Twitter

My Year of Living Socially

twitterbluebox You would probably call me an “early adopter” of the Internet. I have had some kind of online presence for 15 years. The web immediately fascinated me when I first discovered it, and the fascination has not waned. I am grateful that my intuition led me early on to what would be the most revolutionary phenomenon of my adult life. One part of the online revolution for which I wasn’t an early adopter was “social networking.” I had blogs and web sites and felt that sites like Facebook and Myspace were for people who didn’t operate their own blogs. I just didn’t get Twitter at first. I checked it out early and it struck me as a pointless waste of time. Eventually a couple of friends convinced me to get on Twitter and Facebook, so in December of 2009, I opened accounts. After more than a year of doing both Facebook and Twitter, my ideas about these services have evolved significantly.

Facebook

I think Mark Zuckerberg is a creep and I think his creation, Facebook, is creepy. There isn’t really a lot about Facebook that I like. There seems to be a basic dishonesty about Facebook in that it promises personal privacy, but actually works to “share” that personal information as widely as possible. Thousands of people have literally wrecked their lives with Facebook by posting things they thought were “private” only to find out that their postings were quite public. I learned a long time ago not to put anything on the Internet that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper, but most users don’t understand how public the Internet really is. Facebook has also been shown to share personal information with advertisers and I think that is at least sneaky, if not unethical. The format of Facebook is so limiting that it is unusable for anything beyond little “status updates” and sharing links. I don’t even like the way Facebook uses the word “Friend.” “Contact” would be better. Most of my “friends” on Facebook aren’t really friends; they’re acquaintances or friends of friends. You don’t become a friend by a mouse click on a little gray box. According to Facebook, I have 112 “friends.” I wish I had 112 friends. In the way I think about friends, I may have a dozen, but not 112.

I disapprove of the way Facebook handles photos. I don’t like the down-sampling that Facebook does on images, and I do not affirm the claim that Facebook makes to have rights to use and redistribute any image uploaded to Facebook. I think this claim in their terms of service is needlessly predatory on the part of Facebook. Most people who upload photos to Facebook do not realize that in the act of uploading a photo to Facebook, they are granting Facebook unlimited rights to use or redistribute their image.

As a “social network” Facebook has completely failed for me in one important way: none of my “friends” on Facebook came from Facebook as the original point of contact. All of my Facebook “friends” are the result of prior contacts and associations, or they are from new contacts I have made with Twitter.

I do find some value in Facebook. I have reconnected with a number of people with whom I had lost contact. I do enjoy seeing the notices from friends of the birth of babies, new accomplishments, notices of upcoming events, and the like. It is a convenient utility for sharing quick communications among those contacts who are active on Facebook. I will continue using Facebook because several of my real friends and relatives have taken to using Facebook instead of e-mail, but that is the only reason. Otherwise, I could live without it.

Twitter

You will remember that Twitter is the social networking medium I viewed as pointless. Apparently, other people saw possibilities in Twitter that I didn’t see at the time. Twitter can still be the supreme time waster, but it can also be very interesting and useful, depending on how it is used. Twitter has become the social network I really enjoy and use. Unlike the social suffocation inflicted by Facebook, Twitter has gained for me quite a few new friends and contacts, people with whom I carry on lively discussions. I follow a number of news services and I find that I get breaking news quicker on Twitter than I do on the news web sites. I enjoy sending tweets about interesting photography, news, baseball games and other things that interest or outrage me.

Twitter does have its shortcomings. 140 characters isn’t a lot for someone who likes to write, so you can only do quick comments and send links to longer things. This can be a good discipline for writers who pack their copy with unnecessary words, but it does get tedious at times. Only those who follow you and those who happen to be tracking a search term that appears in one of your tweets will see your tweets. Due to the dynamic nature of Twitter, even those who follow you don’t always see your tweets unless they have you on a list, or are watching the time line when you tweet. The basic timeline goes by so fast that it is easy to miss things, especially when you are following a lot of feeds.

