From Stalking to Talking: A Beginner’s Top Ten Twitter Tips

I’ve been using Twitter for the guts of a hundred days now. In that time, I’ve added about 1 new connection per day and posted about 10 status updates a week. So I’m probably going to have to graduate from beginner to low intermediate status pretty soon, as far as Twitter is concerned. Before I do, though, I’ll write down some thoughts…

Recently, I accidentally convinced some people at work to join Twitter – no, honestly, I wasn’t trying to evangelise, it just came up in conversation and I mentioned that I found it really useful. The problem with that, though, is trying to tell someone all the interesting unexpected benefits you’ve got from it while keeping expectations in check. After all, twitter’s good but it’s not very likely change your life completely from day 1.

So, what can Twitter do? Here are my ten tips for new tweeters/twitterers/whatever you want to call yourself, from my own limited experience so far.

What and how to tweet

1. Do not use Twitter like a regular web page – it’d drive you mad having to keep a separate window open for it and pressing F5 to refresh all the time. Use something like twhirl, tweetdeck or – for Firefox fans such as myself – twitterfox. My anecdotal evidence suggests that a fair chunk of people not familiar with the web outside of Internet Explorer fall down at this hurdle. They set up an account, they follow a few people straight away, a couple of days later they realise they haven’t checked back in and they’re gone.

2. What should you tweet? My policy on tweeting is to mix it up. Sure, tweet your latest blog post if you want, but tweet interesting links you’ve found – on Twitter or more likely during your day-to-day work – or startling stats. Tweet what’s on your mind. For instance, one of my first tweets was “Is a Cadbury’s Twirl just a Flake covered a layer of chocolate? Or is it more?” – I stand by that. Also tweet questions if something’s bugging you or you want to find something out quickly.

3. Some twittiquette – retweet sparingly. Twitter’s form of the dreaded FWD:>>>> is RT (retweet). RT can be as annoying as FWD, so use sparingly. If you particularly like a link or point someone’s tweeted, you more than likely have your own point of view on it, so why not write that?

4. Don’t get into long conversations via Twitter. It’s like shouting to someone the other side of the room. A big warning sign is when 80% of your tweets look something like this – @tom Hilarious, @dick Cool! No way!, @harry really?, and so on. Although it’s unlikely that you’ll be doing that as a beginner – this is the sign of a “power Twitter user”, and unless they look really interesting, you probably won’t have cause to follow them.

To be in position to do most of the above, you’ll need an audience and to build an audience of followers, you’ll need to follow people yourself, which leads me to part deux

Who to follow

5. Find your friends, naturally enough. You’d be surprised at what they actually get to up to, particularly the links they find during their work-day.

6. Get yourself some news. With something like Twitterfox, all the hassle of having to set up Google News alerts, only to delete most, or having to repeatedly visit your favourite news sites is gone. With something like twitterfox, it’ll never be more than 5 mins before the latest headlines (CNN, theeconomist, RTE, The Irish Times, whatever you’re having yourself) pop up in the bottom right of your screen. Major plus for Twitter.

7. Follow the leader. Find someone who’s further out than you on the bleeding edge of IT. Oh sure, you could be conventional and follow Google or IBM – I do. But try and find someone who just looks like they have their finger on the pulse. I follow for example Dexin (“Interested in Entrepreneurship, Crowdsourcing, Cloud Computing and Macro Economics”) because she seems to know what she’s on about. You can also try to find a topical non-person twitterer, like Socialmedianet (“News and views from the world of social media and social software on the Internet”).

8. Stalk a celebrity. When done well, it’s a great way of finding out a little more about the person behind the celebrity. Stephen Fry is a little passe at this point, being the world’s most popular twitterer, as far as I know – he’s also quite talkative, which is a factor to bear in mind if Twitter clutter (twutter?) is an issue. John Cleese is as mad as you might expect, so you won’t always get it. On the other hand, Britney Spears is too quiet and Jamie Oliver is still very much about the cooking.

Jonathan Ross is a happy medium, in my opinion, and comes across as very human. (Not that I thought he was an alien before, but you know what I mean…) MC Hammer is on twitter too and contrary to popular belief, his follow button can be touched. I haven’t gone there yet, though.

