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So Long, @Croisan: Five Twitter Lessons

23 Feb

I am putting my Twitter persona, @Croisan, out to pasture. After two years and 10,000 tweets, it’s time to quit and reflect on what I’ve learned along the way.

The first lesson I gleaned from Twitter was to tweet about “Five Amazing…” or “10 Great Ways to…” or any number combined with a superlative to entice someone to view a link or retweet the offering. Though I rarely applied the lesson to my own tweets, it’s ubiquitous on Twitter, so it probably works.

I lied about the other four lessons.

This is not to say I have nothing to impart to you. I do. But @Croisan (For the curious, it’s pronounced “kroy-zin” like poison.) can’t be summed up in a tidy curriculum that you follow to become a Twitter god or goddess.

Fact is, I’m not a Twitter deity of any kind. I’m a middlin’ tweep. I follow around 780 people and have about 1,275 followers. And now that @Croisan reached my goal of 10,000 tweets, as promised, I’m pulling its plug.

I do not plan to remove my account or delete tweets. They stand, for good or ill, as my testament to microblogging. If packaged between the covers of a book, my tweets and retweets would run more than 600 pages. (Estimating five characters per word and 100 characters per tweet equals approximately 20 words each post, totaling close to 200,000 words, easily filling a thick book.) Granted, it would be a strange, context-free, mostly unintelligible tome. Like Bob Dylan’s Tarantula. 😉

Better left unbound, free, lost in the inexhaustible timelines of Twitter, those tweets. That’s where all my or anyone’s postings belong. Book writing and tweeting are not the same thing, naturally, but both require a creative, consistent, and egocentric effort. And time.

Nothing wrong with that, kept in perspective. However, just knowing how much effort has gone into my Twitter persona got me thinking, frankly, that I might have different things to do with my time. Maybe read more books. Maybe write one.

Hey, that’s a second Twitter lesson: it’s a time sink.

Of course, no matter what I do, whether riding my bicycle, reading books, tapping on a keyboard, or having heart-to-hearts with Cathie, time, my limited time on this good earth, is draining fast. If Twitter is one way to watch it wash away, so be it. Yet, as much as I’ve enjoyed my beguiling Twitter experience, it’s too insubstantial to continue as @Croisan.

For example, I never physically met anyone via Twitter. Oh, sure, I made contacts through Twitter. But never have I actually met a new person face to face through the service, you know, like you would do with a real friend. Never shook a hand or studied a new face. Not once. Even pen-pals get to meet each other now and again. That’s not the case on Twitter, despite thousands of virtual encounters between me and others none of them evolved into an actual encounter.

So, while I have enjoyed interacting with people through the service and will miss their wit or wisdom, I can’t say I have added anyone as a dear friend. There’s no one I found through the service who I would loan money to or drive hundreds miles to visit or call and talk to all through the night. There’s no one I have encountered on Twitter whom I can say that I love.

Likewise, when @Croisan stops posting to the wonderful Twitter information firehouse no one will or should care. It’s merely the demise of an idea of a mere part of someone somewhere who has moved on.

Say, come to think of it, that’s another good lesson: virtual friendships are not true friendships.

Although lacking in love, Twitter is an exceptional place to gather information on a given topic, particularly if you want to keep up with breaking news. Whether democratic movements in the Middle East or those that happen in Wisconsin, Twitter delivers the most timely information available. Of course, some of it is just rumor, innuendo, or lies.

Let’s call this a lesson, too: Pick your tweeps carefully. Many are simply bullshit artists. Unfollow and block others regularly to keep your content Timeline free of plain ol’ crap.

Finally, Twitter can give you a false sense of “doing.” That is, my tweeting and retweeting everything and anything on an important issue, such as health care reform or the environment, can convince me that I am somehow doing good. When, in fact, I would do more viable good by calling my elected representatives, attending protest marches, campaigning for the best candidates, or whatever was a true, more meaningful action for the cause I supported. Instead, by racking up a few dozen tweets about one thing or another, I can believe that I have actually done something to further a cause. Tweeting about Tahrir Square or the Capitol in Madison is not the same as being there.

Maybe that’s the last lesson: the real world remains real and important and vital, while the online realm remains only a reflection. It’s wise, then, to allot your limited time accordingly.

So, I did not lie, after all. That’s five lessons. Just like the headline promised.

And they were all learned by me.

Class dismissed.


