Tag Archives: twitter

An Ode to Usenet

Another day, another historic Internet artifact laid to rest. This week, it’s the Usenet server at Duke, where Usenet was born. This is just the latest in a string of developments signaling the imminent demise of the now-outmoded channel.

As I’ve written about before, my Internet roots are decidedly old school. In college, I was introduced to Usenet because it was a requirement for my communications survey course (bu.com.co101.announce, represent!). Using the UNIX client tin as my newsreader, I soon branched out to the groups surrounding writing and music, my two main areas of interest, and found communities that were as formative to my college experience as the Dragon World BBS was to my high school experience. Yessirree, it was a golden era, back when I still put two spaces after a period and had a 10-line .sig file complete with an ICQ number.

I spent the most significant amounts of my time in alt.music.barenaked-ladies, alt.music.dave-matthewsalt.music.ben-folds-five and rec.music.rem. The first two were high-volume, uber-fandom discussion groups, where we had a lot of great conversations about the respective bands and their music. The latter two contained fans of those bands, sure, but it was more about hanging out with each other than geeking out over the fandom. It probably makes sense that it is from those two groups where I acquired the most friends, a great number of whom I am either still in contact with or even correspond with regularly today. It also bears mentioning that the friends I made via Usenet are some of the coolest, most interesting people I have ever met.

I credit my Usenet experience with so much — expanding my music tastes to bands I may never have discovered otherwise; extending my social network across the country (and sometimes around the world) and forging some lasting friendships; providing me with an opportunity to write and pontificate and debate about music, thereby learning a great deal about both writing and music in the process. It was definitely higher education of the geekiest form.

As the web continues to evolve and the next Wave/Twitter/Foursquare/whatever comes down the pike, it pains me to see the bedrock of all this innovation left in the dust and not given its due. Every time I see an article describing hashtags as originated by Twitter users, I cringe. Hashtags, as a means of threading conversations, come from IRC usage. (Related: It’s actually quite cool to go back and read the early blog posts, shortly after Twitter came on the scene, by people proposing the use of things like hashtags.)

In the case of Usenet, it is the first place on the fledgling Internet where group conversation flourished (for better or worse), bringing people from around the world together around areas of common interest.  We might take such capability for granted today, but it was groundbreaking back then.

The web has its seeds sown deep in these now-clunky interfaces, but I don’t think it does a great job of paying homage to its past. Innovation is great — the web would be nothing without it — but I find it regrettable that we barrel forward without preserving our forebears in the collective memory. Is the only legacy in uncredited functionality? Is a short memory the price of innovation? (Related: I wish I had gone to ROFLcon II earlier this month if only to have attended Jason Scott’s “Heroes of Usenet” panel.)

But as with BBSes, it wasn’t the technology that made Usenet great; it was the people brought together by the technology. Earlier this week, I dredged up an old topic from the alt.music.ben-folds-five newsgroup to reference in an e-mail to a friend. Reviewing all of those old posts made me nostalgic, and I recalled some of the members of the newsgroup who I found particularly intriguing but never connected with, perhaps owing to age difference or other factors.

Among all the names and faces caught in my net of memory, who I often wonder about and sometimes search for, there are several from my Usenet days. Most of these folks I never met in person, much less IMed, but they left an indelible impression. I can’t help but wonder if Usenet meant as much to them as it did to me. What people and interests did it bring into their lives and what of those still remain?

If there’s one thing to be said for today’s web innovations, it’s that they sure makes it easier to try to find these people. Connectivity is the great legacy of the proto-web, and it’s growing every day. Sure, one historic server is shutting down. But a billion more will take its place, bringing those faded names and faces into ever sharper focus.


Green With Admiration

On the bus yesterday, I saw this ad for the Celtics. Specifically, it was for their Twitter account. Yep.

Lots of brands are blindly promoting their Twitter presences because they feel they should. But I think the Celtics are an example of an organization that has thought the whole process through quite well — not just their use of Twitter, but how they promote their presence there.

