Tag Archives: microblogging

Yammer? Really?

ibm-yammer.pngI noticed a bit of an upsurge in followers on Yammer in the past couple of days. Concurrently, I also noticed that there appears to be a campaign on Facebook at the moment reminding folks of the existence of Yammer. It seems as though the campaign is mining my user profile information to identify a company network to advertise at me.

I’m generally an early adopter, as regular readers of my blog will know. I joined Yammer in the initial landrush… but I’ve barely used it, despite a desktop AIR client and an iPhone app being launched to make access and use of the service a lot easier.

What’s the issue? Well, for me, there are two fundamental problems:

  • it’s a service hosted outside of the corporate firewall, and yet encouraging me to write about “what [I’m] working on”. I do realise that some organisations will not have an issue with this, but in our case, I can’t go posting confidential information to servers outside the company. It’s the same reason that we’ve had internal virtual worlds and social computing guidelines for a long time. Ultimately it’s the same reason why we have homegrown internal microblogging options, although we do also use external services like Twitter where confidential information is not at risk (and my preference is to be open by default, and use internal tools only where necessary).
  • it defines a “company” based on email domain. Mine is a country-specific address, so I’ve ended up part of a Yammer community which is only for the UK section of the company. For a worldwide corporation, this defeats the object. Taking a look at Yammer’s pricing options, it looks like they have Silver and Gold paid plans that offer greater control and multiple domains… but I can’t imagine that we’d end up using those options.

I’m not taking potshots at Yammer for the fun of it… I can see that they do have a number of major clients, and when I’ve been to conferences I’ve met some of those who use the service – they’ve seemed happy with it. For me, it’s just not practical. I’m intrigued to note that even with the rush of new sign-ups which I can only assume are driven by the current Facebook advertising campaign, there’s almost no discussion going on in the community, with some people even redirecting folks back to Twitter or our internal tools in their very first posts…

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140 characters – the perfect size

This post will be longer than 140 characters in length

That’s OK though, because it’s a blog post. It’s not a tweet, an SMS, or a status update. It’s designed to be something longer and more in-depth. It’s a place where you the reader, and I as the author, can explore some thoughts in more detail.

140chars

In the past couple of months I’ve detected a number of debates around the “140 character limit” imposed by microblogging. In fact, this “limit” was pretty much invented / pioneered by the darling site of the moment, Twitter.

A few weeks ago, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey spoke at IBM Research in Almaden. During the talk, he described how they arrived at the infamous number of characters in a tweet… I’m paraphrasing here, but feel free to check the video for his exact words:

The maximum in an SMS message is 160 characters before breaking the message, so we took 15 characters for the username, 5 characters for formatting or whatever, and ended up at 140 characters… we wanted to appeal to the lowest common denominator, the cheap $20 Nokia prepay cellphone…

With the runaway success of Twitter, and indeed with the increasing use of cellphones and mobile devices to access websites, the past few years have seen the proliferation of the 140 character status update. There are conferences dedicated to realtime microblogging (and, more specifically, to Twitter) which bear the magic number in their titles. We’ve become used to a more condensed form of communication, cutting out unnecessary words and letters from our online communications, and shortening our URLs.

However, one hundred and forty characters are not enough for everybody.

My friend Andrew frequently complains about the limit. Karl has been known to comment on the restrictions of shorter communications. Luis was famous for his thoughts which often used to run across 3 or 4 separate tweets – I unfollowed him for a while as a result, since he was breaking my preferred “rules”, but he’s better these days… I think he was suffering from email withdrawal :-)

Personally, I think 140 characters is the ideal length for microblog-style status updates.

Readability

For one thing, I’ve found that I’ve become accustomed to scanning realtime feeds from sites like FriendFeed and Facebook, and the short, sharp updates are very easy to read and digest. Almost accidentally, it seems as though @ev and @jack hit upon a length of update which is naturally easy to scan and absorb, without having to really stop, pause, and read. As Stowe Boyd noted back at the Web 2.0 Expo in Berlin last year (and again, I’m paraphrasing), the realtime web is like a continuous river of information, and blogs are becoming the rocks in that river, the places where more considered thoughts can be written and conversations held. Twitter, Friendfeed or whatever else provide, aggregate and prioritise the links and hooks out to the larger chunks of content. The fact that I barely have to pay attention to the stream but can quickly absorb the things that catch my eye enables Ambient Intimacy.

Write-ability

Sending a short status update is quick and easy – it barely takes a moment to type something of that length, and anything longer than 140 can be painful on a smaller mobile device, so it seems to strike a nice balance there. As Ben and Willie have pointed out, learning and adapting to the size constraint can have beneficial effects on the way we communicate in other media, too (my emails have become shorter and crisper, or more often have been replaced by quick IM updates).