MobileMe’s My Gallery Isn’t Mine, It’s Apple’s

4 Feb

I’ve been testing the value of Apple’s MobileMe service. I use it to backup some critical files, but it’s more expensive than many other similar services. I use its e-mail service, which is very good. It does a fine job of synchronizing my calendar and contacts. All of these I use in private. This is my first public use of Apple’s online $90-a-year service.

MobileMe offers something called My Gallery, where you can post multimedia files, such as movies and photos, and share them with others. Kind of like YouTube only more difficult to use and share. In this test, I’ve created a slideshow of me (of course, it’s MobileMe) and friends on various cycling trips. Many of the photos include my riding partner, jazz musician Mike Nord.

In all honesty, I see little value in the My Gallery service. First of all, I cannot embed a My Gallery slideshow into my blog. I can only link to it. If the link launched the video, I’d be mostly satisfied. But it doesn’t.  It takes you to the MyGallery directory, not to the file I specifically put in the link. Then you need to click on the album, in this case Croisan Views. You then click on the file to launch the slideshow. How stupid! (See Comments below.)

My Gallery is a lame offering. YouTube is much more flexible, easier to use, and, being free, is far, far cheaper. 🙂 In truth, My Gallery belongs to Apple’s development team, given the limits they put on my ability to use their service. Maybe the company should re-brand the service as “MobilePartofMe.” Or “NotAllofMobileMe.” Something a little more accurate.

Here’s the link again, in case you missed it above.

Twitter, Knowledge, and the New Ethical Corporation

22 Nov

There are many reasons to bring social networking tools into your business. Proponents will list dozens of reasons from productivity gains to cost savings to justify spending money for tools like Socialcast Inc.’s Reach software. One thing they don’t brag about is that social networking products open up an organization’s ethics for all to see.

Reach is embedded into as many network applications as possible within an enterprise. According to CEO Tim Young like-minded workers in different departments can use Twitter-like services inside their existing apps to recommend, comment upon, share,  and track information with interested parties. Anything that is known to an individual can be shared, securely inside controlled groups or widely to all stakeholders.

This got me thinking about business ethics. Corporate crime costs the United States more than what we call street crime by far. Cutting down corporate crime would be a boon to the US economy.

Services like Reach create a level of transparency inside companies that wouldn’t exist otherwise. Remember Enron, Tyco, Worldcom, and the other poster corps. for criminal and unethical behavior in the past decade? Well, if they had used social networking tools like Reach, I’m guessing their illegal scams would have been more difficult to pull off. With more people knowing more details inside of a business, there is an overpowering instinct among people to do what’s right not what’s necessarily expedient and certainly not what’s downright wrong. By letting more people know what’s happening inside an enterprise, the social pressure is enormous for the business to act ethically.

Reach and other social network products don’t lead to a lack of security, just a wider awareness of issues inside the organization. It’s not the fear that your company’s lack of ethics will be on page one of the local newspaper, but that it will be discussed in the company lunch room.

For example, let’s say a company is using Reach during a product development cycle within the R&D group responsible for the new product. If everyone involved is using Reach and product flaws are discussed, the odds of releasing the product with the most serious flaws will be reduced because of the number of those who know about the problems. If there were only a smaller, more tightly-integrated team aware of the flaws, there’s a greater likelihood that they would hide or play down the problems and the product would more likely ship with ultimately more image-damaging flaws. While using Reach might have forced the product development team to either ship their product late or scale down their ambitions to get it done right, in the long run the product would be less of a costly headache for the company.

I’m not saying social networking products will force a company to act ethically. But they will make it much more difficult to hide their ethics, good or bad.

24 Hours in Cyberspace: 15 Years Later

23 Oct

I was rummaging around some seldom-opened cupboards in the garage when I came across a few boxes of books that had been stored back in a corner when we moved to the Willamette Valley more than 10 years ago. Inside one container I found a copy of 24 Hours in Cyberspace: Painting on the Walls of the Digital Cave still shrink-wrapped and pristine, untouched by human hands.

Published with much fanfare in late 1996, the book’s conceit was to have photographers around the world visually capture a single day (8 February 1996) in the life, as it were, of the worldwide web. More a magazine with many different stories to tell between hardcovers than a proper book with a single voice or point of view, 24 Hours in Cyberspace encompasses much of what exists today online, yet it lacks almost everything that is important about our contemporary cyberspace experience.

The sometimes goofy, occasionally poignant photos in the book reflect a random collection of people whose lives somehow touched the web. The team behind 24 Hours in Cyberspace showed how some people involved in health care, politics, education, and other areas are engaged with the worldwide web. They touched on sensitive topics as well, such as the proliferation of pornography and the spread of Holocaust deniers online. The attempt was a comprehensive glimpse of the influence of the web in daily life.

