got me thinking. I met @Biz (Biz Stone, one of the Founders of Twitter in November 2009, very briefly) I made a short video (which I’ve never published for reasons I’ll tell you if you ask!) of a bit of a talk he gave in answer to a question from the audience. Here it is:
The Mass Observation panel at Future Everything caused a bit of a spat (polite, of course) when Pauline from the BBC in Liverpool described social media as “cave painting” and “tweeting about having a latte”.
This week, Silicon Valley came to Oxford and very odd and interesting it was too.
A highlight for me was a ‘masterclass’ by Biz Stone, one of the Founders of Twitter.
In a panel session in the evening Biz also said that “Twitter is an information network, not a social network” which I tweeted with a ‘do you agree’ question that resulted in a big discussion on Twitter. A number of other people also noticed that remark (which from a quick scan of Google has been made before by Evan Williams (@ev) who is also a founder of Twitter). I’ve tried to track the conversation (not easy) and reproduce it below. Have a quick scan and see what you think and whether you agree with Biz.
A very interesting remark was that of Lloyd Davis – founder of the Tuttle Club; “I don’t think @biz is any authority on what twitter is.”
This year Twitter made its impact felt on the Party Conference circuit. I went to NESTA Fringe meetings in Brighton last week and in Manchester this week. I came up with the idea of seeing whether the Tweetstreams might tell us something about the relative states of those two parties. The results are, I think, intriguing.
#cpc09 beats #lab09 hands down
I’ve looked at the main hashtags being used at both the Labour and Conservative Party conferences over a comparable period in each case (beginning on Sunday and ending on Thursday). The total volume of Tweets with the #lab09 tag was 10,379 compared with 12,733 with the cpc09 tag. The numbers are derived from time series data kindly provided by What The Hashtag?! and I acknowledge the help of Mark Bockenstedt for his advice in understanding how to use the API.
Naturally, all I’m doing is looking at Tweets tagged with those particular hastags – I don’t know at this stage what the contents or stance of the Tweets might be; whether positive or negative.
Time series data . . . hmmmm
We can also examine the flow of Tweets over time (and looking at the structure of flow is always instructive).
This picture shows the daily volume of Tweets with the #lab09 tag, beginning on the Sunday (Day 1) and running until Thursday (Day 5). When I saw this picture, I wasn’t particularly surprised – it shows a build-up of activity each day with a ‘peak’ on Tuesday; the day when Gordon Brown did his ‘big speech’ to conference. Looks like activity diminished somewhat on Wednesday and Thursday – and indeed, recalling the news coverage at the time there was talk of the conference ‘going a bit flat’.
Looking at the daily volume of Tweets tagged #cpc09 is a bit more surprising. Day 2 (Monday) was the day Boris Johnson ‘did his thing’ and William Hague gave a keynote. Day 3 was George Osbourne’s Gloomy Day. Day 5 (yesterday) was David Cameron’s ‘big speech’.
Now examine the two charts together
Look at the volumes; only once did the #lab09 tag reach over 3,000 per day; and that was when Gordon Brown spoke. And the daily volumes were consistently larger for #cpc09. Activity levels higher across the piece. And it seems to me, by observation, there seems to be more ‘momentum’ in the #cpc09 hashtag. Certainly, I noted (and Audioboo’d about) the generally less cheerful and relatively more cheerful feels of the Labour conference people I observed versus the Conservative conference people. Note I was just in each city (actually on the Tuesday) and at Fringe events outside the ‘security zone’.
It’s just an observation – and you may have some thoughts
What does it mean? I should add that I’ve looked at hashtag activity extending both sides of the Labour conference and for the run up to the Conservative one. There are no glaringly obvious patterns and, in any event I have produced comparable stats on the same chart scales for each conference.
I’m still thinking about what, if anything, this analysis tells us. It could be that the volume of #cpc09 tweets reflects relatively more negative traffic (ie Labour supporters using the hashtag to criticise the Tory conference) than is in the #lab09 Tweetstream. It could just be that the disquiet of the Labour supporters is reflected in their lower use of the #lab09 hashtag – staying quiet rather than Tweeting negative thoughts. Please feel free to comment if you have further thoughts.
Why no #ldc09?
Well, I can’t get back in time as far as the Liberal Democrat conference – Twittersearch says “No older Tweets available” and they’re not there on WTHashtag?! either. Which brings me to a further thought – Tweets are ephemera. they vanish into theether after about 10 days or so as I understand it. However their nature Which, will, I think, become an issue if Twitter starts to have an impact on the political process . . .
Because it should have been #ldconf
Thanks to Tory Bear for pointing out my error, and also, see his comment below. My reading (such as it is) of the Tweetstream from #cpc09 does tally with his view.
So here we have the Tweets from the Liberal Democrat conference alongside the Labour and Tory ones (it’s not quite midnight oil burning yet . . ).
The choice of hashtag is a bit odd, I think – not including the year does not follow ‘best emerging practice’ such as it is. I wonder, to what extent, the choice of this hashtag was really planned?