The Numbers

In the year of living socially, I have accumulated 112 Facebook “friends” and more than 1800 Twitter followers. I follow about 1400 Twitter feeds. Both accounts were started at the same time. There isn’t direct parity between friends and follows, since the Facebook friending often implies a more substantial relationship than a Twitter follow. Nevertheless, a nearly 20-fold discrepancy between the two services does get my attention.

The Hidden Agenda

I’m a blogger. I have been doing it for a significant period of time and it continues to be a source of great satisfaction to me. My photography and journal blog, Shutter Priority, was not getting the kind of traffic I wanted, and I decided to test the social networking services to see what kind of improvement they could give me on my blog traffic. The impact of Twitter on my blog traffic has been substantial. When I tweet a link to a new blog entry, I will often get hundreds or sometimes thousands of page views. If I only post a link on Facebook, I may get a couple dozen page views. Twitter wins the traffic test hands down.

Learnings and Observations

Obviously, Twitter and Facebook are vastly different types of services, and I suppose the individual’s preference for one or the other comes down to which environment one prefers. To me, Twitter is dynamic, free-wheeling and open, something like attending a big trade show with a bar. Facebook, in my opinion, seems far more restricted and clubby, akin to a high school reunion. For the most part, the people we talk with on Facebook are people we already know, whereas on Twitter we constantly meet new people.

I don’t buy the hype about Facebook that it’s going to put Google and blogs out of business and own the Internet in a few short years. The claustrophobic and highly restricted style of Facebook runs contrary to the basic openness that has made the Internet the success that it is. The potential of Twitter is probably still underestimated and unappreciated, but awareness seems to be growing.

From a utilitarian perspective, Twitter has gotten the job done for me. Facebook really hasn’t. For someone looking to get the word out about their blog or business, Twitter should be considered seriously. I won’t give up on Facebook for the reasons given above, but these days, posting a blog link or a new print for sale to Facebook is an afterthought, with little expectation for real results.

As always, these are just my opinions and impressions. Your mileage may vary (YMMV). I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the effectiveness of these two services. Feel free to use the comments below.

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My Own Recipe for Success and Happiness on Twitter

Self Portrait with Nikon When I reached the milestone of 1,000 hard-won Twitter followers, I thought it might be helpful to jot down those things which seem to have worked.

Before I get to the ingredients, I want to lay out a few of my operating principles on Twitter. I don’t follow everyone who follows me. I try to, but when people are just obviously marketing, or if their feed is totally alien to the things which interest me, I don’t follow. If their feed is obviously just about themselves and their cronies, I don’t follow. I look for feeds that interest me. I look for feeds that show me something. I look for feeds that are real people. Even if they are “off topic” for me, if they are real, and doing something interesting, I’ll follow. A feed that is obviously about accumulating a large number of followers is a non-starter. I tend to avoid feeds that look automated. I avoid feeds that tweet too much. I use TweetDeck and I don’t want my timeline porked by someone who posts 20-30 tweets in the space of a few minutes.

I use nothing automatic on my Twitter account. I check each new person who follows me and I make a personal decision if I will follow them back or not. I will rigorously prune those I follow when I begin to get a bunch of junk in my timeline. I don’t join in the race to accumulate huge numbers of followers. I hope that those who follow me do it because they are interested in what I provide.

My purpose for getting on Twitter was simple and focused: I had heard a lot of about it, and I wanted to see what was going on. I had a creative blog that I had done for several years, but it had never attracted much traffic. I felt that the material on the blog was worthwhile, and I wanted to increase the traffic. I decided to use Twitter to accomplish this goal. I re-purposed the blog to focus more specifically on photography and began to tweet on photography, including links to my blog when I had fresh content. I succeeded in increasing the traffic. I took the blog from a handful of visits per day to several hundred per day in about six months. The part that I did not expect was how much fun Twitter would be, and how many interesting and nurturing relationships I would build on Twitter. In this respect, Twitter has far exceeded my expectations.

