Improving the Website News Experience

There are a lot of great things about Twitter. One that sticks out to me is how often the service breaks news stories. When a Twitter user learns of something or sees it, a few taps can relay that news to hundreds of thousands of people as quickly as you can send a text to a friend. It’s phenomenal. Another great thing is Twitter’s ability to act as a live blogging platform, of sorts. For those who are on Twitter, it’s a great way to get filled in by someone who is witnessing a news event unfolding first-hand.

When you go to a news organization’s website, however, you don’t get near-instantaneous news. Most of the time, you get someone rushing to update a post in a CMS each time something of note happens. The front page of a news site hardly captures the sense that news is happening everywhere, every second. It shows whatever someone typed up 5 minutes ago, or an hour ago, or even half a day ago. Newspapers have a cutoff before they go to press, and they’re printed on paper. That content is static. They have an excuse. A website does not.

It’s 2012, and visiting a news website still feels like it did in 2002. These pages don’t feel alive. They don’t do enough to pipe in content that someone is rushing to put out with their thumbs. They don’t try to include people who might not be reporters, but are on the scene nonetheless. There’s an awful lot of “don’t” without any signs of “do” now or in the future.

I toyed with this the tiniest bit using the @Hashburg account (that I tried not to annoy people with), but I wasn’t pleased with the results I was getting using existing platforms and tools. The idea was that certain hashtags (#news, #weather, #traffic) were being searched for within a 25 mile radius of Harrisburg, and those tweets were being retweeted automatically. My goal was to eventually collect these tweets and present them in an easy-to-read format on the Web. But that was going to be more static, and lacked the human curation I feel is necessary. It was not at all what I envision now.

So here’s my pitch. If you’re a dev, designer, or someone interested in contributing to a project that does not compete with but enhances current news offerings, shoot me an email – shawnfarner@gmail.com. In the meantime, I will be trying to transfer what I’ve been whiteboarding into something that is a bit more clear and a bit less babblish.

Crowdsourced, instantaneous news

An eyebrow-raising tweet came through my stream today–one that I can certainly get on board with.

AnneDGallaher: Consider using a hashtag in tweets when we see news happening–advice from @harrisburgsmc #HbgSMC

First, a little back-story.

I occasionally brainstorm new social products from time to time. Abuzz is one that actually made it out of my brain and turned into something real. Most don’t. The particular problem I wanted to tackle was news. More specifically, how to make it faster, more widely distributed and relevant to those in a certain area.

About a week ago, I registered the @Hashburg name on Twitter and started toying around with some ideas. I set the account up so that a few hashtags (#news, #sports, #hbg and #hbgtweetup) would be caught in the filter and automatically retweeted from the account if the user in question was within 25km (around 15.5mi) of Harrisburg.

With apologies to @roxburynews, @todaysthedayhbg and countless others using the #hbg hashtag, my little Frankenstein news experiment went a bit awry and retweeted each tweet about five or ten times. If you didn’t notice, thank God. I deleted most of the tweets and took the account private so that the tweets wouldn’t interfere in anyone else’s streams while I tweaked it. But I still see potential in the idea as a way to quickly spread important news. A few other hashtags come to mind: #traffic (for relaying information about accidents), #weather (conditions and temperature where you are), #amber (to spread word about an Amber Alert), and so on.

It is by no means competition to the more established news outlets. The character length prevents that. But as a quick way to share newsworthy items, especially when coming from a non-news source, I think it’s the best way to spread a message.

Hit the tweetup tomorrow

If you’re in the Harrisburg area and you’re on Twitter, you should definitely think about going to the Tweetup tomorrow.

Where? Appalachian Brewing Company. When? 7pm.

It’s a bit funny that I’m writing about this, since I’m probably not going to make it myself, but if you haven’t been to one or you just didn’t know about it before, here are a few reasons for you:

  • The people are awesome
  • There’s beer
  • Great food
  • Lots of diverse topics of discussion

The last one especially. You could be talking about Harrisburg politics one minute, then suddenly, you’re on to knitting. I don’t knit myself but, if I did, I’d be right at home.

