social media

Tweeting to no one

Sysomos, a maker of social media analysis tools, looked at 1.2 billion tweets over a two-month period to analyze what happens after we publish our tweets to Twitter. A few highlights:

  • 71% of all tweets produce no reaction (no replies or retweets)
  • only 6% of all tweets produce a retweet (the other 23% solicit replies)
  • 96.9% of replies and 92.4% of retweets happen within the first hour
  • of all the tweets that produce a reply, 85% get only a single reply before the “conversation” ends


Categories: Internet    Tags: ·

Zadie Smith on Facebook

It feels important to remind ourselves, at this point, that Facebook, our new beloved interface with reality, was designed by a Harvard sophomore with a Harvard sophomore’s preoccupations. What is your relationship status? (Choose one. There can be only one answer. People need to know.) Do you have a “life”? (Prove it. Post pictures.) Do you like the right sort of things? (Make a list. Things to like will include: movies, music, books and television, but not architecture, ideas, or plants.) But here I fear I am becoming nostalgic. I am dreaming of a Web that caters to a kind of person who no longer exists. A private person, a person who is a mystery, to the world and—which is more important—to herself. Person as mystery: this idea of personhood is certainly changing, perhaps has already changed.


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Tumblr is having a moment. A big profile in the Times, a lot of buzz in the geekier precincts of the interwebs, phenomenal growth (the service adds 25,000 new accounts daily). For the uninitiated, Tumblr is a platform for “short-form blogging,” meaning that a “tumblelog” is a blog with very short posts, usually a single, found object — a quote, image, song, or video — offered with little or no comment. “If blogs are journals, tumblelogs are scrapbooks,” the Tumblr web site used to explain helpfully. Essentially it is a place to share the little interesting things you find as you wander around the internet. It is not a place for long, navel-gazing essays. Here are a few good tumblelogs to give you a sense of it: Fuck Yeah, Literary Quotes, ck/ck, and Laughing Squid.

Lately I’ve been fiddling around with Tumblr and I am smitten. While I was cranking through the final rewrite of my latest novel the last few weeks, Tumblr became my main diversion. (I have so many.)

I can see the enormous potential of Tumblr. It has a social-networking aspect: you can follow people as you do on Facebook or Twitter, and view their posts in a Twitter-like stream. But it is more interesting than either of these, since Facebook does not have interesting content (my feed is mostly filled with snapshots of friends’ kids) and Twitter is straitjacketed by its 140-character format. Tumblr is also beautifully designed and dead simple to use.

The primary drawback of Tumblr, it seems to me, is that there just aren’t enough users yet to make it really compelling. As a link farm, Tumblr’s format kicks Twitter’s ass. The links I find on Twitter are cloaked behind those opaque fortune-cookie messages, and of course they require a click-through to see what the content really is. Very inefficient. My Tumblr feed is a lot easier to read. But Twitter has so many more interesting users than Tumblr that it is still my first stop when I go snuffling around the web for interesting reading material. (My second stop: Google Reader, still.)

Inevitably, I have started my own tumblelog. I will still post my “real” blog entries here at my grown-up blog. But for the little things I find laying around the web — like, say, a video of a naked man putting himself through a hay baler — Tumblr is the scrapbook where I’ll paste them. Come check it out. We’ll see how the new tumblelog develops over the next few months.

(Note: Must … resist … reference … to Culture Club. D’oh!)

Categories: Internet    Tags: · · · ·

Google’s Buzzbomb

I thought I would love Google Buzz. Really. I am a Google fan. I adore Gmail, and in all the other Google products I’ve used — Calendar, Maps, Documents, the iconic search page — the company has gotten things mostly right.

Also, I try to maintain as many portals as possible for readers to find me on the web: Facebook, Twitter, this blog. Buzz seemed like a natural extension of all that.

There’s only one problem: I hate it.

It isn’t just the product itself I dislike. Buzz is flawed, it’s true. It is not the train wreck it’s been made out to be, but it suffers in particular from two awful design flaws:

  • a random, noisy news feed which sacrifices the logic of listing items in straight reverse-chronological order for some mysterious algorithm that seems to nail the same few items at the top of the feed permanently; and
  • a poor layout in which each item is so damn big I can only see one or two at a time — the same one or two, usually.

The result: if Twitter is a rushing, white-water river, Buzz is a stagnant one.

