The Retweet Correction

I’ve got an idea for how Twitter should fix the reweet.  Currently there are two ways to reweet (ie repeat a twitter message to share it with your followers) and both are widely used.  This post is not about my personal preference (though for the record I agree with this) but about how to fix the problem that using two different systems amplifies the disadvantages of both.

Briefly, the advantages of the old style reweet is that you can edit to add your own comments.  The advantages of the new style reweet is that you can see the provenance (seeing exactly what was originally said, and when).  You can see who has retweeted you either way (through @replies for the former, through a less obvious dedicated “your tweets, retweeted” page for the latter).

The old style reweet is low-tech: stick RT @originatorsname in front of their tweet, or have your favourite client do that for you.  The new-style was developed by Twitter supported by dedicated API methods.  There’s no way of stopping people using the low-tech old way (and quite right too, since I prefer it) but equally Twitter are unlikely to remove their new version and it’s when both are used that you get the kind of compound disadvantage that is greater than the sum of its parts – for example, a tweet new retweet of an old retweet cannot be traced by the original tweet’s author.

Twitter should evolve their new retweet “feature” into a successor to the old manual retweet which delivers the benefits of the new – essential combining them.  They should do this in much the same way they’ve evolved the user-generated @reply functionality, where building on the convention that replies begin with @usernames they also allow the reply to include a reference to the tweet it is a response to.

Allow us to do an old-style retweet in the sense of quoting the text (allowing us to edit and augment) but include a reference to the original tweet.

Developers would be able to build on the API to allow users to see both the edited and the original tweet, allowing the conversation to develop whilst revealing its provenance. Rather than just seeing a list of who retweeted, originators would be able to see a timeline could showing how the conversation had developed.  And by combining this with the conversation threads the extant reply links allow, developers could present visualisations that map an original tweet with both all the retweets, and the conversations they developed.  This would unlock the value in the connections that retweeting creates.

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The Man Who Didn’t Tweet Twice

When I joined Twitter around 9 months ago, I joined twice.

My rationale for this was that I wanted to use it for creating a network of work contacts and colleagues, and at the same time I saw its potential as a way of conversing with friends, but I was worried that those who followed my “social” tweets (@MrSimonWood) would be turned off by a stream of ed-tech tweets, and that those who were interested in my work (@s_n_wood) would not want to know what I thought of last night’s Doctor Who or who should be leader of the Labour Party.

In retrospect this wasn’t a very good decision, and I don’t think I’d have made it if I’d had a better understanding of how Twitter works.

The problem is that my interests and my work have a huge overlap (not to mention the confusion I cause myself by socialising with friends I’ve met through work!) Increasingly I find I’m having to decide whether to tweet to one account or the other.  I could tweet to both, but then I’d need to change client or cut and paste, and also the people who are following both of me will get it twice.  I’m starting to over-think, and over-complicate communication through Twitter, and that defeats the whole purpose of something that is supposed to be short, easy and instant.

When I chatted to @egrommet some time ago, his advice was to let your followers sort this out (adding that they’ve all got Tweetdeck filters set anyway!)  But I’m not quite ready to deluge @MrSimonWood with conference tweets (I can get quite into live tweeting when I’m at events) so I’m going to use a “live” account (this is something I’ve seen @MikeNolan do very effectively as @MikeNolanLive) for conferences and the like.  However I’m finding it hard to see the benefits of having separate “work” and “social” accounts, whilst I feel I definitely want to avoid become a man who tweets twice.

A merger is in the offing.

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Commenting Should Be More Social, Discuss

When you find a blog post that’s interesting and you are motivated to comment on it, where do you discuss it?  Once upon a time you’d have had the conversation right there, on the site, on that page.  Essentially a one-to-one with the author, other posters reading it might come along and join in (perhaps friends you recommended it to).  Just as likely now, you make your recommendation along with your comment, on Facebook or Twitter, and the discussion kicks off there.