Twitter is about the conversation. Those who view Twitter as just another channel for their “social marketing” put me off. I don’t care for that attitude. I don’t depend on Twitter to make a living, and I don’t intend to. I have experienced some financial rewards through my activity on Twitter, but I honestly don’t feel that money should be the objective. If advertising is your only goal, buy some Google Adwords. Your return will be quicker and less time-consuming.

So, without further ado, here’s my recipe:

1. Be Present: To gather followers with Twitter, you must be either a major celebrity with name recognition, or you must work it. One or two tweets a day will not do it unless you’re Lady GaGa or Alyssa Milano. How many you do is up to you, but visibility matters. There is one crew on at 9:00 AM, another at 5:00 PM, and another bunch tuned in at 11:00 PM. If you’re tweeting original content, you should probably tweet it 3-4 times in a day.

2. Be Responsive: Respond to those who reach out to you. If someone says a nice thing about one of your tweets, thank them and acknowledge them. Let them know that their attention means something to you. The attention of other people is a great gift.

3. Re-Tweet (RT): This cannot be stressed too much. When someone else tweets interesting content, re-tweet it. Don’t steal their tweet and send it as if you originated it. RT it with their @friendofmine handle on it. This builds friends and appreciation.

4. Advertise but do it only at a 1-12 ratio (at most): Everyone advertises. Everyone wants to make money. There is nothing wrong with that, but if the only thing you ever do is advertise your own stuff, you will lose the attention of your followers. Hence, the ratio of 1-12 is a good one: for every 12 tweets you send, one of them can be an ad for your stuff. People will tolerate that. What they won’t tolerate is seeing every single thing you send being an ad to buy your junk.

5. Be Supportive: If I find something good, I tweet it. It doesn’t have to be my own stuff. I want my followers to see the best of what I have found. I play the role of “curator.” If people learn, or have fun, or are inspired by something I have found, then I have done my job. Once you become identified as a reliable source for good material, it becomes much easier to attract new followers and retain those you already have. Further, when someone is struggling to claw their way out of obscurity, and you acknowledge that what they are doing is meaningful, you have made a friend. This new friend will, in turn, support you when you need it.

6. Be Interactive: Twitter is about the conversation. When people show a willingness to talk with you, respond. It doesn’t have to be great literature; just talk. Be a real human being who cares about those other human beings on the other side of the screen. Twitter is about the conversation.

7. Distinguish yourself with a customized profile on your Twitter home page. Use a custom background. Give a brief and engaging description of what you are doing with your interests, and provide a link to your blog or web site. Use an avatar that says something about you. A photo of yourself is nice, but not necessary. Some kind of personalized avatar and background is. When people use only the default graphics and provide no information or links, it creates the impression that they are either total rookies or spammers. Also, don’t use a photo of a gorgeous swimsuit model unless it’s really you. That’s a spammer tactic.

8. Be Focused: Define your turf. I like photography and baseball. I like sex and a bit of politics. For the most part, I tweet about photography since I know more about it than those other things. Travel has emerged serendipitously as a topic for me, since a lot of interesting photography comes from remote places. My followers know that they are going to get a daily dose of photography technique and fine art photography. In season, they’ll get baseball. They can decide if they want that or not. People want feeds that speak to their interests. If you are all over the place on content, people will either lose interest or not subscribe in the first place. If you want to tweet on widely divergent topics, set up separate Twitter accounts to deal with the different subjects. Don’t try to be “all things to all people.” Find your area of interest and expertise, and work it. You can go off-topic on subjects occasionally, but don’t let your feed become too diffused.

9. Have Fun: Play is infectious. If you are enjoying what you are doing, others will come along because they want to have fun and be lifted up too. If you’re just doing it because some “social marketing” guru told you that you should, it will show.