9. Inspire yourself – follow someone interesting, just for the sake of it. It could be, for example, @thebuddha, doling out words of wisdom twice daily, or it could be The Earth Institute at Columbia or whatever. But it’s never any harm broadening your mind.

10. Lastly, talk to companies. If you follow companies, whose services you use, and tweet at them (literally @ them), they will definitely hear you – no more interminable phone calls with automatons giving you menu options! For example, I follow MyHeritage and have been able to pass on feedback and suggestions, to which they duly responded. Ditto with Hubdub. Because it’s all done in an open forum, it’s a fantastic way of getting companies to notice a suggestion and even to shame a service provider into action, if you feel so inclined.

So there you have it, some tips from someone who doesn’t know too much, for what that’s worth!

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So long recession (for a day at least): Streamgraphing Ireland’s Twitter-news!

Another month, another visualization method!

This time it’s Twitter StreamGraph, which tries to show a river of topics related to a keyword over time. It’s early days for this particular method, I think – having a range of options, such as number of tweets, or a particular time period, etc., would be very handy, but still a very promising tool. My first use is below…

Ireland Twitter StreamGraph

Ireland Twitter StreamGraph

The Twitter StreamGraph above shows the last 200 posts from this afternoon. Not surprisingly, given it’s our first decent snowfall in Dublin in about six or seven years (and even that one was a gone-in-a-day jobbie), very little about recession and instead lots and lots of snow!

Guess the Index: The Daft Report turns fun!

Following on from my recent post about Web2.0, hubdub and guessing Irish unemployment, I think it’s only right that I turn this future prediction market technology on myself. Well, on the Daft Report at any rate.

At this link, you’ll find a market on how much lower rents in Ireland will be in January 2009, compared to a year earlier. All you have to do is place some of your hubdub dollars (don’t worry, the whole thing is free, it’s just to measure how sure of the outcome you are) on the year-on-year rate of change, as per Daft’s very own National Rent Index.

Those who get it right will get naught but some more Hubdub dollars, but hopefully that will suffice. Well, that and the knowledge of being right, and perhaps some real dollars, in the form of a cheaper rent, if you’re a tenant bargaining with your landlord – assuming of course rents fall. (As I write this, the Hubdub market currently gives a 5% chance to rents falling less than 6% or rising, so some of that 5% includes the theoretical, at this stage, outcome that rents will go up.)

There is of course a serious side to all this (careful, blogosphere, here comes the science bit). If the market matures enough, it will be interesting to see how correct it is, compared to the actual outcome. Consistently accurate markets, across a whole range of these hubdub thingies, would say something to economists and policymakers, for example in Ireland, in light of the social partnership talks about public sector pay cuts (e.g. have public sector workers already cut their expenditure in anticipation of a cut?)

Most importantly, though, have fun! We need all the fun from markets we can get these days.

Wisdom of the crowds? Web2.0, hubdub & guessing Ireland’s unemployment

I had the rather pleasant task today of going through a range of Web 2.0 / social networking tools and establishing the potential in their application to primary research. Some key things that the new generation of web tools can give include:

  • Using something like digg or scribd to find key themes and recent developments in a topic, and – because you know who’s posted and who’s posted most – experts on a particular topic
  • Using something like basecamp or dimdim to project manage flexibly, particularly when teams are non-traditional, i.e. they are globally dispersed, working from home, volunteer-based, etc.
  • Using something like LinkedIn or indeed WordPress to access groups of experts on a particular topic and start a discussion
  • Using something like Manyeyes (which I’ve done in a few posts) or wordle (which I may have done in one too many posts last year!) to come up with new visualizations and ways of thinking about data

Many or most of these I was already somewhat familiar with. Indeed, twitter is increasingly one of my main sources for accessing news, thanks to RTE’s twitter services, and accessing expertise, as a surprising number of economists are on it. (I may also use it to keep tabs on Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross, but that’s probably for another post!)

Anyway, what I was not aware of, or rather perhaps only vaguely aware of, was the plethora of wisdom-of-the-crowd prediction markets tools out there. By way of example, I’ve set up one at hubdub, that hopefully proves my point:

When will Ireland’s Live Register top 350,000? I hope the crowds will tell me…

The world in 2100

Lots of people are probably familiar with the TED.com videos and podcasts. For those that are not, check out ted.com – it’s got a category called Most Jaw-dropping for a reason!