You’ll also experience some tech talk, from time to time. Most of the people at the Tweetup are tech savvy. They’re on Twitter, after all. You’ll probably find them on a load of other social networks, too.

I guess you could say that, at times, it’s kind of like another Social Media Club, except the Tweetup crowd cared about that kind of thing longer than six months ago.

This is the part where I embed a map to Appalachian Brewing Company so you don’t get lost. Remember, tomorrow, 7pm. Good day.


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Duh: Twitter tests in-stream ads

After nearly four years of avoiding the obvious, Twitter has finally started injecting ads into user streams.

If you use HootSuite, that is.

The in-stream ads are part of a test that could likely expand and, if Twitter is smart, grow into an actual business model. The company has seemingly done everything in its power to ignore this option, such as:

  • Striking deals with Google and Bing
  • Allowing businesses to create “Promoted” trends
  • Planning monetization via Twitter Search platform
  • Offering deals via the now-defunct @earlybird account

Advertisements in the Twitter stream ensure that ads are seen by all users, including those using third-party clients to access the API. It’s in Twitter’s best interest to put ads in front of as many people as possible, so I can’t imagine that this test will come and go quietly. Instead, it’ll be the beginning of a dramatic change in the service.

Prediction results for 2009, not good

This post takes a look back at my 5 ballsy social media predictions for 2009 post, written on December 20, 2008.

Needless to say, there will not be a predictions post written for 2010.  I am clearly not Desmond Hume (come on, LOST nerds).

  1. Twitter will be bought. Nope.  They did, however, get a huge boost from Oprah.  Oh yeah, they also negotiated a few search deals and started *gasp* making some money. (0 for 1)
  2. Plurk will disappear. Ahh, Plurk – the little microblogging service that should have quit a long time ago.  Instead, they persist.  I logged into the site for the first time in a year only to find that it looks exactly the same.  And by the same, I mean creepy. (0 for 2)
  3. Louis Gray will surpass Robert Scoble in blog traffic. I thought this one was a slam dunk.  Robert thought it could happen.  Where did it all go wrong?  The two were separated by as few as 16,110 uniques in May 2009.  But in June 2009, Building 43 was launched and Robert blogged a bit more often.  When FriendFeed sold to Facebook in August, it was game over.  Scoble returned to his blog fortress and made me wrong yet again.  (0 for 3)
  4. Pandora will all but kill Last.FM. Bzzzzt, incorrect.  Last.FM lives on due to the fact that, well, it works outside the United States.  Pandora does not.  In my own life, Slacker Radio has taken the lead – I suggest you give it a try.  And if you haven’t Groovesharked yet, please do it right now. (0 for 4)
  5. The labels will introduce a mixtape service. Can you say “oh-for-five”?  I could have cheated right here and counted Apple’s “compile a bunch of songs in a mix and buy them for a friend” feature as a mixtape service but the labels had little to do with that.  (0 for 5, in case you forgot)

Do you have the results of your own predictions?  I’d love to see them.  You could not have done worse than me. ;)

What’s Abuzz?

Well, it’s an iPhone app. :)

Abuzz lets you search Twitter, the blogosphere, the forumsphere (or whatever it’s called) and Digg.  It lets you organize your keyword searches into campaigns so that you can keep your related searches together.  You can search all the supported services at once or customize your search to include results from just one or two.Abuzz

What’s really cool about Abuzz is the built-in Twitter client.  It’s lightweight (just like the rest of the app) but gives you everything you need – you can tweet out, send replies, send direct messages, view profiles, follow/unfollow and so on.  You can interact with the tweets in your own timeline and your searches, which frees you from having to open another app if you want to take action on a tweet you’ve found in a search.

Let’s say you work for Apple and want to set up searches for the iPhone and Macbook.  You could open the Abuzz app, create a new campaign called “Apple” and add keyword searches for “iPhone” and “Macbook”.  It’s that easy.  You won’t waste a lot of time navigating through a dedicated Twitter app to set up searches or browsing through Safari trying to search blogs, forums and Digg.  Abuzz is social media search, plain and simple.