Now for the timeseries data, shown on the same scale as #lab09 and cpc09 above. At this scale, the detail is not apparent – and when I look at the numbers, the daily volumes vary from about 700 Tweets per day (Shall I define a new unit – Tpd?) to 900 Tpd. So the idea tha the Lib Dems are somehow more sociable and chatty does not seem to be borne out by the evidence.
Endnote: You can find my other material on the conference fringe events on the Amplified09 website:
I made a few notes in realtime of the #media140 gathering on 8 October. Ande says he brought together the UK press and media in May to talk about the impact of Twitter on the media and to raise money for Mencap. He seems to have hit on a big theme and is surprised by how it’s taken off.
“It’s grown organically and it’s bigger than I ever thought it would be”
“We’ve got a globe that rotates and this thing drops in![cheers]”
Looking at about 10,000 uniques in 37 days. Ande is going through the Media140 team and talking about the way he’s working with the team and how the blog is working.
Ande says we want to bring together people from across different industries to look at the impact of the social web especially realtime media – and Twitter is very important.
Ande is talking about how rapidly the idea has developed and it’s spread internationally – to Bangalore and Sidney; not what he expected he started it up in May.
Mark Rock from Audioboo gets a mention. Stuart from Sun – a generally good egg (www.sun.com/startups).
Audioboo – Mark Rock
Sees Audioboo as a re-invention of radio news designed for a world enabled by Twitter. It’s about trust. Audioboo is a tool to promote trust and authenticity.
“We’re not going to allow editing – it’s not about that”
Last week’s elections and the political fallout have placed in context, for me, the event I went to at the Frontline Club on 28 May about how the Internet might play a part in the next election. The participants were:
Matthew Macgregor of Blue State Digital (the company that worked for the Obama campaign
I made contemporaneous notes and also some Audioboo content which is available here. A bit of background to the event here:
Everyone in ‘Broadcast Mode’ needs to ‘get with the program’
Iain Dale (pictured left) believes that the internet will impact individual MPs (mostly through revealing things they don’t want revealed I suspect) but that the overall ‘systemic’ effect of the internet will be small.
He agrees that the next General Election will be the first where mobile phones and social media will really begin to play a part and where bloggers will cause changes in the news cycle:
“We get more hits every day than all the 3 main parties put together”
He said referring to the traffic generated by his blog and by Guido Fawkes’.
The problem is the main parties are in ‘Broadcast Mode’ and that given British politics is driven by ‘controlling the message’ the level of interactivity of social media is a challenge. As Matthew Macgregor said “The internet is a tactic not a strategy” and that it lowers the barriers to communication (especially inbound to the Party) but how real is the commitment to ‘openness and transparency’. The reaction of the media to policy discussions driven by social media will, Matthew believes, be instructive; will the shutters come down once the media starts talking about ‘splits’.
“There’s nothing to click on other than ‘Unsubscribe'” – Matthew Macgregor
Alex Smith believes that “The Internet will play a crucial role in the next election” – he mentions viral video and the possibility of debate being shaped by the internet. He argues that the internet has “already effectively removed one of the Prime Minister’s closest political aides” and that the next election will to some extent be driven by stories that will “break on the web”. Alex believes that Paul and Iain have a huge impact on the media cycle and thinks that this will be an important factor. All the panelists agreed that the Internet strategies of the main parties were poor at best.
Boulton’s shock hashtag confession
At one point when talking about social media and the internet Adam Boulton said he didn’t know what a hashtag was (and I don’t think he was joking!) and references to the internet seemed to feel like references to some kind of monolithic bloc. Alex picked up the point that realtime interaction driven by things like Twitter might be important. Adam seemed to think that a Sky news team would always be faster on the ground.
The next Boo starts with the voices of Alex Smith (interesting references to Alan Johnson) and then Iain Dale. I round off with a few thoughts.
The next Boo has ‘reportage’ – skip it if you feel you have enough of a flavour from the text above.
Reflections and implications
The format worked well with a fairly formal panel session followed by various panelists joining tables and moving between courses. The informal part of the event was really good – we had Iain Dale and Alex Smith and the comments and discussion were very engaging.
The event would have been improved by a more discursive (and less ‘Question Time’) approach by the chair. Also, having a chair who seemed quite cheerful to admit that he didn’t ‘get’ the internet seems odd – but then presumably Adam ‘Hashtag’ Boulton was a draw for the ‘punters’ (especially the non-geeks)! All in all though a minor criticism.
There were two main things I took away to think about:
The importance of internet aggregation in realtime and increasing symmetry of communication,
The potential for independent candidates to harness the power of the internet to disintermediate the major parties.
There was a bit of noise on Twitter both during media140 and after it on the extent of ‘obvious stating’ going on at the event. Much of this comment was of a critical nature – ‘they don’t get it'; referring to the somewhat Twitter-sceptical journalists in the room. The bigger players there (Sky and the BBC) indulged in a bit of un-necessary and rather tedious sparring. Both of them, I suppose, feeling secure in their knowledge that their respective ‘market’ power and ‘broadcast’ mode will leave them largely unchanged by the openess and pervasiveness of social media generally and Twitter in particular. Hmmm.