I’ve been looking at commenting systems over the past couple of days.  This is motivated partly by curiosity (a vast number of sites I look at offer login via something called Disqus) and partly because I think it would be neat if the conversations could be brought back together.  Here are some of the advantages systems like IntenseDebate and Disqus (the two of looked at) can offer:

  1. As a commenter you can log in with your WordPress/IntenseDebate/Disqus, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo or OpenID identity.
  2. When you make a comment it can be tweeted out to your followers as well. They’ll see not just a link to the post but also (the first part of) your comment.
  3. Discussion elsewhere (eg. on Twitter) gets pulled back in so everyone reading the post can also see the discussion.
  4. As a commenter you get a lot of control over the information you share about yourself, not just linking to your own website (as is typical on a comment) but also to your social network profiles etc.
  5. As a commenter you get a lot of control over how the comments are displayed to you.
  6. Commenters’ profiles are also linked to all their other comments.  So if someone has said something interesting in response to a post, you can see what else they’ve been reading and what comments they’ve made on it.

There are probably other things, those interested me the most.

There are some alternatives that can do just some of these things, and there are some drawbacks:  There are plugins for WordPress that do 1 & 2.  (And, it turns out, 3).  And the drawback with 6 is that it only applies where the commenter has commented on another blog that also uses the same commenting system (the classic dilemma for social networks/IM systems/mobile phones etc.)

Yesterday the Independent adopted Disqus.  Now, I don’t read the Indy, but it was the final straw that broke the camel’s back.  I installed Disqus on the blog, and it’s there now.  But it might not be in a couple of hours.  There are some niggles, in ascending order of niggliness:

  • Reactions (which I call mentions) didn’t show up at first (though they do now).
  • A comment from 2007 got duplicated (but just the one!)
  • The counter which tells you how many comments (and mentions) there are before you go and look is ALWAYS wrong. Grrrr.
  • And (most seriously) it appears to have borked comments for those viewing the mobile version of the site.

Also I don’t yet know to what extent I’ll be able to style the comments back how I want them (they’re functional and usable, but I want them to fit in with the Little Storping aesthetic!)

I can just switch Disqus off anytime.  All the comments get duplicated into the WordPress system anyway.  So, if I can do 1, 2 and 3 (using the Backtype plugin) how much value should I place on 4, 5 and 6.

Maybe the most important thing is what the users think…  Oh. Ahem. Um, comments, please?

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Rearranging the Dust

I’ve made things look a bit different!

This is partly about aesthetics (if you’re on newer versions of Firefox or Safari it should look nice and curvy) but also about clarity and focus: I’ve tried to bring to the fore the latest content in a range of categories – and media!

A few weeks ago I was out with friends, and one said to me (let us call her Alice) “I had a look at your blog and but I don’t get it”.  She’d been recommended to it by a regular reader but “it seems awfully like a round robin”.  This prompted some reflection on my part, since I know a blog should have purpose, focus, and regularity so that readers know what to expect.

The thing is, I don’t want to have to be restricted in what I post, and I know if I start different blogs (one on the experiences of an amateur gardener, one on my views on Doctor Who, one on whichever locale I happen to be residing in) they’ll just end up festering.  Little Storping, after all, goes through fairly lengthy droughts even though I allow myself to post on just about anything.  So I use categories: and you can follow whichever category you’re interested in through its page or its RSS feed.

So I in this redesign, I’m thinking about how I make it easier for people to follow categories (I’m also thinking about my hierarchy of categories, and how to improve it).  Latest posts grouped by “top” level categories now appear on the front page, and I’ll add links for the RSS feeds very soon.  I’m also going to start tagging: I didn’t used to think this was worth investing the time in, and having not used them I felt reticent about starting.  This is an opportunity to do that!

The sidebar is now purely focused on my latest content: but not just the latest posts on the blog, also my latest photographs (from Flickr), my latest bookmarks (from Delicious) and my latest Tweets (although this has been on the sidebar for a few weeks already!)

To achieve this I’ve been using some new plugins:

  • Category Posts Widget provides the latest posts in each category for the front page (I created several instances: one for each category; I intend to write a widget to do this automatically)
  • Alternate Recent Posts Widget shows the latest posts on the sidebar but excludes those displayed on the page already
  • Flickr Photo Album (with extensive customisation to integrate it with the new theme and Lightbox) displays photo galleries and the latest pics in a sidebar widget
  • Del.icio.us for WordPress Widget pulls in my bookmarks
  • Twitter Tools displays my Twitter feed in the sidebar as well as tweeting each time I publish a new post.

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