Tag Archives: communication

blogging censorship democracy democratic usability digital divide Facebook internet literary theory mass media mcluhan misinformation phishing social networking social software spam Twitter youtube

The 5 People Who Could Destroy Twitter

I’m a fan of Twitter – it can be really useful. But status update services and microblogging are relatively young technologies. Twitter is the frontrunner now, but it’s still possible that everything could go south really fast. Here are five people (or more accurately, types of people) who could destroy Twitter and what can be done to stop them.

The list is in no order, except I’ve saved the most dangerous for last.

1. Spammers

Seeing a lot more spammers on Twitter lately... Twitter spam is growing, and my guess is it’s a profitable business to be in. Spammers are getting crazy refollow-rates with very little effort put into their fake profiles. Part of this is a technical problem, with Twitter playing catchup to the collective innovative power of the greediest jerks on the internet. The more difficult part is social – users’ trust barriers are too low. Either Twitter finds ways to deal with this, or people will start treating reply tweets, direct messages, and invites the same way they do unsolicited emails now. One of the reasons I stopped logging in to MySpace was a flurry of fake friend requests that followed every session. Twitter runs that risk, in addition to the risk of service degradation.

What can be done? The good news is that no communication medium can be considered successful until someone has tried to send you unsolicited marketing and scams over it. But the Twitter team needs to redouble their efforts and head off potential problems proactively. For example, there are lots and lots of apps built on top of Twitter’s API – and almost all of them ask for your username and password. How long until one of those apps is compromised, or worse scammers make password-phishing apps of their own? Twitter needs to implement strong API keys or something like OpenID.

2. Anyone who uses url shortening services.

It’s hard to fit both a witty observation and a url in 140 characters, especially given url inflation. Bit.ly, Tinyurl, and the like perform the valuable service of giving you more space. They also cloak the destination of almost all the links on Twitter and get everyone used to following links blindly. I’ve already had friends whose accounts were hacked in order to send out a tweet like: “Check out this hilarious video: http://tiny/innocuousgibberish”. The New York Times’ account has been hacked, among others. Twitter can work on improving security and removing spam, but the more everyone uses url shorteners the more we train our friends to click recklessly. I’m as guilty on this one as anyone.

What can be done? People post links to Twitter frequently enough that maybe it should be separate field with it’s own character limit. If that’s too much complication for the brilliantly simple interface, maybe url previews should be enforced. Clients can do this now, but to be safe it should be done by Twitter.

3. Pirates, ninjas, zombies, and mafia thugs

Ah, I remember logging into Facebook the day I got my first “robots vs. hobos vs. Chuck Norris vs. etc.” request. “Ha,” I thought, “that’s a somewhat entertaining way to extend an internet meme into a social networking site.” Little did I know the horror that was about to unfold.

In all seriousness, the “tag, you’re it” games and gratuitous survey apps didn’t ruin Facebook, but they did make everything a bit more tedious. Those apps still fit within the umbrella of social networking – they don’t work at all in Twitter’s use model. When I log in, I want to see, very quickly, what the people I’m interested in are doing or reading. I don’t want to weed through their halves of various games I’m not interested in.

What can be done? This one is up to us – just don’t do it. Twittering with a hashtag for an event, a theme, etc. is fun and useful to others. Sending around vampire bites is not.

4. Chinese government officials

Think periodic fail whale sightings is bad for Twitter’s reliability? China can (and does) just block the whole site, most recently in advance of the Tienanmen Square anniversary. Why does this matter? China is a huge market, and growing. The days where being big in the U.S. meant major marketshare on the whole web are running short. What’s worse countries with theoretically free speech like Australia are following the Chinese model, proposing national internet content control (i.e. censorship).

What can be done? Many American companies just give up. Even Google has had to bend to government pressure. This is not easy to remedy. Perhaps there’s a way to take advantage of the small byte size of tweets, decentralize serving, and wrap access with something like Tor to get it through the Great Firewall. Let’s hope there’s a grad student or genius hacker out there with the right idea and Twitter is smart enough to hire them.