Following media140, I’ve been reading blogs and the press coverage – reportage mostly; who said what and with little commentary or analysis about what it all means. Perhaps it’s too scary for the Potential Legacy Media (currently known as MSM) to think about? And sometimes that means the obvious needs a bit of stating.
As part of the ‘post match’ coverage there was an interesting if largely self-referential segment on pods and blogs on R5Live with journalists and a thoughtful comment from Mark Jones of Reuters who also provided some excellent comment and analysis on his Reuters blog.
I used Audioboo and Scribblelive at the event. I also generated the wordle above based on my liveblog. You can find the liveblog here and ‘hat tips’ to contributors here.
Those of you who liveblog events will know the level of concentration it needs. Using Scribblelive actually increases the level of complexity as you try to bring in other people’s tweets, try to avoid too much duplication (most sole tweeters at events do so in realtime and there’s often duplication in the aggregated stream). Trying to join in, provide some realtime feedback and combine inputs is ‘not for the faint-hearted’ as the Scribblelive people say!
In the next sections, I provide some thoughts on media140 after reflecting on the issues, the coverage and my own liveblog and Audioboos made at the time; I name the presenters in the Audioboos and you can also refer to the Agenda.
The 140 Character story
This panel kept bouncing off the argument – they had a silly discussion about whether Twitter was journalism or not. And we kind of forgot the ‘realtime news’ tagline of the entire event. What was missing for me was:
What the aggregation of information carried across Twitter enables (the analogy from Bill Thompson of the Twitter ‘seismograph’ is insightful);
The speed at which news can propagate through memes and hashtags and the level of self-organisation enabled by this form of cooperative production (Retweets, comments, links to blog posts, realtime and near realtime video streams and websites); and,
The need to filter true signals from the sheer noise and volume of the information available.
Sources, editorial control and workflow
The panel did discuss the risks of ‘opening up’ the news process and the potential impacts on the way news is made and perceived. I wonder what happens to the ‘news cycle’ in a General Election when many of us have access to realtime video production on our mobile phones or can report events directly as they happen over Twitter? We’ll find out soon!
The panel focused on the risks. An example of the risks seems to have been happening while the event was on, but I’m not sure anyone realised it.
Skynews.com used Coveritlive to add a Tweetstream to their site. There seems to have been no filtering so there was lots of spam. And seemingly little editorial control over the Tweets. Just what risks Sky may have been running can be imagined; the links to ‘goldencasinoflash’ could have been links to anything. Anything at all….
My Tweets were being carried live by Skynews also – even though I was effectively doing competing realtime coverage using a rival platform to Sky. I don’t know to what extent there was active editorial control of the Tweetstream – the amount of spam they let through might suggest very little?
One of the few times in the event when the room went really quiet and people listened really hard was when Guy Degen, freelance journalist and a member of the Frontline Club, played some audio and video footage from Tblisi. He was sent there on his own for Deutsche Welle; he had no gear and no time to get any, no crew and used a mobile phone to cover a riot. Frontline indeed.
Kevin Anderson was insightful on the impact of social media on reporting on a roadtrip style assignment in the USA.
Local and human
Local news = newspapers? #fail
Joanne Jacobs ably chaired the final panel session and brought the whole event back pretty much on time so kudos to her. It was an interesting and stimulating panel – and you can pick up some of the flavour of the discussion from pp 6-8 of the liveblog.
Given what’s happening in local and regional news, the discussion after the short presentations seemed to spiral into being about newspapers. But surely local news is going to be much more than papers – but I can see there’s a painful transition to go through for a lot of people. Some of the more ‘gung ho’ social mediarati might like to think about that.
No-one mentioned the ‘backchannel’
The backchannel (what happens in the social media space during an event or presentation) didn’t get a mention.
Here’s an example from media140:
I first came across the backchannel in tech conferences in the USA about 5 years ago – using chat room software over local wireless networks and, in some instances allowing external participants ‘listening-in’ to audio streams to interact with the chat. All these messages were projected on a screen behind the speaker so it was generally impossible both to present to the audience and watch the backchannel at the same time. The backchannel often had more stimulating and interesting stuff on it than was happening on the panel. And dangerous sometimes for both speaker and audience. I remember taking my PowerBook onto the stage and using it in a panel session both to contribute to the backchannel and comment on what other panelists were saying. Apparently, this was unusual at the time. The audience reaction was interesting!
So it seems to me that the Potential Legacy Media faces the same risks as a pompous or tedious speaker in perpetual broadcast mode with an active backchannel. Like a politician giving the answer to a question the interviewer didn’t ask, the risks of audience alienation are high. And when the real backchannel turns against you, as it has for our MPs recently, life can get very unpleasant.
Being Human and Connecting
Jeff Pulver over a quite good Skype video link finished off on an optimistic note. We can move from a position where the one-way broadcast mode can become much more interactive. It has to be more than ‘promotion'; it must be much more about connection. Above all, it’s about being human and taking that humanity with us into social media spaces and connecting.