There are a lot of things I like about this ad.

  • It’s simple. The most dominant visual element is the destination they want you to visit, @celtics. If you don’t know what “@celtics” implies, they repeat the same entreaty in more detail right below. No matter how savvy or not savvy you are, you can get it.
  • It speaks the language. By using “@celtics” and including the word “retweet” in a list of other Celtics Pride-type keywords like “replay” and “resilient,” they show that they grasp the vernacular, and it doesn’t come off in a hokey, “the kids and their Twitters” kind of way. It also implies that Twitter — or at least the viral, information-sharing aspects thereof — is woven into the fabric of Celtics (team and fan) characteristics.
  • It shows that they get the medium. The photo on the ad is a crowd shot. Even though stars like Paul Pierce are on Twitter, this isn’t about them. It’s not even about the team, really. It’s about the fans. It shows that they understand Twitter as an immersive, infectious medium, which I’ll touch on more in a second.

So, the ad worked. It got me to follow @celtics. Sure, my days of NBA devotion are behind me (in middle school, I was a hardcore Miami Heat fan, listening along to games on AM radio), and I am just a casual supporter of the Green. But this ad intrigued me to the point that I pulled out my Blackberry and joined more than 30,000 other followers.

At first glance, here’s what I like about how the Celtics are using Twitter

  • They get the medium, using Twitter for in-game promotions like upgrades to courtside seats. They know that people are having multidimensional experiences, watching the game while using their phones to read #celtics chatter or tweet about the game. I think that concept is difficult for some people to grasp, so the fact that the Celtics embrace it stands out to me.
  • It’s rewarding. With in-game contests, updated information like player game status or postgame quotes, there is a value-add for followers compared to what they get from other Celtics resources.
  • It’s conversational but not overly casual. The tweets are friendly and don’t sound like ad copy, but it doesn’t come off too informally. It’s authoritative without being authoritarian.
  • They push to web, driving people to video, postgame updates, player chats and more on Celtics.com. They understand that no matter where your social outposts are, it all comes back to the web.

If you think about it, a basketball game is already an immersive experience. You’ve got the game on the floor, your interaction with your own friends, your experience in the crowd, the scoreboard, the music… a lot is going on. The Celtics seem to see Twitter as just one more layer to that experience — as well as a way to tie those different elements together. Good on them. And go Green.

Self-Confidence and Social Media

I was out to dinner with a friend the other night who also works in web marketing. She was talking about some of her favorite follows on Twitter — she, however, does not tweet.

In discussing this, she framed it in the context of confidence. Some of the people whose posts she likes to read the most, she explained, have the confidence to post about something profound or dramatic one moment and something entirely mundane (such as being in line at Starbucks) the next. She painted herself as more conservative in her approach to Twitter, leading to her quiet yet watchful presence.

My response was that exercising the wisdom not to tweet, as a function of not feeling you have anything to add, is also a type of confidence. Tweeting to fill the void or because you feel like you “should” is just insecurity. And to the rest of us, it’s just noise.

We all have different roles in this space. Some of us (myself included) are the loud ones. Others are the quiet ones. But both types are needed to keep things humming along.

Photo by maha-online, Flickr/Creative Commons

My First Social Network Was The Best

My first online experiences were on bulletin board systems (BBSes), specifically the South Florida BBS Dragon World.  While I’ve been online since I was 15 (1995), and on the web since I was 16 or 17, I still think that my experiences on Dragon World rank among my best and most formative in the online sphere for one simple reason: the people.

DW was perhaps the greatest socializing element I could have hoped for as an only child with a spotty record in the realm of friendship. It provided immersion in a deep social pool with a diversity of ages, backgrounds and, of course, neuroses. Through our online and offline interactions, we formed crushes, friendships, hatreds, the whole gamut. Many of those people I am still in touch with; it was through one of my DW friends that I met my husband.

