Twitter Needs Stronger Conversations, Not Longer Spam

Barrack Obama types in the first presidential Tweet with Twitter Co-Founder Jack Dorsey watching.

The Internet is abuzz about how to fix Twitter. The conversation revolves around the potential expansion of Tweets to as many as 10,000 characters.

It’s a bit of a Trojan horse of a conversation. The real issue is how can Twitter break out of a slump that has the social network stymied with no growth, quarterly losses, and lackluster engagement.

Unfortunately, longer tweets won’t fix the problem. Twitter’s slump revolves around the network’s lack of human connection rather than its format. Specifically, the social network’s problem is a never-ending stream of spammy links and a lack of connectivity to other human beings.

Is It Really News?


Twitter made a decision a long time ago to describe itself as a news service, and a place to find out and discuss what is going on. This was an effort to differentiate it from Facebook and other social networks.

The ongoing news focus came with a price: Sharing stories, news, and content in the form of links. Links to useful information aren’t bad, but what Twitter has become as a result of the links, well, that’s another issue. What many people see in there streams are a series of short (and often poorly written) headlines and comments with links. Rare is the conversation or simple reply.


Many of the links featured in the stream of links don’t expand. Even pictures are shown as links half the time, depending on browser and bandwidth.

Worse, because of the public nature of Twitter, it has become brand marketers and PR folks’ number one or number two go-to-social network to share information. Unfortunately, their idea of information is most people’s idea of spam or just boring content (see content marketing rant).

One could say the same for many of the links shared by everyday users. Some are interesting. Most are not.

Of course, you could say shame on the people who follow these folks. But even the most casual friend seems to use Twitter to 1) drop links and 2) rant or complain. It’s hard to follow no one on Twitter and be a part of any experience.

What Can Be Done?


Twitter’s issue is not maximum tweet length. The way 10k would come across, it would look like any other blog post with a lead and link to the whole thing, so I see no inherent value or detriment. No, the issue is feeling that whenever you log in, you’re just going to be sourced a bunch of spammy links, some pushed by brands, some pushed by users (we’ll call this UG spam for user-generated spam). But can Twitter be saved?

Now you see the wisdom of Facebook, Pinterest and Google+. Each of those networks naturally embeds posts and pics in posts. In the case of Facebook and Google+, their algorithm curates the most “interesting” updates to spare readers from what they may consider to be mundane or spammy.

Daniel Waldman

I asked several people for their suggestions on what could fix Twitter. Some of the answers are embedded throughout the post. One of the most compelling ones was simply making the 140 characters used for text, and have posts show images and stories automatically as embeds sans character count.

I agree with Shireen, but am not sure format is enough to save the day. In comparison to the other social networks, Twitter is not fun very fun or useful in the social context.

The other social networks have function beyond sharing news and ranting about it on the side. They offer unique focus on social functions like family and friends (Fakebook), or business interactionss (LinkedIn), or friends who show and don’t tell much (Instagram), or contacts who share and store useful information (Pinterest), or places where you can avoid public eyes (SnapChat et al).


What does Twitter offer that those networks don’t? News trolls? Publicly quantified pundits? What’s missing is the conversation and interestingness, and that’s what Twitter really needs to restore if it wants to continue to grow and develop. After all, it should be about the people who use it. That’s the way it used to be. Perhaps using some sort of an algorithm to filter the stream is necessary, but that would fly in the face of the social network’s stream ethos.

I don’t pretend to have an answer, but maybe you do. Feel free to weigh in.

The Washington Post Proves You Can’t Trust the Media

News sources today suffer from an accuracy problem. Journalists are under pressure to publish first in a dramatic buzz-worthy way to drive traffic. And there are fewer journalists. Those that remain are younger and less experienced, and they have to produce more content. The end result is an alarming amount of inaccurate stories that are tabloidesque in nature. This is true of small and large media outlets alike, as evidenced by a series of stories produced by the Washington Post‘s sports section in the past two weeks.

Last week a media debacle unfolded for the Washington Nationals, largely created by errant Washington Post articles. The news that Bud Black was hired as the Nationals Manager — a story reported by the Washington Post’s James Wagner and then echoed across every sports rag in the country — was wrong. Instead they hired Dusty Baker.

