Archive for the ‘Social media’ Category


Could Twitter apps be worth paying for?

June 18, 2009
What does the future hold for Twitter?

What does the future hold for Twitter?

Today, I discovered TweetPsych. It applies linguistic word theory to some of your past tweets to tell you something about your personality.  It still has a way to go, in my humble opinion, but it brilliantly gives a snapshot of where Twitter apps are heading – they are going to get deeper, and provide information that is really useful.  In fact, you may even pay to use them – and wouldn’t it be nice to know people are paying to use Twitter?

As an test, I put CNN’s breaking news feed (@cnnbrk) into TweetPsych.  I discovered CNN expresses lots of negative emotions – or, in other words, bad news. Is this proof that the mainstream media are obsessed with bad news? Or just that there is a lot of it about at the moment?

TweetPsych is a great start – a way of adding value to Twitter. Here are some suggestions for Twitter apps that I would happily pay for. Please let me know what you think, and add others in the comments, if you feel inspired!

User analysis

1. Tweeter bias test. During the recent Iranian election, it became clear that Twitter contained more useful evidence about what was going on than the mainstream media.  The only problem was, it is impossible to know how objective individual tweeters are.

But a check on the content and tone of previous tweets could reveal political or religious bias, giving you a better way to judge the value of individual tweets.

2. Tweeter preference finder. I sometimes wonder who the people are that follow me.  I would love a tool that could help me sift through my followers to identify those who feel positively towards a certain subjects, based on an analysis of their tweets.  So if I was arranging an event centred on a specific issue, I could simply DM the right followers and offer them an invitation.

Power search tools

3. Ask Twitter. Twitter is great at providing answers to questions.  If a question has been answered once, the Q&A still exists.  Why not develop a tool that offers previous answers, based on a linguistic analysis of any question posed?  Users could rate suggested answers, and the tool could “learn” over time to improve the identification of best responses.

4. Twitter Picture Viewer.  This would allow you to search for and download twitter images using hashtags, key words, or a user name. It could also use search filters along the lines Microsoft has used in Bing image search (colour vs. b+w, head shots vs. landscape) and potentially additional functions such as geo-locate used in iPhoto ’09 to make the tool even more powerful.

5. Twitter Local Trends.  This would allow you to analyse all sorts of things based on tweets within a specific region.  For example, it could help locate the source of slang, or reveal local attitudes towards key words or phrases based on tone of tweets, e.g. how does popularity towards the Olympics vary across the country?  Could be a nice research tool, giving realtime changes in attitude.

And there must be more! What Twitter app you would design, if you had the chance? And would you pay for any of these?


Iran elections and an argument for making Twitter sustainable

June 14, 2009
Twitterfall stream for #IranElection

Twitterfall stream for #IranElection

In comparison with the mainstream media’s coverage of the events unfolding in Tehran today, Twitter has proven that it is able to deliver rich and diverse reporting faster and more powerfully than the traditional media.

Twitter offers reporting that places immediacy over analysis, a raw set of primary-sourced evidence that you can use to draw your own conclusions.  As an example of how it can be delivered, I used Twitterfall to get a quick snapshot of what people were tweeting about the Iran election.  I quickly identified the most widely adopted hashtag (#iranelection) and set it up.

What struck me immediately was the depth of information available about the situation in Tehran.  Right now, there are people tweeting direct from Iran, including @abbaspour, @mahdi*, @keyvan*, @Gita*, @y_shar, @tehranelection, @Change_for_Iran, @martianboy, @azarnoush, @mohamadreza and @farnamb. (* these are locked – just ask to follow).

Then there are many people analysing the mainstream media’s response and coverage of the situation via blogs and on Twitter.  The general view is that the mainstream media are not doing a good job, with hashtags such as #mediafail and #CNNfail being widely used.

And finally, there are people just expressing their views, showing the level of support there is in America, and around the world, for the people of Iran.  Of course, there are other views being expressed – some say working with Iran is futile and this election proves the Obama administration’s emerging Iran policy is doomed.  For the record, I could not disagree more, but it’s good to see a variety of arguments being expressed.

Making Twitter sustainable

OK – so there are people all over the world tweeting and blogging about the Iranian elections.  But does this really add value, given there are no checks and balances at all in what is being written, and rumours and gossip could easily be circulating, masquerading as authentic reportage?

Spotting authentic posts and tweets seems not to be an insurmountable task. It is not so different from trying to work out whether someone you have just met is telling you the truth – there is no failsafe method, but we’re all born with the ability to do it very effectively.

The evidence circulating on twitter is an unchecked primary resource – you can apply your own analysis to it, and draw your own conclusions.  This is conceivably better than having to sift through the skewed analysis of a reporter to backwards engineer the full picture, which is what reading a newspapers is often like.

There is a concern that useful tools like Twitter could wither away if not financed sustainably.  Today’s success provides a compelling case to protect the service, and even to promote its use more widely.

I have argued before that I would happily pay for Twitter – but perhaps a better model will be to pay for useful tools, such as Twitterfall, and the more advanced and powerful next generation twitter apps that will undoubtedly come to the market in the next few years.

The key to Twitter’s long-term survival might yet lie in the ecosystem of apps that is growing around it – let’s hope we begin to see a more powerful type of analytical tool emerging soon.

UPDATE | 06.44 (BST) | 15 June 2009: here is a great example of a nice site that uses Twitter and other social and mainstream media to create a one-stop shop on the Iran elections


Facebook’s last roll of the dice?

May 27, 2009

Facebook has sold a $200m stake to a private Russian investment group. This is its last chance to succeed by going down a road nobody else has tried.