While DW was a full-service BBS offering gaming, forums and private messaging, it revolved around the teleconference, or tavern. Some of my favorite memories of DW are from logging on late on a Friday or Saturday night — or attempting to log on, since it was just a 24-line BBS — to a completely full teleconference. (Check out this blast from the past.) The list of users and where on the BBS they were located was one of the first things you saw upon logging in, and seeing a whole long column that read “Teleconference” always made my day. I knew immediately that I was in for a good time. I mean, imagine walking into a room full of 24 people that ranged from close friends to good acquaintances and having infinite conversational possibilities at your fingertips. Wouldn’t you feel pretty damned good?

Over the years, as I became a more avid user of the web, those types of moments would rank among my favorites. Some of my best memories from senior year in college are sitting in AIM Buddy Chat with my friends from the R.E.M. Usenet group, just chattering on and on about music and life. 

The More Things Change…

As a web professional, it amazes me how in many online trends nowadays, I see echoes of the features I took for granted on DW and other “old” online mediums. Live chat? From a UNIX shell, all I needed was the “talk” command to have real-time chat with anyone else online at the time. SuperPoke? Old hat. Heck, I was Actions-Op on DW before the inventors of SuperPoke probably even had an e-mail address. I could “hug nit” to give Nitrogenous Base, the handle my husband used on DW for a short time, a hug. (In IRC chatrooms, you craft actions on the fly by prefacing a sentence with “/me.”) A friend of mine recently observed that AIM away messages are the grandfather of the modern-day Facebook or Twitter update. Perhaps the same is true of the entrance and exit messages we used to have in DW’s tavern. Also, how many people realize that the hashtag (#) you use on Twitter to thread topics and create a backchannel was inspired by IRC? We’re doing the same things we’ve always done, but with slicker GUIs.

But as for that giddy thrill I used to experience upon logging in to a packed tavern on DW, I’ve had glimmers of it pop up every now and again on Twitter and Facebook with particularly active chains of @ replies and comment threads off of status updates. But never to the same degree. As for Buddy Chat, I can’t remember the last time I had one.

Part of what made DW special, I think, is that it was a collective experience, but also a collective journey. We all had to dial-in, jockey for a line and navigate our way to the teleconference. Also, we had a lot of overlap between our online and offline lives; DW was a regional BBS, so we all lived within an hour’s drive of each other. There was not a whole lot of multitasking back then, either; people were focused, engaged and committed to the experience at hand. With Facebook and Twitter, maybe people are multitasking, or maybe they’re on the go and posting from their phone.  It’s harder to get a sense of people being in a room with you, bathed in the glow from the screen, sharing in the moment. I feel like the closest we get to that nowadays are the trending topics on Twitter, which engage people around a common topic and encourage interaction. But that, in my mind, is a poor substitute.

So why is that feeling of community in the moment so hard to recapture? Isn’t the social web supposed to be all about conversation? Am I just too old or too distracted now to feel the same way I did back then? Am I inured to it all?

Maybe it’s not about the medium or the moment. Just like it was back then, it’s about the people. At that time, for who I was back then, being part of the DW community was exactly what I needed, and it brought me more than I could have ever hoped for. Of course tapping into that community would make me feel alive.

So, sure, you can have the slickest, most advanced social web tools out there, but if you can’t find a community that means something to you, what’s the point? I look forward to hopefully, one day, finding another online community that enriches my life the way DW did. I’ll know I’ve found them when I feel that smile creep involuntarily across my face as I am filled with giddy anticipation, and a tiny voice inside me exhales and says, “I’m home.”

All the News That’s Fit to Tweet

Last week, The New York Times announced the promotion of Jen Preston (most recently of the now-defunct Times Regional sections) to social media editor for the newspaper. At first glance, this seems like a great move. Newspapers desperately need to catch up to the way communication and information sharing takes place nowadays, and having someone whose job it is to, I quote from the memo announcing Preston’s hire, “concentrate full-time on expanding the use of social media networks and publishing platforms to improve New York Times journalism and deliver it to readers” sounds like a giant step in the right direction.