In truth, though, all the people covered in the book are also engaged with cellphones, televisions, automobiles, and other technologies we embrace. The web, as depicted in 24 Hours in Cyberspace, is just another tool. Nice. But not earth-shaking.

For example, one photo spread shows an American in St. Petersburg, Russia negotiating for his “prospective Russian bride whom he met online.” How different is that from bachelors in the Wild West shopping for mail-order brides in the penny newspapers of the day? And, while another photo shows some young women in Bangi, Malaysia who, according to the excitable accompanying text, “lift the lid on Pandora’s box as they check out a bare-chested Matthew Modine on Hollywood Online.” Hardly revolutionary considering most those women had probably already seen similarly dressed men in the thousands of magazines published in their country. (And Matthew Modine? Come on, ladies. Have better taste.)

Of course, it’s easy to carp about a nearly 15-year-old book which contends that the Internet “is a shape-shifting, borderless medium firmly in the hands of ordinary citizens bent on turning it to extraordinary ends.” Given that ordinary citizens in China, Iran, and behind other borders face government sanctions if they violate national laws while online seems to undermine that statement.

1996 was, in terms of the worldwide web, a far more innocent time. The authors of 24 Hours in Cyberspace could not envision Google battling with a sovereign nation over a search engine. Perhaps because the book’s producers did not even mention Google, Facebook, Twitter, social networking, software as a service, cloud computing, or any of the other truly revolutionary aspects of the Internet.

As such, 24 Hours in Cyberspace is not a very interesting or insightful book. It tells us nothing important about the real power of the Internet. Nor does it tell us much about who we are as human beings. But it does offer yet another proof point that making a bet on what we’ll be doing online even just a few years from now is probably a poorly placed wager.

I Am Product

18 Oct

If I were a product I’d probably be part of a recall. A defect from the norm. Or so I would hope. Who wants to be part of the crowd?

Yet, when I think about it, I am a product, and not such a unique one, at least as far as the boardrooms of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and the rest of the social network empires are concerned. I am part of the noisy crowd that comprises those companies’ product. Without me and millions of others like me typing away, attaching links, posting videos and photos, generating more and more content, there would be no product for social networks to sell.

We are all product.

But, I ask you, what kind of company can succeed in the long run when it does not own, control, influence, or manage its own product? As I’ve said here before, the faddish nature of consumers and their likes and dislikes of online services make any social network ephemeral, which is why I swing between astonishment and amusement when supposedly sober people value, say, Facebook at $33 billion. For what?

Once upon a time capitalists, so-called captains of industry, aspired to own real things. Ironworks. Railroads. Steel mills. Oil wells. Baseball teams. Something they could point to and say, “That’s mine.”

What do the capitalist captains of social networks point to when showing off their accomplishments? The leased servers in the hosted data centers where the “secret sauce” of their proprietary software runs? Maybe, but it’s rather pathetic when compared to the real value created in the real world by the business titans that preceded them.

My concern is not that the fortunes of new billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg are built upon shifting sands. Rather, when (not if) fickle users of today’s social networks shift their gaze to the next shiny thing, I fear current and future investors will be wiped out. I also worry that as a nation, the United States seems to be obsessed with building an economy based on virtual products (me and you) and not real things with value in the real world. Social networks are the reflection of an economic engine, not an actual one.

Facebook, Twitter, and the rest won’t help the USA overcome its ongoing economic woes. The best they can do is distract us from them for a while. But only for a while.

What Cisco’s ūmi Needs to Blow Away Facebook

6 Oct

Hate to say it, but ūmi, the interactive video Telepresence hardware and service targeting consumers from Cisco is a dud. At least, it is in its current incarnation. Needless to say, Cisco thinks differently and believes that there’s a home market for its product. According to the company:

With Cisco ūmi telepresence you can place and receive video calls from any computer with a webcam, and Google video chat. It’s another great way to share your family with friends, see your son at college, or keep in touch with Mom when she’s away on business.”

Despite the engaging photos on the company’s website of people doing just that, there aren’t many families I’ve ever met who feel a constant urge to see mom while she’s traveling on business. Few of us want to add video to a communication process that works great as audio-only. After all, who wants to get dressed up for a phone call, even if just for the kids? Certainly not mom at the end of a day of meetings.