10. Be Helpful: I tweet material that I believe will help people become better photographers and graphic artists. Articles on technique, examples from the masters and reviews of new gear all help people to focus on what they need to do in order to make better pictures. If you can help people to accomplish their dreams, they will return to you again and again. Conversely, if you’re only about fulfilling your own dreams, people will decide that you are a self-centered pig and stop taking your seriously. As you accumulate a set of quality followers, you will find that they feed you with fresh content and ideas, so that along with being helpful, you will be helped.

I guess that’s about it. Put these in a pot and cook for about six months and you’ll find that you have an interesting set of followers and a fascinating timeline.

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Why I Don’t Follow You on Twitter

Why I Don’t Follow You on Twitter

Quite a few people follow me on Twitter and then unfollow a couple of days later. Since my twitter feed is so incredibly interesting, I can only assume that these folks have unfollowed me because I didn’t reciprocate and start following them. To save everybody time, I thought it might be helpful to explain my attitude on follows. I don’t follow everybody in the world. I’m not a follower collector. I only follow people who give me a reason to follow them, and I don’t care about the numbers. I also hope that the people who follow me do it because they are interested in what I’m doing and not to run up their count of followers. I look at the Twitter feed of every single person who follows me, and I make a decision. There is nothing automated about my Twitter presence.

So, here are the reasons I didn’t follow you Twitter:

  1. You tweet about things that don’t interest me.
  2. You tweet about how mean your parents are.
  3. You tweet about being at Starbucks.
  4. Your top tweet says, “I Got Lots of Followers.”
  5. You tweet in a language that I don’t understand.
  6. The slang expression “nigga” appears frequently in your feed.
  7. You haven’t tweeted anything since January, 2008.
  8. You tweet every 30 seconds.
  9. You want to show me how to make a million dollars for free.
  10. All of your tweets are ads.
  11. You’re selling a sure fire system for SEO optimization.
  12. You deliberately misspell most of your words.
  13. Your feed contains references to Justin Bieber and/or Miley Cyrus.
  14. You use the word “fuck” for no reason whatsoever.
  15. You bitch about how miserable your life is.
  16. Your feed contains no links or helpful information, just comments and cryptic replies.
  17. The subject of your feed is yourself.
  18. You use the default avatar, background and have not bothered to provide any “Bio” information.
  19. Your handle is “XXXSex4U”
  20. You’re a fraud, trying to look like someone you aren’t. Get real. We know that the New York Yankees have more than 18 followers.

So, if I haven’t followed you, don’t take it personally. Odds are that you just cover a subject matter that doesn’t float my boat. If you do 2-20, at least you know now how you’re screwing up.

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J. D. Salinger Didn’t Twitter

jdsalinger I know that I read Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger a long time ago in that lengthy parade of books I had to read to get through high school. Unlike a lot of folks, it wasn’t a life-changing experience for me. In fact, I scarcely remember the book. I liked Hemingway much better. I liked Tolkien and Heinlein. I read Plato and Kierkegaard in those days too (yeah, I know – my dad gave them to me). Poor Salinger hardly made a dent in my consciousness at sixteen. Maybe there’s something wrong with me, but that’s the way it was. I may go and buy the book, and read it again just to see if I missed something important the first time around.

I often find that the lives of writers are more interesting to me than their writings. Often, I would rather read about their exploits than read their books. Their lives say more to me about their vision than any individual tome. Salinger may be the ultimate example. The statement of his life and the way he lived it illustrate the courses taken in a tortured and alienated life far better than any work of fiction. I’m glad I wasn’t born J. D. Salinger.

Salinger published his writing between 1951 and 1965, fourteen short years. Then, he did everything he could to make himself disappear. He quit publishing and retreated permanently to his hermitage in New Hampshire. He liked to write, but he didn’t like to publish. Publishing and coping with the outside world was a violation of his privacy. Instead of craving fame’s spotlight, he ran from it. In doing so, he achieved the status of a counter-cultural icon, even more alluring to the hungry world than before. The ironies are rich. It must have been hard for Salinger to take when his story of an alienated adolescent misfit received such universal acceptance, especially from the education community, a group he never got along with very well. My hunch is that he would have been happier if the nation’s teachers would have conducted book burnings with Catcher.