When the tsunami of reporters descended on the strange twist, they shellacked Nationals ownership for underbidding Black and being only willing to extend a two-year contract at no more than $2 million per year, plus incentives. Leading the charge was the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore (whose Twitter bio reads “Riding the line between honesty and schmucky journalist piling on”), who tarred and feathered the owners as out of touch, insulting, and cheap.

Personally, I thought the coverage was vindictive. Keep in mind Kilgore authored a series of Washington Post “expose” style articles at the end of the season detailing the Nationals horrid downward spiral. Again, ownership and management was tarnished (it’s never the players fault, is it?).

Where the Post Went Wrong


There were two primary points the Post missed in the Bud Black/Dusty Baker story. At issue in the original story were Wagner’s nebulous sources, “according to multiple people familiar with the situation.”

Better sources were needed (says Captain Obvious after the fact). Every sports magazine and news outlet across the country that cited Wagner’s story as the definitive source should be ashamed of their blind shallow reporting.

At the Baker press conference, GM Mike Rizzo stated that he had told reporters that he wouldn’t go to print with the story, but the Post ignored him. Then on a local sports radio show, Rizzo said, “the media jumped the gun.” Dusty Baker said he hadn’t heard from the Nationals at the time the Black story came out, and felt hurt. In hindsight, maybe that was the ultimate sign that the managerial hire wasn’t finished.

An even bigger whiff was the Kilgore article slamming the Lerners’ character for not wanting to hire a manager for more than two years at a $2 million clip. The reason is simple: GM Mike Rizzo’s contract is up at the end of next year. After the horrid Matt Williams debacle, the terrible Papplebon trade, and horrific bullpen and bench moves over the past two years, the Lerners might be losing faith in Rizzo. The 2016 season is a make or break year for Mike Rizzo’s tenure with the Nationals.

Baseball Analyst Steve Phillips, a former general manager, spoke on the 106.7 show Grant and Danny on November 4 (segment 5). Phillips was quick to point out that new GMs don’t like to inherit managers. They hire their own manager as soon as possible. No GM wants to inherit a manager with an odious four or five year contract from his predecessor. So new Nationals Manager Dusty Baker really has one year to save Rizzo’s job, two to save his own.

As for the salary amount, that’s business. And in the end, Baker agreed to the $2 million a year salary plus another $3 million in potential bonuses. If the rate was too low, the position would have been unfulfilled.

Bad Reporting Is the Norm


The past few months of the Washington Post‘s sports coverage reminded me more of the National Enquirer than a storied news outlet. Woodward and Bernstein did not write these pieces. Instead, the articles read more like ESPN gaffes. The 24 hour network has been know to incorrectly publish stories as quickly as possible and ducking responsibility for them.

Poorly researched dramatic news stories are normal now. Reporters are strapped. They have to do more with less, and the end result is increasing errors and over-the-top drama. That’s across all types of media. There are no sacred mastheads anymore. Every outlet has a bias, and most reporters are chumming the social network waters for the most shares.

Blind faith in the media is a mistake. Triangulate sources, and make sure different articles are not citing the same originating story. More than anything, question everything you read and see.

Maybe I am wrong, perhaps the Washington Post printed a retraction on the last page of the sports section at some point over the past week. That’s where such errors are usually buried unnoticed by the masses. Who knows? I don’t read a physical print paper anymore (do you?).

More importantly, are there any trustworthy news sources out there anymore?

Dangers of Algorithmic Sourcing

The increasing pervasiveness of algorithms in everyday life disturbs me.

At the behest of many friends, I finally joined the 500 Pixels community and have begun uploading some of my better photos there for licensing. It’s an awesome place filled with pro photographers competing for the highest scores on their photos.

Yet, scores are determined by the amount of likes, favs and comments you get over a short period of time.

For all intents and purposes, you have a homogenous community of primarily male photographers who are either very good enthusiasts or professionals voting on photos. What gets top ranked? The general popular stream is dominated by surreal landscapes and pics of almost nude models with the occasional wildlife pic thrown in for flavor.

500 Pixels Popular

If you want a top rank of 99 on 500 Pixels, bring epic photoshopped scenes and beautiful scantily clad women. These are amazed photos, and deserved their popular ranking. But you can look at the categories to dig deeper. Some of the lesser ranking photos strike me as a better representation of the many things you can do with a lens (and Photoshop).

