitive, should serve as a powerful reminder for anyone, in any business, in any industry.

None of us are perfect – we may make perfection our goal but it is a universal constant that every human and every organization is going to fail at some point. The trick is to identify the things that you MUST get right in oder to ensure your survival.

For Twitter I believe this was the subscription process.

There have been a few comments on FriendFeed chiding people for focusing on form over function, implying that the outcry over Twitter’s latest stumble is the result of the rampant egoism of some who find more value in amassing a large audience instead of developing quality relationships and conversations.

I can see where they are coming from but I don’t know that I agree entirely – while there are certainly some who view Twitter as a game to see who can build the world’s largest megaphone, there are also many people who haven invested a lot of time cultivating a community and environment that provides mutual exhortation.

I firmly believe that the success that a large number of highly influential individuals had on Twitter is the very thing that kept the service alive.

Makes sense doesn’t it?

If you had invested countless hours in a service and, as a result, had amassed a “following” of several thousand individuals who were eager to hear from and interact with you wouldn’t you give that service every chance to survive as well?

I’m pretty sure I would.

And so a cycle was created that acted as a virtual respirator for Twitter: highly interesting or knowledgeable person develops a large following on Twitter, word spreads as more and more users enjoy and benefit from the service, more join, Twitter hits massive potholes in the road, power users hang on for dear life not wanting to lose all of the hard work they had invested, mass defection is avoided as the rest of the service’s users enjoy the interaction that a growing, vibrant community offers.

Unfortunately, Twitter’s latest error was aimed squarely at the one thing that may very well have kept them alive all of this time.

This isn’t another “Twitter is now dead” post – the game isn’t over and, although it would take enormous effort, Twitter may very well still survive.

Instead, my hope is that this can serve as a reminder that no matter what the endeavor – relationship, job, company, etc – so long as we identify and remain aware of the expectations that we must meet at all costs and apologize and rectify our screw ups in all of the other areas, things will turn out just fine.

But if we neglect one of those core expectations…

One piece of Tweet-Speak I have yet to hear on FriendFeed

June 18, 2008

I like Twitter, really I do, I just don’t like-like it the way I like FriendFeed.

It occurred to me the other day that I had not heard a certain phrase used on FriendFeed that was in abundant supply in Twitterland:

“If you are not following so-and-so you really should…”

In that phrase a good deal of Twitter’s essence is revealed along with the reason I prefer FriendFeed.


Pssst…Microscopes Weren’t Meant For Star Gazing

June 9, 2008

This isn’t quite finished but what actually ever is? I am becoming increasingly frustrated with a growing number of posts definitively stating what is or isn’t right with FriendFeed or Twitter and how we should or shouldn’t be using these tools. On one hand these are simply more ideas thrown into the mixing bowl – ideas that will help all of us work through a very new set of concepts. On the other hand, as the title of this post suggests, I feel like we have discovered a new planet and are trying to understand its importance by analyzing a 1-inch by 1-inch plot of dirt.

I am quite certain that there will be many that believe I am overstating the importance of the communication shift that tools like FriendFeed and Twitter represent. That is understandable since services like these utilize technologies already in place and familiar to us. (Much like mobile phones were conceptually similar to home phones – but you will be hard pressed to convince me that mobile phones have not had a massive impact on our world.)

In a FriendFeed discussion the other day Alexander van Elsas posited that he wasn’t sure “if we are at the start of a new era of interaction” because “Only the scale differs.” To me – scale is everything.

Why Scale Matters

The central goal of the technologies that have shaped and defined the world we live in has always been to facilitate an expansion of our ability to share information. The innovations that have truly altered the way we communicate have, and always will, be those tools that expand our abilities exponentially.

The shift from ink and quill to fountain pen was surely a welcome change but did it massively alter communication? Of course not. What about the printing press? Technically, the printing press was merely a change in scale wasn’t it? And yet, that change – the ability to make a greater number of copies of a document – completely altered the history of the world.

I believe the concepts represented by applications like FriendFeed and Twitter offer an expansion of our ability to share information that is large enough to again change the world we live in. The contrast of life before and after mass adoption of technologies like these may not be as stark as the before and after periods surrounding the development of the printing press but the impact will be similar. Here is why.

