June 22, 2011
Sum Up: NY Times’ Bill Keller is an Expert on Twitter, Doesn’t Use It

Reuters: An interview with New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller by Anthony DeRosa

Sum Up: I’ve never actually used Twitter for conversation, but I’m sure that it’s bad at it because I once picked a fight there. Also, anyone who disagrees with me is just not reading or a “cyber-puritan.”

Confidential to Bill Keller: You might want to try actually having a conversation on Twitter with someone who doesn’t work for you before deciding it’s bad at it. Posting “#TwitterMakesYouStupid. discuss." to Twitter is like walking into a sports bar in San Francisco and screaming "Giants suck! Discuss." You will walk out with a black eye. 

Besides, saying that Twitter is bad at deep conversation is like saying the phone is bad at nonverbal communication. Of course it is - that’s not what is was designed for. Spoons are bad at cutting steak!

Twitter’s defining characteristic is the 140 character limit, but that doesn’t mean that all the conversation there is worthless. In my experience, it’s a great writing exercise to take a large thought and edit it until it fits in that small box. You should try it.

The most telling part of this interview is Keller’s rationalization for why he doesn’t use Twitter (emphasis added). 

I follow Twitter and pay attention to it, but I rarely Tweet because I have a rather large platform here, called The New York Times. If I run across something interesting, or have a thought that might merit reporting, my instinct is to send it to an editor or reporter, in hopes it grows into a story — not to share it first with a Twitter universe that includes most of our competitors. (Or I might save it for a column of my own.) I’m sure I could do a better job of responding to Tweets about the Times, but that takes time, and mine is usually fully booked.

I’ve heard this kind of thing a lot from traditional journalists. The idea of sharing online is truly foreign to them. Anything they say in public could be heard by the competitors! It’s at once egotistical (“everything I think is so valuable I have to hoard it”) and dismissive of everyone else (“therefore all those people on the net sharing their thoughts must be worthless”).

The inability to see social media as anything other than a place to mine for traffic is at the core of why the traditional media doesn’t get the net, and why the net is going to replace them.

Oh, and Bill? We “cyber-puritians” stopped using the prefix “cyber” in 1996. 

June 20, 2011
"Turn your readers into members. Not visitors, not subscribers; you want members. And then don’t just consult them, but give them tools to consult amongst themselves…. Then, if your product is good, you’ll sell things."

The Web Is a Customer Service Medium by Paul Ford

June 17, 2011

On The Network’s Call for First Net Stories

We’re working on our first podcast. But I don’t want it to just be me talking to you. I want you to participate. So we’re asking for you to call in with your “first net” stories.

Think back to the first time you saw the internet. Not just saw it, but really got it. That “oh wow” moment when you realized how important this could be. It doesn’t matter if it was last decade or last week. We want that story.

I don’t think it’s fair to ask you to do anything I’m not willing to do, so click the play button above to hear an example from me. (Or download it here.) Note: You do not need to put music in yours - just the story.

There are two ways to participate:

  • Way 1: Call (415) 483-5628 and leave a message. Standard voice and data rates apply blah blah blah.
  • Way 2: Record yourself telling your story, save it as a MP3, and email it to otnshow@gmail.com.

Either way, please say your name, where you’re from, and then tell your story in a minute or less. Remember: We all know what it’s like to use the internet, what we want to know about is you. Where were you? What was happening in your life? What was it about the net that made you stop and say “oh wow.” 

What are you waiting for? It’s time to get on the network. Call us, baby!

June 16, 2011
"Because the Internet is so new we still don’t really understand what it is. We mistake it for a type of publishing or broadcasting, because that’s what we’re used to. So people complain that there’s a lot of rubbish online, or that it’s dominated by Americans, or that you can’t necessarily trust what you read on the web. Imagine trying to apply any of those criticisms to what you hear on the telephone. Of course you can’t ‘trust’ what people tell you on the web anymore than you can ‘trust’ what people tell you on megaphones, postcards or in restaurants. Working out the social politics of who you can trust and why is, quite literally, what a very large part of our brain has evolved to do. For some batty reason we turn off this natural scepticism when we see things in any medium which require a lot of work or resources to work in, or in which we can’t easily answer back – like newspapers, television or granite. Hence ‘carved in stone.’ What should concern us is not that we can’t take what we read on the internet on trust – of course you can’t, it’s just people talking – but that we ever got into the dangerous habit of believing what we read in the newspapers or saw on the TV – a mistake that no one who has met an actual journalist would ever make. One of the most important things you learn from the internet is that there is no ‘them’ out there. It’s just an awful lot of ‘us’."

How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet by Douglas Adams in 1999 and just as relevant today.