Here’s the thing, I stopped posting anything I don’t think can get a peak rating of 80 or higher on 500 Pixels. I just won’t do it. Because I don’t shoot almost naked women for a variety of reasons starting with respecting my peers and wanting to stay married, I post landscapes. Since I shoot more than just landscapes, for that reason alone the site is limiting in its artistic and creative scope.

Algorithmic Determination

Image by aloalo.

Algorithms impact our news choices, too. And our clothing choices. And what we read. And the movies we like.

It seems like algorithms are everywhere. Here are just a few examples:

  • Huffington Post and Mashable sourcing their news based on rising social media memes.
  • Colors and types of shirt you are most likely to buy (based on past purchasing history).
  • Books you should buy on Amazon.
  • Movies and TV programs you are most likely to enjoy on Netflix.

Is this healthy?

It depends. If you like the same type of thing over and over again, then perhaps algorithmic determination is OK.

Afterall, if you participate on the same sites and buy from the same vendors, then your general behavior will match your peers. As such the algorithms are likely to be correct most of the time.

Consider that 60 people eat the same seven meals every week.

Yum, pizza.

Crazy People Like Orange

Image by balotto.

Because I am crazy, five percent of the time I’d like to buy an orange shirt. Yup, it makes my skin look like shit, but I like orange.

Orange was my favorite color as a child. I had orange and green dinosaur wall paper, and one whole wall was painted exclusively orange. I still remember it fondly.

The algorithms don’t know that, but based on what they see online they have predetermined that I will buy black and red and maybe blue. I do like my black T-shirts, but I also like splashes of bright color. And 5% of the time that means I like orange.

What to do?

No Growth


Image via View from the Blue Ridge.

How do things become popular? Someone has to try them first, and then they tell friends. Soon early adopters flock to the product.

Perhaps it becomes popular within a niche community (More surreal interior architecture shots, please). Enough people in the community participate in other social networks, and not just online. Work, family and neighborhoods count, too. People tell their friends, and show them the the new thing they like.

Suddenly, it is safe to try something new. But maybe it won’t be new. Because an algorithm already saw that seven percent of your friends tried something, and it knows you buy items as an early adopter. The site sources you an ad telling you your friends Manny, Moe and Jack bought it already.

Boom! You react and plunk down your credit card.

What’s so daring about that? Where’s the growth?

Cool to be Weird


In a world where anything can be customized to a unique taste, niche stores are popping up all over the Internet to serve the terminally weird. Now it’s cool to be weird.

As database technology becomes cheaper and cheaper, niche stores will be able to serve a customer with algorithmic offerings. Even the daring will find themselves served with the predetermined.

And the algorithms will only get smarter.

How smarter more accessible algorithms impact the inevitable break from the norm remains to be seen. Perhaps that same percentage of the population will be able to resist precision marketing in this form. Or maybe we will all simply accept the endless stream of data driven sales pitches, some subtle, some obvious.

It’s a change that will happen whether we like it or not. The train has left the station.

What do you think?

Beating the Algorithm

Image by MUMA Monash

In the old days of “influencer relations” (you know way back when in 2009), PR professionals targeted the magic middle and top tier bloggers, which triggered larger blog coverage, and then more often than not traditional news media.

Since then digital media companies straddled the space occupied by both traditional journals and the top tier of bloggers. They use algorithms to detect hot news stories before they trend in the blogosphere, then break the news before traditional players and bloggers alike.

Specifically, Mashable, the Huffington Post, Forbes, Google and the others use algorithms listen to chatter on the social web. When hot trends bubble up they source the content provider, assign a reporter, or in the worst cases use narrative science — computer-based news writing — to break the story first.

This effectively takes power away from PR executives to affect the news cycle through traditional influencer outreach, and in turn, empowers the crowd to determine stories.

Some news outlets use the crowd to validate top stories, too. Validation is embodied by shares on social networks and comments.

For example, USA Today features stories on its web properties based on the posts that get shared the most. The old assignment editor loses weight in these scenarios.
Continue reading

Give Them Something to Talk About

The First Presidential Tweet
President Obama and Jack Dorsey at the White House Twitter Town Hall

Everyone talks about relationships and the importance of two-way interaction in social media. Participation is a cornerstone of building strong community presence. But other than core subject matter evangelists, there is only so much you can do to interest people on a dry topic. That’s when you need to give the community something to talk about.