“Hey, Sally,  . . . Did you ever get fed up? I mean did you ever get scared that everything was going to go lousy unless you did something? I mean do you like school, and all that stuff? . . . Well, I hate it. Boy, do I hate it. . . . But it isn’t just that. It’s everything.”
— Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye

I live in a world where I can know the intimate thoughts of Barak Obama, Lady Gaga or Derek Jeter within seconds of their having them via Twitter. J. D. Salinger didn’t Twitter. My world is one in which fame, instant wealth and celebrity are worshipped as the new religion. Success means fame and adulation. If you have a hundred thousand followers on your Twitter account, you’ve arrived. You’re on your way to apotheosis. If you can get past the judges on American Idol, you can count on instant fame and recording contracts for the foreseeable future. A few minutes worth of surfing on the web will reveal to you just about everything there is to know about me. Today, privacy seems more like a memory from another time than a present reality.

Against our culture of instantaneous knowledge of everyone all the time and our idolatry of celebrity and “success,” Salinger stands like a dark blob of anti-matter drawing everything to himself with the vacuum of his renunciation. He did practice Zen Buddhism, I’m told, so maybe that has something to do with it. Maybe he achieved satori. I don’t know; I never had the patience to sit still that long.

The tragedy of Salinger is that we don’t know if it made any difference. Was his life better or worse than ours? Is there an earth-shaking masterpiece born in solitude secreted in his safe? Unless some more manuscripts appear, we’ll never know, and in that way he cheated us. We gave him a life of leisure and ultimate freedom, a clean canvas on which to paint anything. He appears to have given us nothing in return except litigation and whiny complaints about his privacy being violated.

As I said at the top, I’m not a fan. Still, I am fascinated by how someone who seemed to “have it all” could turn his back on it all in such a radical way. Was it the ultimate expression of genius, or just the coping mechanism of a badly flawed personality? It would have been nice if he could have twittered just a couple of times, something like, “This Rocks!” or “This Really Sux,” or “The Great American Novel is hidden in the trunk of the car,” but he didn’t. We’re left with our questions and the dark, empty space that was J. D. Salinger.

“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”
— Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye

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Twitter Quake

The first I heard of the devastating earthquake in Haiti was on my Twitter feed. It was either the NPR or CBS feed, and I can’t remember now which I saw first. An earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter Scale had hit and its epicenter was the already ravaged city of Port-Au-Prince. Within minutes, someone had put up a Twitter page for people trying to find information on relatives and friends in Haiti. Shortly thereafter, NPR set up a Twitter news feed. Some of the first photos of the disaster were posted on a Facebook page owned by a survivor who went out on the street with his digital camera and shot pictures of collapsed buildings in his neighborhood. Within a few hours, hundreds of new Facebook and Twitter pages went up, posted by all of the major news services, helping organizations, celebrities (whose sleeping pills hadn’t kicked in yet), and well-meaning news hounds who like to pretend that they’re the Associated Press. For some odd reason, traditional communications like phones and radio had completely broken down, but the Internet-based social networks were still functional and carrying sketchy bits of news of a cataclysm of epic proportions.

Social networking had its first full-blown disaster.

Three days into it now, the “trending topic” of Haiti is getting hundreds of tweets per minute. You can’t read them as fast as they are being posted. Twitter is experiencing temporary outages because its capacity is being overtaxed.  In the time it has taken me to write the words above, 7,196 new tweets on Haiti have been posted. The substance of the tweets has changed a lot. It seems that everyone has jumped on the “save Haiti” bandwagon and the tragedy is being exploited in every way imaginable. Send money scams have popped up everywhere, and every neglected quasi-celebrity in the universe is using their Twitter account to say caring things and try to make themselves look like they’re involved with something other than their makeup. It really isn’t hard to sit in your underwear in Seattle and type “save Haiti” into your Twitter account. Then you can go back to sleep confident that you have changed the world with your prescient social awareness.