The hiring was not without some awkwardness, such as Preston’s Twitter account only becoming non-protected in the hours after her hire (and purged of all previous tweets, if there were any). But Mashable raised the greater point of, what ultimate purpose will a centrally placed individual “in charge of” social media at the newspaper serve, especially when some reporters are already doing a great job at a more organic level in using social media? 

Consolidating social strategy and having one person direct operations could help, but only if he or she is socially savvy and open to feedback and new connections. 

The great thing about social media is that it is not a top-down channel, like newspapers have traditionally been. It’s not even just bottom-up. It’s everything from all directions, all the time. You can’t control that — once your carefully constructed video, blog post, article or tweet leaves the nest, it’s at the mercy of the social wilderness. You can study the phenomenon and react to it, but you can’t define or dictate it. It will be curious to see what Preston’s role evolves to become. Since the announcement, she has been doing lots of replying and retweeting, a bunch of listening and also attending presentations on Twitter given by her own colleagues. All good things.

Mike Volpe at HubSpot was a bit less allowing, calling the move a “misfire” and instead encouraging the company to empower its entire staff with skills in SEO and social media.

The whole point behind inbound marketing is that it is not some sort of bolt on to your existing company.  You get the best results when you re-think your business and business model, and involve the entire company. 

This sounds good, but like I said, the world of social media is all things from all directions, not top-down. You can’t shift from one to the other overnight, and if you do want to shift, it may make sense to have one person on hand to coordinate that transition. It may very well be that the ultimate NYT strategy is to equip every reporter with the new media toolkit (and many NYT staffers are already immersing themselves in social media — less clumsily than David Pogue, I hope) but in their current organizational structure, that is not going to happen organically across the board.

A Double-Edged Sword

But organizational commitment to social media can cut two ways. Both NYT and the Wall Street Journal are among publications that have provided social media guidelines to its reporters. Some of the WSJ guidelines are medium-specific, such as not to friend sources without editor approval, but a lot of them seem like common sense guidelines on not misrepresenting yourself and maintaining a professional demeanor. The NYT guidelines for Facebook dig a little deeper, getting almost philosophical about what exactly is a “friend” and talking about source-culling, but also present a lot of common sense rules like not editorializing if you work in News and not making the company look bad. A common element is not to discuss works-in-progress online. (Personally, I am iffy about such guidelines. My stance until further notice is to use your judgment and basic common sense — something the reporters who tweeted items from a newsroom meeting did not do.)

Some folks raise the question, though: do these policies inhibit the very functions that make social media communities so compelling and useful by, well, tightly restricting how social you can be? Jeff Jarvis brings up the point of collaborative reporting, and the great opportunity for newspapers (like Talking Points Memo has done) to tap the resources of the broader community to advance their reporting.

This mindset, of course, flies in the face of scoop mentality, of anti-citizen journalist sentiment and ivory-tower journalism. The editorial hierarchy is not built to allow reporters to be independent decision-making agents who can live-tweet, blog and friend at will. But maybe, at least in some respects, it should be.

What many print publications have failed to realize is that the age of the scoop is over. It’s not about who gets there first; it’s about who stays there best, and that outcome is not entirely in the hands of the publication. Like with Volpe’s complaint about Preston’s hiring, I understand Rome isn’t built (or un-built, in this case) in a day, but social media present intriguing opportunities to drop the wall a bit, even on a per-story basis, and bring the community into the process. I’d love to see that happen. 

(BTW I highly recommend this blog post by the Nieman Journalism Lab for good thoughts and links on all of the above.)

A Sale Made for Twits Like Me

noname (1)Yesterday, I spent the day with my mom. She wanted to go to Newbury Comics (because she’s cool), and who am I to argue? As we pulled up to the Norwood location, I remembered that for today only, all used CDs were 30% off. How did I learn about this awesome sale? Twitter, of course. Yay, attempts to wrangle social media, because I will take ruthless advantage of them.