But for me, the problem with Buzz is more than bad execution; it’s that I don’t want Google mixing social networking, which is a public, outward-facing activity, with the private things I use Google for (search, email, our family’s calendar).

Google has always been a strictly private space — at least it seemed to be. Yes, I know Google has always harvested information about me based on my searches and other activities, but they always shielded this fact from me in various subtle, considerate ways. Outwardly, at least, the bargain has been: I entrust Google with a lot of sensitive personal information; in exchange Google assures me it will keep my data absolutely private. Over time, as Google kept its promise, it earned more and more of my trust and I handed over increasingly more personal information: first search, then email, contact info, documents.

Buzz alters the relationship in a critical way. Rather than gathering information from the web and piping it to me, Buzz pulls information from me and broadcasts it to the web. I never agreed to let Google handle that category of activity. Buzz raises the fear that everyone has always had about Google: that it will abuse its trove of personal data or carelessly spill it out into the open.

Even worse, from a design perspective, Google emphasizes the switch from private to semi-public services by shoehorning Buzz directly into the Gmail page. Now my private email window shares the same space as my public messaging window. Some Buzz comments even leap over the wall like flying fish to become Gmail messages. I can turn off some of this in Buzz’s settings, but I can’t completely disentangle Buzz from Gmail. That makes me uneasy. I want to keep my public messages absolutely segregated from my private ones.

The irony is that there really is an opportunity for Buzz to be a better version of Twitter or Facebook. My advice:

  • Relaunch Buzz as a freestanding service with a web address of its own, unbundled from Gmail and the rest of Google’s private services.
  • Make the feed more compact and uncluttered, more Twitter-like, but at the same time more flexible and powerful than 140 plain-text characters, better able to handle different kinds of posts (media, links, direct messages, public news bulletins).
  • Leverage Google’s scale so that Buzz reaches an audience larger than just my friends on Facebook. (Twitter’s big advantage over Facebook is that some of the most interesting Twitterers just aren’t among my personal “friends” on Facebook.)

Do all that, and maybe over time it will become clear what makes Buzz something more than a me-too, redundant service.

For now, I am quitting Buzz. Don’t be offended when I un-follow you. I will maintain a bare-bones Buzz feed, a pass-through of my Twitter feed, in case some readers come looking for me there. Otherwise I’m out, at least until Google figures out why Buzz exists — not what Buzz can do for Google, which is obvious enough, but what it can do for me that Twitter and Facebook can’t.

Categories: Internet    Tags: ·

Fred Wilson on Social Media

Fred Wilson is a venture capitalist with a knack for explaining the power of social media in plain English. I am a junkie for the latest developments in the web, and I’ve become addicted to his blog, called A VC.

In this interview, he talks at length about the rise of social media — Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and blog comments, mainly — and why in the aggregate they will soon rival Google as the primary source of passed information on the web. The interview runs a little over thirty minutes but it’s well worth your time if you are interested in social media.

I think all writers, including novelists, simply have to be on top of this stuff. For all the paeans we hear about the glory of traditional printed books, the fact is the internet utterly transforms our business and our art.

Anyway, for a taste of Wilson’s sort of insight, here is an excerpt from the interview, on why Twitter succeeds better than Facebook as a viral medium (this snippet comes at about 26:30 in the video).

Fred Wilson: … Search is very intent-driven: I want to buy a digital camera, I go, I search, I buy. The passed-links thing is much more serendipitous. StumbleUpon, I think, was a very interesting service … But it was very serendipitous, right? You stumbled upon something. And I think that Twitter and Facebook and social media more broadly, I think, is a more powerful way of that serendipity. You want, I think, in life, you want some things you subscribe to, you want some things that you go search for, and then everything else you want to come at you through some filtered set of trusted sources.

Interviewer: Through what Mark [Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder] calls the “social graph.”

Fred Wilson: Correct. But the social graph — the problem that Facebook has, and they know it, is that there are a lot of people out there who are not friends who are really powerful social recommenders, and you’re just not going to have them in your social graph in the original instantiation of the way Facebook was set up. So I think blogging to me is the proper model, and I think that the people who started Twitter launched Twitter with the blogging model, which is: I can follow you and you don’t have to read me, and we don’t have to be friends but you can be influential. And that is, I think, a more natural model.

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