In Hurricane Katrina, we got our best eye witness accounts from bloggers who somehow managed to keep their Internet connections alive and posted what they were seeing on their blogs. Haitians don’t seem to be big on blogs, or maybe the technology has evolved now beyond the blog to the tweet. And of course, those who might have been able to blog in Haiti may be dead. I do feel that the Katrina blogs were better than the Twitter fragments we are seeing. The blog isn’t as fast as Twitter, but it allows for much better description of events and feelings.

The role that Twitter played in this disaster is fascinating, and more than any other event, it has established Twitter as a communication medium that is here to stay. It is incomplete, but it is quick. It lacks the richness of a blog, but its immediacy seems to fit the spirit of the times: frothy and ephemeral, but fast.

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Warming Up to Social Networking

twitterbird I’ll admit I was slow to pick up on the social networking thing. Actually, I wasn’t slow; I was downright resistive. I looked at Twitter when it first came out and I couldn’t see the point. I had blogs, so what did I need with a MySpace or Facebook page? If someone wanted to find me on the web, it wasn’t hard.

I could sort of see Facebook and MySpace as a way to blog for people who didn’t have blogs, but I kept reading horror stories about people losing their jobs for posting inappropriate things on their pages. Twitter seemed like the most colossal time waster ever conceived by the mind of web wonks. What can you say in 140 characters? “What’s for dinner?” “We’re out of gas.” “Your feet stink.” “My life is so empty that I’m sitting here writing 140 character messages that no one will ever read. #boredom.”

My objections to “social networking” were legion. I barely have the time to keep up the blogs I have. Maybe I don’t always want everybody and their brother to be able to find me. The word “Twitter” puts me off – manly men like me don’t “tweet.” Facebook was intimidating because if I were a gorgeous 18-year-old girl I might want my picture plastered all over the place, but life and time being what they are, I’m in no danger of making the cover of People Magazine anytime soon. Twitter did, and still does to an extent, strike me as an exercise in triviality and exhibitionism. MySpace made me suspicious because it really isn’t my space; it’s Rupert Murdoch’s space.

Despite my objections, a couple of my friends prevailed on me to explore the Twitter thing and later to get a Facebook page. I did, grumbling and griping all the way. What I found when I took the plunge has been interesting and fun. The dimension of Facebook that I hadn’t counted on is the wild way that it searches and makes connections. I have already made contact with some people with whom I lost touch a long ago in the chaos of changes and personal transitions. That part is really fascinating. I would have to say that at this point, I’m a Facebook convert. It’s doing some worthwhile things.

With Twitter, the jury is still out. A lot of the stuff I see on Twitter is just stupid beyond words. As Tila Tequila has so clearly demonstrated, Twitter is a way to make an ass out of yourself on a global scale. I have my Twitter account plugged into my Facebook page so I can use Twitter to do quick updates to my Facebook page. I also “follow” the tweets of a number of major news services and journalists, so my Twitter account serves as a sort of IM newswire. That’s useful, but I don’t have an eager throng following my latest tweets: “I’m hungry.” “My feet are cold.” “We’re out of gas.”

There is so much about the way we live these days that isolates us. The passage of time itself tends to isolate us. I can’t help but believe that those things which restore the connections between people are good and constructive. The things which enable us to act like total idiots may not be, but you can’t blame that completely on the Internet. Self-revelation involves risk.

I look forward to the new and old friends I may find on Facebook and my mind is intrigued by the possibilities the platform presents. I have said stupid things in just about every sort of public venue you can name, so that threat really don’t carry much of a sting. Facebook is the web doing one of the things it was meant to do; Twitter is the web doing something it really doesn’t need to do, but it can be fun at times.

I suppose the last question is, does this become a permanent fixture in my life? I don’t know the answer to that one. Writing, drawing and shooting pictures are permanent fixtures. Food and love and dogs and baseball are too. I guess the network will need to prove itself to me. If it continues to feed my soul, I’ll stay with it. If it cools like so many other fads, I’ll probably drift away.

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