Is that alarmist? I don’t think so. Zuckerburg and his team should be complimented for their attempts to do things differently – after all the biggest prize often goes to the innovation that leaves the competition behind. Just look at Apple and the success of iPod, which eight years after its launch, still easily leads the portable music device market.

But the problem with rolling the dice is that you need to show the audience at some point that you have a knack of winning, otherwise you look like you are gambling.

Look at Ev Williams – there’s a guy with a knack of winning. Having founded both Blogger and Twitter, he epitomises not only Silicon Valley entrepreneurial success, but business success.

But Zuckerburg is still dining out after his first success – the launch of Facebook. Since then, he has overseen the launch of the Facebook Platform, had to quell – and then acknowledge – rumours about a Facebook payment platform, and totally redesigned Facebook to resemble a twitter hybrid.

The problem is that none of these has had the effect of changing the game. In fact, the latest design changes to Facebook to some extent diminished the impact of third-party apps (i.e. I can’t find them any more), and repeated customer service failures (see here and here) mean some people are beginning to think Zuckerburg and his team don’t have a game plan – or winner’s luck.

Whatever Facebook does with this $200m had better rewrite the rules, or there will be a very unhappy group of Russian investors wondering where their money has gone.

Facebook *has* to become more than this (though it is very funny):


Alan Rusbridger on journalism (and twitter)

May 4, 2009

In my view, the New York Times and The Guardian have taken social media more seriously than any other newspapers (I’m quite happy for anyone to point me to other examples). The recent release of their API (NYT, The Guardian) make them resemble social media more than traditional newspapers.

Here is a very interesting interview with Alan Rusbridger talking about the future of journalism, and twitter. It’s from German blog Carta.


The economics of the ad-funded web

March 28, 2009

Why should we have to pay for information and services we receive over the internet?  I have never had to pay before now for things like Facebook, Gmail or Twitter.  I can use Spotify for free.  I have not bought a newspaper for years, but can still read The Times and The Guardian every day.


Well, I am quickly coming round to the view that this is not nearly as simple an argument as people make it sound.  I think we may have this one wrong.

Here is a confession: I would rather pay £10 a month to use Spotify without adverts.  Why?  Partly this is aesthetic – I just don’t want my playlists interrupted by sponsors’ messages.  But there is also an economic angle – since I am unlikely to buy  many CDs ever again, Spotify will save me much more than £10 a month.  So why on earth would I complain about paying for such a brilliant service?

Yet people feel very strongly about this – why should we pay for something when we got it for free before now?  The truth is, there is no such thing as a free service.  We pay for the services we value, one way or another.  In the main, these services are ad-funded, meaning that some brand is actually paying for its delivery.  They are not doing this for free.  Every time you buy that brand, you just paid for the so-called “free” service too.

What’s wrong with this?  Two things.  If I am a consumer of the brand in question, but not the net service, why should I fund both? Better I pay for what I use.

Secondly, this approach is inefficient. The way to ensure consumers get the best deal is to have price transparency and competition.  If a net service is ad-funded, we have no way of knowing whether the brand is striking a good deal or not.  The problem for consumers here is that, if the brand pays more than it needed to advertise, the only losers are that brand’s consumers, who end up paying more.  And the only winners from this are the owners of the “free” service. The money is flowing from my wallet into their bank account.

I’d rather just pay for what I use, thanks.

(Hat tip to my friend @masoke who got me thinking about this via a 140-chars argument on Twitter!)

Update: Someone pointed out this all-encompassing “how to” on getting paid for online content, and it cited an excerpt from the brilliant Time magazine article on micropayments for newspapers that got me started in the first place: “One of history’s ironies is that hypertext — an embedded Web link that refers you to another page or site — had been invented by Ted Nelson in the early 1960s with the goal of enabling micropayments for content. He wanted to make sure that the people who created good stuff got rewarded for it. In his vision, all links on a page would facilitate the accrual of small, automatic payments for whatever content was accessed.”  He got it!


The basis of moral decisions

March 24, 2009

Best I mention first off – this blog won’t be all about morality, though it may feature from time to time. This blog will meander but is likely to include stuff about economics, science, marketing, social media and communications, as well as things that are, well, just funny, in my opinion. And this – my opinion – will likely feature heavily too (if I know myself).

So with that said, let me get to the subject of this post.  I was discussing recently with a great friend the subject of how we make moral judgments, when I was reminded of a brilliant piece of work last year by a team of neuroscientists in the US.  These scientists were looking for a scientific explanation for moral judgments, and designed an experiment where they measured the brain activity of various subjects while they were asked to make moral decisions.

They posed a classic dilemma: you discover a train is hurtling down a track and will kill five people who are in the train’s path further down the track. In the first scenario, you are offered the choice to pull a lever that makes the train reroute to a different track, where there is one person on the track. In other words, you can act to save five people by killing one. As brutal as it sounds, most people end up agreeing they would pull the lever. The neuroscientists analysed brain activity as people made this calculated judgment.

In the second scenario, you are offered the same choice – to save the five by killing one – but this time you have to push someone under the train, slowing it down so it stops before reaching the five. Most people, when offered this choice, feel that they should not intervene, even though the outcome is identical (in terms of lives saved and lost, anyway).

The experimenters examined which parts of the brain were being used to make this decision, and found one area that came alive with electrical signals when they made the decision whether to push someone under the train.  In other words, in most cases some brain function seems to have overruled our calculated view that one death to save five is better than five to save one.

The quite comforting conclusion is that, while we are able to make calculated moral decisions even where they involve purposefully killing someone, we seem to have evolved to not want to do things like push other people under trains.  Thus backing up my deep optimism towards human nature.