Through work, I was sent this link for a talk by Dr Janine Benyus, given all the way back in early 2005. It’s about biomimicry, how humans can learn innovation from other species (as distinct from bioprocesses, such as domestication, where humans can use other species, such as bacteria to clean water). In it, she describes just 12 ways in which we can use the 3 billion-odd years of R&D undertaken by 10-30 million species on the earth. Even if this list of 12 were exhaustive, and of course it’s not, it’s just the start, the implications in terms of inventions and research possibilities are huge.

I’m not an expert in the area of biomimicry, but here are some possibilities of what may exist by 2050 or 2100 that really excited me:

  • A world without car-crashes, learning instead from locusts, which have a neuron that prevents them from bumping into each other, even when there’s millions of them per square kilometre
  • A world where water is harvested from air
  • A world where metals are mined without quarries
  • A world where products self-assemble (like shells), giving themselves particular colours without using pigments (like peacock’s feathers) and then which disassemble or decay after a set period of time (like some breeds of mussels)
  • A world which treats carbon not just as output, or indeed waste, but as plants do, as an input, for example in constructing plastics and other materials that need carbon

These are just some of the ideas in the talk, which itself is just an overview. Already at the time of the presentation, architects and designers were beginning to talk to biologists about how to incorporate some of the lessons that nature has learnt about ‘product design’.

Between talks like this, and scattered reports about the occasional breakthrough in quantum computing, it’s enough to keep sci-fi-heads and futurologists dreaming for years to come!

Firefox 3 and the many add-ons

Yesterday, I downloaded and installed Firefox 3 (having been on 2.x before that). Firefox 3 has the apt motto one size doesn’t fit all.

And I have to say, this is the life, eh? Apparently, some people still use Internet Explorer. Apart from sticky-user syndrome – where people are scared of change and don’t really see the potential of switching – I can’t think of a reason not to switch to Firefox. I’m not IT-literate enough to fully document all the good reasons to switch, but perhaps I can make the point by talking about some of the add-ons I use.

Add-ons, of course, being another thing that separates IE from FF – whosoever is smart enough to program something funky that other people will use to enhance their online experience can share it with the world!

So here are some handy add-ons that I’m using at the mo:

  • gTalk sidebar – I can yap away in a panel on the left no matter which tab I’m looking at
  • Linkedin and Facebook companions – status updates, new messages and LinkedIn searches without having to open up a rake of tabs
  • Hyperwords – translations, currency conversions, stock prices, google searches, image/video searches, blog searches, all from a little box in the top right hand corner
  • Scribefire – something which apparently allows me to post to my blog without me having to log in to WordPress at all. This is my first time using it… so far so good, so I guess it’ll be handy. For those who do end up trying it and have the same difficulties as I did looking for something called an API url, here’s the help article your looking for.
  • Fireuploader… not won over by this yet, but I’ll keep giving it a go. Allows me to upload pictures to Flickr or Facebook, for example, from a single window which can wander through your computer.

Right, so that’s my Scribefire experiment plus Firefox praise session over and done with. I’m off to check out Lively.com and see what this virtual worlds thing has to offer…

Growth, inflation and investment: hot topics in emerging markets

Having recently discovered the fantastic word-cloud abilities of wordle.net, I decided to play around with it. I took the top 500 stories on Google News, for the term ‘Emerging Markets’, from June 2008. I had to make quite a few adjustments to take out names of newspapers etc., and the cleaning still isn’t complete, but nonetheless, this kind of thing will probably become a lot more common as we try and develop ways of managing the flood of information out there.

Perhaps no surprises in the word cloud, but I still found it very interesting. Growth, inflation and investment/investors are the major news topics online for emerging markets. Oil and demand are also important. I find it interesting that global is so large – presumably that’s the online news world coming to terms with the ever greater importance of emerging markets in the global economy. Previously ‘hot topics’ such as development or sustainability don’t really register, while emerging topics such as diversification or decoupling are not taking centre stage yet.