So where’s Abuzz?  We’re squashing our last round of bugs at the moment and we’ll probably have an App Store-ready app in three or four days. Keep your eyes peeled two or three weeks into January!  And if you have some search services you’d like to see available inside Abuzz, let me know!  Shoot an email to features@abuzzapp.com.

5 ballsy social media predictions for 2009

Rather than subject you to an elaborate opening paragraph, I’ll just give you the beef.  Here are my 5 ballsy social media predictions for 2009.

  1. Twitter will be bought.  By who?  If I had to guess, I’d say Google.  Then they could do away with that Jaiku mess they’ve been hiding.
  2. Plurk will disappear.  Now that Twitter is much more stable and catching on with some of the mainstream, other microblogging services will suffer. But who? Pownce has already been put down, Jaiku might as well be dead and FriendFeed serves as more of an aggregator and has enough to set it apart. That leaves Plurk, a service that, in my opinion, is just a fad waiting to fade away.
  3. Louis Gray will surpass Robert Scoble in blog traffic.  Louis has himself plus a talented team of guest posters, and as much as Robert tries to be everywhere and do everything, this team might be too overwhelming.  No matter who comes out in front, though, it’s a win-win for the community.
  4. Pandora will all but kill Last.FM.  I feel that Pandora’s similar artists algorithm is worlds better than Last.FM’s, and I’m sure others would agree.  I feel that the only things keeping them from putting Last.FM out to pasture are the community features they’re lacking.  Look for Pandora to add them this year, along with scrobbling.
  5. The music labels will introduce a mixtape service.  In the absence of both Muxtape and MixWit, music labels now have an opportunity to both generate some goodwill AND some revenue in the process. This is, of course, a gamble that the labels will follow through on a good idea. A lot of you might not be holding your breath, but I think it can happen.

What do you think?  Agree or disagree with any of these? Do you have predictions of your own? Leave a comment or a link to your own predictions in the comments and, in my next post, I’ll gather everyone’s prediction posts all together. Then we’ll see how right/wrong we were at the end of 2009. :]

Twitter fires ‘Sandy’, messes up big

In case you haven’t heard, Twitter has acquired values of n, the web startup responsible for productivity tools Stikkit and I Want Sandy.  These are two great apps, and upon reading, you might characterize this as a great move by Twitter to diversify their offerings.  Except it’s not.

On December 8, 2008, both Stikkit and I Want Sandy will be shut down, leaving a gaping void to fill in many GTD systems.  In the case of I Want Sandy, users will suddenly find themselves without their scheduling, reminder and to-do list service in less than two weeks’ time.  It seems that Twitter bought values of n not to explore other avenues in the web space, but instead to bring on values of n founder Rael Dornfest as an employee.  Sadly, two more web apps will now bite the dust.

So, why would Twitter buy the company and IP’s? Why not allow Rael to sell the services to another company, one that might keep them online? Or better yet – why wouldn’t Twitter just keep these apps online, themselves?  These are the questions many are asking at I Want Sandy’s customer support board, where the few congratulatory posts for Rael are drowning under a tidal wave of angry posts from jaded ‘Sandy’ loyalists.

Many of the frustrated posters make very valid points; for instance, how can users continue to trust that their data is safe in the cloud?  If someone had gone on a two week vacation starting this past Monday, they would return on December 8 to find that all of their ‘Sandy’ data is gone forever.  The two weeks’ notice given by Rael is hardly sufficient – users need a lot more time than that to backup their data and replace ‘Sandy’ in their scheduling systems.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like much, if anything, is going to change about this decision.

Do I blame Rael? Partially. I feel that he could have done more to fight for his users. I feel that, if he were as passionate about his projects as he says, he would have found a way to keep them online – even if that meant running them on the side.  If Twitter wanted him badly enough as an employee, they were going to hire him whether they got his web apps or not.  Now Rael is viewed negatively by many in the I Want Sandy user base, users who might happen to use…

Twitter.  This is where I place most of the blame for this debacle.  They should have known better.  This company has a historic lack of reliability and this move does nothing but reinforce that.  This time, it wasn’t Twitter’s uptime people were relying on – it was their ability to do the right thing. To generate some goodwill, for once, instead of having to dodge bullets from users.  I sent a few messages to Evan Williams (Twitter CEO) to no avail, but I’m sure he has his eye on the situation.  Hopefully he realizes that Twitter is now the center of a lot of negativity, a move that could have been easily avoided.