Back in the day, it was no big deal for me to drop $50, $60, $75 on CDs in a sitting at Newbury Comics every couple of weeks. I had a large appetite for music and little discretion — one good song or even just a positive review was enough for me to drop some cash on a disc. Not say I wasn’t a bargain hunter — that is always part of the fun — but when you have a talent for finding a lot of used CDs for $5.99, well, you can get a lot of them.

As I’ve matured and become more budget-minded, I’ve incorporated a lot more discretion into my CD buying habits. I no longer hit places like Nuggets (sorry) with $60 burning a hole in my pocket (heck, my friend Jeff and I used to go on semi-annual sprees where we would go CD shop-hopping and spend $100, easy). It’s not because I’ve gone digital-only (in fact, I only recently started purchasing select releases digitally, and usually only if the deals are undeniable). I love buying CDs. I just have a lot of other stuff to worry about.

That said, when a sale like this comes up — especially when I’m at a location like the Norwood Newbury Comics, which is not nearly as picked over as the Harvard Square and Newbury Street locations — I’ve got to take advantage.

A budget-conscious outlook combined with an already finally honed skill at bargain hunting makes CD shopping a creative exercise nowadays, and I’m always up to a good challenge. Yesterday’s exercise was very successful, and I brought home eight albums and two EPs for about $46. The haul included:

Paul Simon – Rhythm of the Saints ($5.99) – Since I fell in love with “Graceland,” I decided to go for this. Everyone I’ve spoken to says I won’t be disappointed.
Passion Pit – Chunks of Change EP ($3.99) – Yes, they’re the new hot band, and I am pleased to have snagged the precursor to “Manners” before such a great price.
Cloud Cult – They Live on the Sun ($3.99) 
Cloud Cult – Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus ($5.99) – Ever since hearing “The Ghost Inside Our House,” I have been enamored with Cloud Cult — they’re unabashedly earnest, inventive and compelling. I’m psyched to pick up some of their earlier albums for a good price.
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours ($9.99)
Fleetwood Mac – Tusk ($7.99) – I’ve been on a Fleetwood Mac kick and am happy to round out my collection with these classics.
Kate Bush – The Sensual World ($5.99) – Amanda got me into Kate Bush. I am not sure where this album is supposed to fall on the spectrum of her oeuvre, but I listened to it in the car on the way back to Boston yesterday and enjoyed it, so I suppose that’s all that matters.
Mobius Band – City vs. Country EP ($1.99) – What a great band. I couldn’t say no to a five-song EP for less than $2.
St. Thomas – Hey Harmony ($5.99) – I’ve owned “I’m Coming Home” for a while and love it. I had forgotten that he had other albums, and was psyched to make this discovery. It came bundled with an Australian Spunk sampler that includes tracks from Hidden Cameras, Pernice Brothers, My Morning Jacket, M. Ward and the Minus 5. This Norwegian artist sadly passed away in September 2007.  RIP. He lived a troubled life, but he was a gifted artist. 
Husker Du – Candy Apple Grey ($9.99) – I’m a huge Sugar and Bob Mould fan, but I’ve spent literally years wringing my hands over which Husker Du album to start off with. Boo me. Spying this one for $7 made the decision easy.

Knock 30% off of all that, and you have a pretty good day at the races. It was a nice throwback to my earlier days of careless spending and insatiable music consumption. Thanks, Internet, for the tip!

Beware of the Warm Fuzzies

Herein lies a cautionary tale relating to social media and a phenomenon I like to refer to as the “warm fuzzies.”

This weekend, I decided to take a rather last-minute trip to New York City to visit my brother and help him tape a scene for an episode of his web series. On Friday evening, I sat down to buy my bus ticket. Though I am a loyal Greyhound rider (and a veteran of the Boston<->NYC route) I had the idea of taking BoltBus, lured by the promise of outlets and cheap prices. But when I checked it out, the only Sunday return trips available on BoltBus were at 11AM or 8:45PM. So, I went with Greyhound. I tweeted about my decision:

Turns out BoltBus is sold out for NYC->Boston on Sunday except for 11AM & 8PM trips. Greyhound RT for $40? Not bad. No outlets, but not bad.