And finally, the absolute worst, most pressing threat the Twitter’s survival is…


5. Your mom

Despite the allure of turning this into one big “your mom” joke, I am completely serious. What happens when your mom joins Twitter? Do you censor yourself? Take your tweets private? Delete off-color tweets from your recent past?

There’s no right answer. Just about any social software eventually runs into this dilemma where the very different ways you communicate personally, professionally, and publicly collide.

What can be done? Some of the problem might fade as the userbase of sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter ages. But that will take years, so what can Twitter do now? It might help to have better relationship management. You could at least put your friends in one group and family in another. But in general, this strikes me as the toughest problem of them all – I don’t think there are any real solutions for the general possibility of parental embarrassment, or all efforts of every teenager in the world has yet to reveal discover them.

Disagree? Any threats I missed? Please post in the comments below.

I Love Hospitals With WiFi, or Twittering Childbirth

When we were looking for hospitals and doctors offices for little Athena, wifi wasn’t really on the list so much as reputation, compatibility with our insurance, and other concerns.  In retrospect, though, thank goodness Stanford Hospital and Palo Alto Medical Foundation have wifi.

We live more than 2,000 miles from most of our family.  Not all of them could make the flight to California for the birth.  We also have too many friends around the country to possibly make all the phone calls we’d have liked to have made that night.  In addition, we had several thousand people all over the world wondering which name we would pick for our baby.

Because of internet connectivity, I was able to do a fair job of including all of them in the process:

1) With my iPhone, I was able to take and post photos during labor and delivery.  Photos of my mom’s new granddaughter were available for her, on Flickr, within minutes of birth:

Wrapped and swaddled

I’m not sure I can properly express here how much it meant to her and the rest of our family to be able to see Athena so quickly.

2)  Using the Twitterific App on my iPhone was was able to post updates to Twitter throughout the whole labor.  This is a perfect example of what Twitter is good for.  Liveblogging while my wife endures the pains of childbirth would be ridiculously insensitive, but there were always minutes of downtime here and there to tap out a few words describing what’s going on.


3)  Using the Twitter App for Facebook, my updates showed up on my Facebook status as well.  This was a big help, since so many more friends and family use Facebook than Twitter.

A fourth option, which we didn’t use but might have had the labor been longer, was videoconferencing with Skype.  We’ve been using Skype to keep in touch with family for some time.  It is currently my grandmother’s favorite thing to do.  Since we’ve been back home Athena has become the star of many family video sessions.

One final thing I have to mention is YouTube – we certainly weren’t going to share the gooey miracle of life with the world in streaming video, but my wife followed the videos fo several other women during pregancy up to and including labor.  We don’t know a lot of other couples having kids right now, so that gave Ann a personal connection with their stories and helped her through some of the tougher times during the last 9 months.  She could see that other people were going through the same things she was and that was an important comfort.

The common theme here, which I think goes a long way toward explaining the growth of the internet as a whole, is communication.  Because of almost universal connectivity, we were able to turn a deep personal experience into a social experience as well.

Democratic Usability: Where to Find Information on Local Elections

Sunset reflected over Chinatown I’m not going to turn this into a full-time political blog, but I just spent the evening researching local issues and candidates and a thought occurred to me – does anyone test the usability and the user experience of the democratic process?

There’s a number of different ways to approach this question.  The usability of voting systems is a big part of it, and in the case of electronic voting machines, this would be identical to traditional usability testing.  I’m going to put that question aside for now since I haven’t studied it very closely and talk about the information seeking portion of the electoral user experience.

Also, I apologize in advance for making this post very U.S.-centric.  Please comment below on how these issues apply in your country.

Political information seeking

We are completely inundated with information and misinformation about the major candidates for national office, from a wide variety of communication media.  Everything from dinner-table conversations and door-to-door canvassing to cable news, candidate web sites, and political blogs can influence how we vote.

Continue reading