Social means sharing experiences and yes, talking. And frankly, a lot of what businesses and nonprofits have to talk about can put the most lively of children to sleep. How can you turn a dry topic into something a little more meaningful? Here are four ways to go beyond normal day-to-day interaction, and spark dynamic conversations:


If an experience isn’t interesting, an event can be. In fact, events are everything that is social. They give people an opportunity to meet face-to-face, and provide a basis for conversation, networking, and critiques (positive and negative). People love moving the online experience into reality. Further, they like telling their social networks about the events during and after the fact with posts, pictures and updates.

Quality events are a great way to give people something to talk about (hat tip: Kami Huyse, from a recent conversation). They always have been, and the social era only makes them more special and visible.


Find your subject matter to be repetitive and boring? Then dig deeper. Invariably, an organization has statistics and performance information that — if analyzed and extrapolated — can be shared with the larger industry or subject matter related community. Research provides context and a point of interest for folks to talk about, critique and learn from. Hubspot has been a master of this for years.


Maybe you don’t have your own data to share, but there is plenty of external information. Round it up and provide a level of analysis that supersedes the average punditry in your sector. In essence, paint a bigger picture. This is what great bloggers do. Also, if you look at most infographics today, they visualize analysis, sometimes private data, but more often, larger industry trends.

Create the News

This is the hardest of the four suggestions, and the most attention worthy. Do something newsworthy. Not a gimmick, but something substantial. Raise a hundred thousand dollars. Build a company, hire new people, or make a big sale. Invest in a new community, or create different ways to engage your current customers. Create a new product that changes the game. Empower others to do great things through a crowdsourcing initiative.

How do you give your community something to talk about?

Ted Koppel & the Death of Real News

Erin Burnett
Image by S_Mercurier

Today’s oped in the Washington Post by former Nightline Chief Ted Koppel declares the Death of Real News. Prompted by FOX and MSNBC’s clear political views, this piece declares something many have come to know: Our society has lost any resemblance of integrity in its news with very few exceptions. But given who said it — a hard newsman, an elder statesmen of the Golden Era of journalism — it is my feeling that the article will be remembered as a piece that marked a point in time that saw the end of uniform factual journalism across traditional media.

While there are holdouts — PBS, NPR, arguably the New York Times, to some extent the Wall Street Journal, and maybe CNN (at times) — news outlets have lost their soul, their revenue, and real hard journalists. Produced/printed with smaller budgets, younger and less experienced staff, and a hard target towards carving out niche clientele, news outlets opine more than produce facts these days.

“Truth” is not grounded as we have found out over an over again. The noble Fourth Estate has fallen far. “Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s oft-quoted observation that ‘everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,’ seems almost quaint in an environment that flaunts opinions as though they were facts,” said Ted Koppel in his piece.

My Dad was managing editor of the Philadelphia Daily News when I grew up. I ran the halls of that newsroom as a tween. He is still a journalist today (not with PNI anymore), and I have watched him fight for his livelihood as the ad margins shrank, staff was dropped like confetti at a championship game, and the papers sold their souls.

In many ways this downfall has created the opportunity for micromedia to fill its place, bloggers if you would. The Fifth Estate keeps media accountable to some extent, and in other cases it has replaced journalistic ventures with outlets like the Huffington Post and Mashable. But in general, the new media is much more subjective, and less reliable. Worse, we are seeing less blogging as compared to the past, and in some cases, a disintegration of hard hitting conversations.

We are back to the 19th century when many town citizens had a printing press. Learning how to discern quality information is the most important skill set of 21st century. Otherwise, we will be caught in our various echo chambers, chasing the popular myths espoused by our social networks (on and offline).

The battle is not over. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post are planning new electronic pay for content models. It may be time for the tide to turn, or at least become stemmed.

What is clear is the downward spiral of factual journalism has descended to the point of no return. The losses will not be recovered, and new media has reached an unprecedented point of power. We could see another era of factual value, but it won’t feature the powerhouse journalist in its traditional iconic image. Fractured media environments are not likely to consolidate. The real journalists that remain will survive on factual differentiation — an unusual offering in the 21st century media environment.

What do you think about Ted Koppel’s proclamation about the death of real news?