What Telepresence desperately needs is an API and a browser. Yes, that boring application programming interface and an everyday browser. The API will attract developers and a browser will captivate users.

With an API, software companies can build applications that will do, well, whatever consumers want to do with interactive video, which is not, I repeat, to see grandma in her capri pants and tennis shoes, when talking with her on the phone would be just fine. But what people will want to do with ūmi is what they do with Facebook and other social media: play games, communicate with comrades, display photos, show movies, and present links to the ever-expanding online world. They want to publish their lives to followers, friends, and, even family.

So far, ūmi, AppleTV, Roku and other systems are missing the boat about how to merge the TV and Internet experience. What they need to offer is a way for consumers to create their own content, just as today they can do for social networks.

People need to have a browser to work with content. But when I say browser, I’m not necessarily thinking about Safari or Chrome, though I’m open to the notion. I’m thinking about an application on an iPad, a TV remote or something else in my living room that lets me grab segments of an ABC sitcom or an ESPN sporting event and weave them into a post that also includes a home video of my cat, a YouTube link, a Ping tune, and maybe a profound, profane or prosaic voiceover from me. Or something. Anything other than just staring at the screen and talking.

In my view, people have absolutely zero interest in watching people watch them have a telephone conversation. Most of us would rather watch grass grow. We want to interact in ways that show others how creative we can be by splicing together snippets of our day or syncing slices of our lives through a gamut of sources available to us online and on TV. We want to leverage what we’ve learned using PCs, smartphones, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other technologies and services. ūmi and its competitors are not that.

So, if ūmi (or Apple TV, Roku) is going to succeed it will need more than just the ability to send video streams back and forth. It will need to build and support robust APIs that are adhered to by content developers in Hollywood as well as in Silicon Valley. It will need a way to control the hardware that may or may not include a PC keyboard, but is dead simple, yet flexible. (Hence, my initial choice of the iPad. But it could just as well be an Android device or a new kind of TV remote.) ūmi needs an ecosystem.

Right now Cisco has a box with a cool name that does something few people want. With an API and a new-fangled browser, it will have something consumers crave. And something Facebook will fear.



When Facebook Becomes Irrelevant

4 Oct

Did you have a CompuServe account back in the day? Me, too. Were you an America Online user when Steve Case ruled the Internet? Funny, so was I. They were big. They were huge. They were…the Facebook of their day.

With the arrival of a critically-acclaimed and box-office-boffo movie about Facebook, a comic book biography of its founder and blow-job journalism a-plenty for the company and Mr. Zuckerberg, to doubt the power and importance of the online social network service is virtual heresy, or simple bloody-minded contrariness.

I admit to neither, but I do submit that Facebook, too, will pass. And quickly. Much quicker than AOL or CompuServe, though maybe not as fast as MySpace, Digg, Reddit and other contemporary websites that have connected people together, grew like wildfire, then sputtered and faded into the background. Facebook is a useful fad. A stepping stone to some other thing, service, call it what you will whenever it arrives. And trust me, it will arrive.

Remember The Microsoft Network from its launch in 1995; now called simply MSN? Of course you do. And should. It remains the number two ISP in the United States. But how crucial is it to you or to the industry? Not very. It probably serves some Microsoft über strategy I’m unaware of, but it’s basically a ho-hum service that means as much to its users as any other ISP, which is to say, not much.

But when MSN appeared it struck fear into the hearts of every other ISP on the planet and was considered to be a major event in the history of global business. That’s because back then ISPs were more important than oxygen, especially if you believed the mass media; just as they say today that social networks are more worthy of our attention than ISPs or e-mail services, for example.

Maybe so. Maybe so.

Still, I’m willing to bet than within three years we won’t be talking about Facebook any longer. Oh, we’ll still be using it, though less and less. It will recede in importance into our lives like e-mail services and ISP links. Although it will remain ubiquitous for some time, it will become less valuable as we become all too comfortable with an array of social networks, of which Facebook will be one.

I raise this point only to caution folks that amazingly successful online ventures become virtually irrelevant, even ones that inspire tremendously successful movies (No, not The Social Network, but You’ve Got Mail). What happens with consumer trends is that they suffer from over-exposure, instant familiarity, then whole-hearted indifference. What’s new and fresh in Facebook now will seem as tired and tedious in short order as AOL’s pre-browser clunky user interface.

If there was any longevity to online communities, given the huge success of Apple, my eWorld account ought to be my hottest Internet destination these days. But it’s long gone now and my life is better for its absence.