The Inevitable Change

If you were able to create a formula that tracked the speed with which information could be shared that also accounted for the number of people that information could be shared with on average I have no doubt that a graph of communications from the beginning of recorded history would show a constant increase.

I state the obvious to illustrate that a constant, unstoppable force expanding the speed and scope of the dissemination of information has always existed. This is why the concepts of FriendFeed and Twitter will, at some point, inevitably become an intricate part of the fabric of our daily lives.

We have already experienced some seismic shifts in the way we communicate and nothing highlights the impact these changes have had better than blogs. It is hard for us to conceptualize the impact blogs have had because we can’t turn back the clock and replay the last few years without them and, like frogs in a pot of slowly boiling water, the changes seem fairly incremental to us. Even so, the accountability and additional sources of information blogs provide have dethroned a media giant (Rather) and forced corporations and political candidates to take greater care with the public statements they make.

These alterations of the status quo occurred because a wider pool of individuals, each with knowledge and insights unique to them, were able to take a piece of information and add to it. The more this happened, the greater the volume of information shaped the story. Rather and his team had a piece of information, they no doubt sought the input of several others while determining whether and how to share the information and based on pre-blog level of thinking they probably felt pretty good about the evidence they had in hand. The newly expanded scale of individuals who could add their information to the story provided a much different conclusion.

The underlying concepts of emerging social media applications will immensely amplify our access to different sources of information, the speed with which that information can be passed along and the scope of its potential recipients. Take my experience with FriendFeed as an example – through existing communication mediums like email and reading and commenting on blog posts I would NEVER have interacted with any of the people I exchange thoughts with now on a daily basis. If you have had a similar experience, think back over the last month and try and remove EVERY new thing you have learned or opinion that has altered your own thoughts in any way as a direct result of a social media application. While impossible to do it at least gives some sort of idea of what kind of impact the concepts that power these applications will have when mass adopted.

The technology exists to give each of us the ability to share any activity we wish, from any location we choose, with anyone we would like – at this point it just needs to be developed and applied. I firmly believe that the application of those technologies to our daily lives will dramatically change the world we live in – whether we realize it or not.

…but don’t get lost in there

June 4, 2008

I wanted to briefly follow up on yesterday’s post because I get the feeling sometimes that the people instigating and taking part in the social media debates that have become ubiquitous on FriendFeed are unaware of exactly what it is they are participating in.

It is a rare thing to be able to watch a large group change, grow and work through a concept in real time. Many times paradigm shifts can occur at such a slow rate that it is only after they have taken hold that you realize what just took place. I believe we are in the midst of such a shift right now.

It is unlikely that the general public has ever heard of any of the key players. It is also unlikely that they realize that one of the central characteristics of the change underway is that anyone can become part of the process anytime they wish, from anywhere.

Unfortunately, it will not always be this way – but that doesn’t matter. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, technically, services like FriendFeed or Twitter don’t matter either. In my eyes it’s not the interface that is going to impact our world in such a dramatic way, it’s the foundational concepts they are built on. (I am going to follow this post up with some thoughts about why those concepts are so revolutionary, what benefits they will bring and what we will lose along the way)

The eventual death of unfiltered, unfettered social media as we know it right now has been predicted clearly through thoughtful posts like this and this. As much as I wish it were untrue they are right, human nature dictates that a service like FriendFeed will never be widely adopted in its current form.

In a few years, with rare exception, very few of the individuals who are currently central players in many of the discussions taking place on FriendFeed or Twitter will have gained any wide notoriety than they have today (Maybe Scoble will have become the web’s official talk show host by then – sorry couldn’t resist). Social media applications will be scaled down, repackaged and users will enjoy the ability to instantly share and communicate with a vastly smaller universe of individuals with similar interests.

In the meantime I plan on enjoying the ability to interact with an unfiltered universe of individuals who, whether they know it or not, share one thing in common: they are all, in some way great or small, helping shape one of the most powerful shifts in communication in all of history.