June 15, 2011
PR is Not Crowdsourcing

Guardian.co.uk: Mob rule: Iceland crowdsources its next constitution by Haroon Siddique

Sum Up: Using social media tools is not “crowdsourcing” but it makes for a punchy headline.

Stories like this make it obvious when someone else is writing the headline. “Mob rule” has an undeniably negative connotation. And “crowdsourcing" is already a pretty watered-down term, but this story seems to think it means "having a Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr account."

Writing a new constitution is a pretty amazing event. Just imagine what it would be like to read the Twitter streams out of Philadelphia from May 25, 1787. A government using all available tools (including social media) to communicate with its constituency is great and should be the norm, so long as it doesn’t include anyone’s underwear.

But none of this is “crowdsourcing” - it’s just PR. If Iceland was really crowdsourcing their constitution, the Icelandic people would be able to do more than just watch their constitution get written - they’d be able to write it.

Wouldn’t that be something.

June 14, 2011
The Wisdom of Crowds: Harder Than It Looks

The Wall Street Journal: Head Case: When We’re Cowed by the Crowd by Jonah Lehrer

Sum Up: If you’re trying to get wisdom out of a crowd, you have to set up the right interface

There are a lot of stories like this. Set up examples of the Wisdom of Crowds without ever defining it correctly, then knock it down with examples of people being stupid. But the Wisdom of Crowds (WoC) does not mean that people in crowds are smart. Everyone who’s ever been stuck in traffic knows that’s not true.

Crowds are only wise when they’re given a specific task and a clear interface. The study Lehrer cites proves this: when subjects made individual choices and those choices were aggregated, the results were good. This is how WoC works: individual votes with aggregation. It’s also how the stock market and elections work.

The study goes on to show that when the subjects were given access to each other’s choices before voting, the results were worse. Again, no surprise here, because this is how WoC does not work. That’s also why we have laws against insider trading and protecting elections.

What this study proves is how important the interface is when attempting to set up a Wisdom of Crowds experiment. So if you’re trying to get a correct answer out of a group, you have to set it up correctly: you ask a specific question, everyone gets one vote, no one has access to other’s votes, the community has to be diverse, people have to feel invested in the outcome, etc. There’s actual science in this social science.

But very little socializing on the web is about determining an answer to a specific question. What we do on Facebook is not about creating wisdom - it’s about socializing with our peers, connecting to our personal network, and doing all the messy stuff we do when we’re not trying to be “wise.” Most online communication is not trying to determine the number of new immigrants living in Zurich, or anything remotely similar. It’s just about saying hi.

Imagine if we applied the same expectation to our face-to-face encounters. I chatted with three neighbors while walking my dogs today, and I still have no idea how many pennies there are in this jar! They’re all so stupid!

Sometimes being social is just about reminding ourselves that we’re not alone. Personally, that’s the only question I need answered.

To learn how WoC works, please read The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. It’s probably the most important web design book ever written that’s not about web design at all. You can also read what I’ve written about the Wisdom of Crowds here.

June 13, 2011
"A fun parlor game I like to play in my head is to replace words like “bloggers” or “Twitterers” with “people.” It turns many things you read (or hear over the air) into obvious nonsense."

Emptyage: OTM Sum Up: The Point of Twitter

June 13, 2011
OTM Sum Up: The Filter Bubble

Sum Up: Let’s wring our hands about the internet echo chamber for a guy plugging his book, even though solid social science (that we reported on in 2009) proves that internet use widens our social network, not narrows it.

Look, the “filter bubble” is like the Terminator - it’s an interesting sci-fi concept that takes a technology idea and pushes it to its logical extreme. But that’s not how reality works. Not now, not in the future. And it’s provably false right now.

How do I know? Because if I was living in a blissful little bubble where I was only exposed to the stuff I liked, I would never have found this story.

(Source: onthemedia.org)

June 12, 2011
OTM Sum Up: How Tweet It Is

Sum Up: Bob Garfield does not understand Twitter. Clay Shirky does. 

"It still strikes me as being a bit pathological." -Bob Garfield

(Source: onthemedia.org)

June 11, 2011
OTM Sum Up: Comments on Comments

Sum Up: Online commenters are idiots. Don’t they know that it’s their job to listen to us, not our job to listen to them?

Back when it aired, this story inspired me to post a thoughtful response and a list of suggestions for how to improve online comments. Three years later, nothing’s changed.

"You’re old enough, and I’m old enough, that you were very comfortable with the one-way communication. And I hear you say this, and I feel like you are anti-democratic. You are a royalist. You are upset with democracy itself." -Ira Glass to Bob Garfield

(Source: onthemedia.org)