The bottom line is this – Twitter, you messed up.  You gobbled up another company and left its users out in the cold.  Luckily for you, this can be fixed.  You have the remedy.  There’s still time to do the right thing.

Please do it.

Social Media Ghosts

It’s been 11 days since I emailed Alpha Phi Omega President Maggie Katz to offer her a few National Convention suggestions.  I still have yet to receive any kind of response; not even a canned “Thank You” in return.  This is exactly how you shouldn’t do things – then again, the National Office has never been good at communicating.

Here’s a Google Search result for Alpha Phi Omega blog.  The National Headquarters is nowhere to be found.  Instead of leading the way, they’re simply nonexistant.  There is an unofficial blog ranking in at #1 with individual chapters rounding out the top few (my chapter is the fourth result).  Here’s a results page for Alpha Phi Omega Twitter.  You won’t find the National Office anywhere in these results – they don’t seem to have a Twitter account.  The first result is my chapter’s FriendFeed account, the third result is my chapter’s Twitter account and eight down you’ll find our chapter’s web site.  National Office = nowhere.

In case you were wondering, my suggestions to Mrs. Katz revolved around social media and Alpha Phi Omega’s need to embrace the medium.  I offered to round up my chapter and host a “Social Media Workshop” at the National Convention.  It was my hope that other chapters could use these tools to converse with their communites as well as each other.  I even thought maybe, just maybe, our National office could learn something, too.

Judging from the lack of response, though, they’re exactly what they deserve to be. Social media ghosts.

Are we sharing too much on social networks?

You can take a look at my FriendFeed stream today and find out that I’ve used both Gmail, Yahoo and Facebook today – not because I posted or tweeted this myself, but thanks to a tracker I installed for Wakoopa, a site that aims to socialize our application usage.  Going through the public stream, I can see that LouCypher has recently used Google Talk and Yahoo! Messenger.  Hasan has accessed the Command Prompt and used WordPress.  Haggis (Sean) has visited Classmates.com.

Doesn’t this seem like a bit much?

I pinged some of the folks on Twitter and FriendFeed for answers to this question – Are we sharing too much on social networks?

@jak440 – “YES!”
@hearsmusic – “When people are dying for changing their status on facebook, I think so, yes…”
@johnrogers – ” “too much” is relative to me. I am who i am, and tend to share everything. nothing to hide really”
@hbombx – “Yeah, some of the “meet me hear if you want” sound too much like “I’m alone and easy to abduct.” ”
@rahsheen – “I don’t know about sharing too much, I was actually thinking of going the full monty….ok not really…LOL” 
@rorowe – “There was a great article in Wired ~6 mo. ago about a guy who literally put *everything* online so the FBI’d leave him alone.”  (He later tweeted the article URL – here it is.)

Amber aka SDA – “A little”
Akiva Moskovitz – “What do you mean? I don’t even know your blood type… yet.”
Helen Sventitsky – “I’ve always shared too much. Half my offline friends block me because I’m such an embarrassment to them online, LOL! :D”
JMS likes you – “Perhaps”
Niki Costantini – “Well, it’s not that we are obliged to share everything, aren’t we? So “too much” is only up to us at the end of the day :)”
Sparky – “You are right. People share way too much on social networks. Like Akiva’s social security number 526-87-2412”
Vijayendra Mohanty – “Sharing personal information happens when you are not really ‘doing it’ also. Like metadata. The other kind of sharing (links, pictures) is a good thing, isn’t it?”
anna awesomesauce – “I was talking to some college students about to enter the work force, and one was like, “should I clean up my facebook page” answer: vehemently “yes!”
 tiffany needs a tissue – “i am. i need to stop that.”

So what do you think – are we sharing too much? And what do you think of Wakoopa – does this type of application cross the line between acceptable and “way too much”?  Comment away! :)