On the other hand, there are some downsides to our newly-enforced brevity. Two areas of particular concern to me are the glut of URL shorteners (which may make URLs easier to exchange, but break one of the principles of the web,in my opinion); and the difficulty of archiving and preserving conversations. I wonder whether Google Wave will have an impact on either of those issues. Anyone at Google want to get me on the beta so I can give me opinion on that? ;-)

Flexibility

We’ve basically standardised the length of text updates to a whole bunch of online RESTful web services, making the convergence of clients to support those services much simpler. The mixture of content that can be shared over bite-sized streams of this kind has proven to be remarkable – from newsflashes, location updates, short links to larger articles or image snapshots, to IRC-style conversations and simple status information, and also to automated systems and pinging information between applications. I’ve often wondered whether Twitter is, in fact, the new nervous system of the Internet… and, according to Techcrunch, so have the company’s employees.

Why not make it longer?

The 140 debate became a bit sharper recently, where I commented on some internal tools at work that were using status updates of slightly longer lengths… say, 250 or 500 characters. The argument in favour of those lengths goes that 140 characters is just too short, sometimes. OK, but how is any other arbitrary limit any better? I’d argue that once you get to the 250 character size, I struggle to be able to simply scan through something. I’d also suggest that at 500 characters, you’re at the point of writing a short blog post.

I remember that at the genesis of one of the tools in question, a friend of mine argued for more characters to be allowed so that he could embed HTML tags in his updates. Strange how the huge variety of Twitter clients have managed to evolve rich hyperlinking features without having embedded HTML syntax in the updates, then.

Another of my colleagues suggested that you “need” more than 140 characters for some discussions. OK, but for those discussions you could either turn to IM (for one-to-one conversations) or a blog post, possibly linked to from a microblogging site, for a debate with comments. By the way, those blog posts and comments are likely to be indexed and retained by Google, whereas immediate and more generalised discussions held on a realtime service are still not effectively indexed. If you’re not satisfied with Twitter’s ability to thread and group conversations, there are other tools out there of a similar nature which do have some of those features. Also, if you want to go halfway towards a blog post, but have something to post which is a bit more than a status update, you might consider Tumblr or Posterous.

That was a lot more than 140 characters. Darn it.

(thanks to the always-excellent Geek & Poke for the cartoon used above, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

Say Boo!

If microblogging wasn’t crazy enough… you can now audioboo!

AudioBoo is a free iPhone application linked to a website of the same name. It lets you record short messages and upload them to the site, where people can then comment if they so desire.

I heard about it a few weeks ago, and installed it on my phone, but never actually launched it. It wasn’t until yesterday that my interest was really piqued, when the boys on the Dan Logan Show talked about it (I dropped them an email to tie it in with my RSS chat, since AudioBoo quite naturally provides RSS feeds). I’ve noticed folks like Phil Campbell using it quite a lot too, so while I was waiting for some software to install today I thought I’d actually try it out.

Sign-up was a breeze… I was delighted to find that it autodetected my Gravatar so I didn’t have to upload a profile image to yet another service, and it used the new Twitter OAuth support to link to my Twitter account without needing me to hand over my password. Even better – the audio quality is brilliant, as it records locally on the phone and then gets transferred, rather than being recorded on the server side with all the crackly quality of a phone line. The iPhone app works beautifully, too, as you’d expect. Oh, and you can subscribe to AudioBoo feeds in iTunes, which is pretty neat.

At the moment I can’t see how much I’d use this, but it’s fun. I see via the AudioBoo blog that the Guardian used it to cover the G20 protests in London. Cool idea.

So, your brand is on Twitter!

Hey, well that’s great. Now I can follow you and your company. You could tweet offers, maybe a couple of times a month, and people could interact with you and ask questions about your product and services.

Except… that’s probably not what will happen, is it? I’m guessing you will either tweet very rarely, or tweet a couple of times an hour with marketing messages and links to your website. You probably also won’t respond to anyone who @replies to you. But then… on the other hand… how can you? they are asking a global company about service at a local branch in the UK, it’s probably difficult for you to know what is going on there.

Maybe you’ll follow a bunch of people in an effort to get your follower numbers / apparent “popularity” to go up.

You know what? If you are a brand and you have an account like that, I’m going to filter you out. I don’t have to follow you back, and I don’t have to read your tweets. Quite a challenge, huh – how can you make this stuff work for you? Well – don’t. Make it work for your customers – provide an engaging online presence with which people can really connect. Listen and respond, not just to @replies, but to other comments too (hint: search is your friend).

Another Polish social network – Blip.pl for microblogging

I’ve written before about how I find it fascinating that country-specific social networks and tools exist. I suppose I shouldn’t be so amazed, given that company-specific and other group/interest-specific networks are springing up all around.

My fellow Pole-espoused friend Chris Dalby pointed out blip.pl, which appears to be a Polish-language Twitter clone / microblogging service. I’m already aware of the massive popularity of Nasza Klasa, which is kind of a cross between Friends Reunited and Facebook. There’s also a Polish IM service called Gadu-Gadu. While I don’t think that everyone should be made to speak English, I do find it intriguing that there are so many of these language-specific networks, and that they appear to be profitable or at least able to continue in the face of consolidation – when you look at the fact that a giant like Facebook has a Polish-language setting, for example, it’s interesting to ponder why Nasza Klasa continues to be successful.

(side-note: I heard the interview with Jeff Yasuda, CEO of blip.fm, on net@night episode 91 – he pointed out that there is no relation between blip.tv and blip.fm – now there’s a third blip in the mix!)