Who responded to me but GreyhoundBus, the company’s Twitter presence?

Actually…we have power outlets and Wi-Fi on Greyhound between NY and Boston. You’re in luck! http://tinyurl.com/crr2st

The link goes to a New York Times article from a couple weeks ago about overhauls to the Greyhound fleet. I noticed at the time the discrepancy between the company tweet and the article: the former made me think that all the Boston<->NYC buses did have outlets and wi-fi, while the article said that only the first of these buses were being rolled out this month. Still, I was really impressed. I had a clinical case of the warm fuzzies about Greyhound. In my mind, perhaps foolishly, the wifi and outlets were a done deal — the company said so! I briefly pondered bringing my laptop, though in the end I didn’t.

And I would be glad I left it at home. I had a 1PM bus, but I got there pretty early. I settled in at Gate 3 and waited. And waited. The line grew. 12:45, still no bus. 12:55, still no bus. The warm fuzzies began to wore off, and reality set in.

I began recalling what Greyhound is like in reality. They never have attendants at the gate to inform you of delays. Signage does not reflect schedule changes in real-time. You wait, and eventually (hopefully) a bus shows up and takes you where you want to go. Usually, in my experience, they are fairly on time while not making any extra efforts at customer service. This is the experience I was used to.

But coming down from a warm fuzzy high, I began to feel pretty frustrated and vented a little bit to Twitter. I remembered a story that Boston Mike told at an American Marketing Association event on social media I attended last week about how when encountering difficulties with JetBlue, he tweeted about it and the problems were resolved in almost real-time. So yeah, I was sort of hoping in vain for that sort of intervention, even though I maintain an organization Twitter account and know that would be pretty unlikely on a Saturday afternoon. 

Then, I see one of the fancy new Greyhound buses mentioned in the NYT article coming around the bend. The warm fuzzies almost return until it rolls right past our gate and parks at the other side. Shortly thereafter, by 1:10 or 1:15 at this point, a Vermont Transit bus pulls up at Gate 3. Some folks get off, but others are still on board. Some Greyhound staff are milling around, going in and out of the bus. No one has told us anything. Everyone is eyeing the bus impatiently, wondering if it’s ours. 

The driver finally opens the door and begins taking our tickets. I have to presume the dozen-plus people already on board are from Vermont? One couple is eating tuna, which is an unfortunate smell to encounter in an enclosed vehicle. Soon, the bus is full, the fate of the rest of the people who had been in line unclear; one would think another bus is en route, since Greyhound (wisely) tends to stock its routes with extra buses. As we pull out, I see the slick new Greyhound bus pull out as well, perhaps heading to pick up the others at Gate 3? Soon, I was on the Mass Pike, Brooklyn-bound and leaving South Station behind.

So, what did I learn from this experience? Greyhound gave me a delightful case of the warm fuzzies with its Twitter presence — friendly, engaging, helpful, informative. Perhaps too informative, as the 140 chars. of information I received was potentially misleading. What if I *had* brought my laptop? That would have been a huge pain. 

That was the online experience, but the offline experience — the actual experience — was not all that friendly, engaging, helpful or informative. And in all honesty, it was more or less the same caliber of experience I typically have on Greyhound, but it was thrown into sharp relief by the warm, fuzzy experience I had with @GreyhoundBus the previous day.

I applaud Greyhound for the way they run GreyhoundBus, and I remain a huge fan of them and bus travel in general, but I feel they would be better served by bringing their entire customer service apparatus — online and off — up to the same level of quality and accuracy.  This experience exposed not only the potentially annoying aspects of taking Greyhound, but the pitfalls of making promises you can’t keep and have two customer service experiences that don’t match up. And as for me? Next time, I’ll try to take the warm fuzzies with a grain of salt. There’s the virtual world, and then there’s the real world, and while the distinction grows increasingly blurry, there are some areas in which the two are very much apart.