Tag Archives: Twitter

Are your friends a filter or a firehose? Some musings on Twitter and FriendFeed

I was playing around with FriendFeed – again – and not seeing the point – again, when a thought came to me which I think encapsulates why I don’t get on with it, and why, in fact, I’ll never get on with it.

To start with, consider that social networks like FriendFeed, Twitter and Facebook are all being required to perform a very similar sort of task. The end product is a set of links, comments and conversations which should be relevant to me. That’s the key thing: Social networks should ensure, somehow, that things which reach me are relevant to me.

In FriendFeed, “friends” are actually a firehose. They’re the raw, unedited stream of information, which you then apply all the powerful filtering and management tools that FriendFeed has to. The end product, if you’ve set up your filters right, is all the stuff from that firehose that’s relevant to you.

That’s why FriendFeed perfectly suits Robert Scoble, who is, if he’ll forgive the phrase, the master of the firehose. Robert currently follows over 24,000 people on FriendFeed, and a lot of groups (which means he gets stuff from lots of people he’s not even following). That’s a firehose of information. The filtering, for him, comes after that – not before.

But there’s a different way of performing the same process: Make your friends the filter. On Twitter, I currently follow around 300 people, most of whom I either know from meatspace, have sparred with online for a while, or who are names within my industry who I trust.

Having a selection criteria, rather than just following anyone and everyone, turns my friends into my filter. I trust them to bring me information that’s important: I don’t need to filter them, because they never turn into a firehose.

This is why I look at FriendFeed and go “Huh?”. My friends, my human editors and curators of information, accomplish the same thing as the filtering tools in FriendFeed – they bring me information that’s important to me, filtering our crud. I don’t see that Patrick Swayze has (not) died: I do see the price and release date of the Palm Pre.

The question of which is a better approach makes no sense. For Robert, FriendFeed does the job. He wants to be able to take that firehose, slice and dice the massive stream of data that flows out of it, and find interesting stuff. FriendFeed is a data analysis tool, with “friends” as the source of the data.

My approach works for me. It brings me the information that’s important to me, in a timely fashion, because my human editors act as a filter, not a firehose. The big pool of data is their experiences, their lives, and they filter that for me.

Which approach will win out? Neither. I suspect that the firehose will be more popular with a small crew of geeks, while the “friends-as-filter” will prove to be more popular with everyone else. But we’ll see.

(Photo by Seattle Municipal Archives – http://flic.kr/p/59nVfL)

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Twitter as super-fast news network: Get over yourself!

Regarding the new API from The Guardian (which looks rather neat), one of my friends Twittered this:

“Twitter fastest with the news, even in their building. Reading about the product online before they’ve announced it in the room!”

At which point, to my shame, I lost my Twitter-temper:

“Oh yawn. Can we not just get over the “fastest with the news” thing? Who gives a shit?”

Now in fact, my friend was joking – but I didn’t get the joke, mainly because I’m a humourless git I’ve heard the same thing said completely seriously far too often. Every news event, no matter how serious or trivial, seems to get as many Twitter posts saying “Wow, Twitters way ahead of mainstream media again!” as you get proper information.

Seriously, people need to get over themselves. It matters not one jot whether I hear about some new toy five minutes before people not on Twitter. In fact, for 99.9% of world events – even the huge, serious ones – it makes absolutely zero difference to me if I find out about it the day after. And, unless you’re actually a news journalist who makes a living from “the now”, it almost certainly matters not one jot too.

Of course, if I read about it the day after, I’m likely to get some actual real information (rather than “breaking news” retweets) and some critical and interesting perspective. That is far more valuable to me than instant “news” in less than 140 characters.

And, if you came to this post from the link I’ve posted to Twitter – haven’t you got anything more important to do with your life right this minute? Did you really need to read this right now?

Print is dying, right? Not so fast

Don’t expect this story to get coverage from those who always seem to be claiming that print media is dying. The Economist, the venerable newspaper (which looks like a magazine) has seen revenues, profits and print circulation all rise:

"The Economist Group’s chief executive, Helen Alexander, has signed off from her 11-year leadership of the publisher by unveiling a 16pc rise in American print advertising for its flagship title and a 23pc increase in operating profit.

The Economist’s double-digit growth comes at a time when US news media have been under pressure. Time magazine, the market leader with 3.3m readers, saw sales fall away sharply last year as prices were increased to make up for falling advertising revenues… The Economist’s circulation has doubled in a decade, including a 9pc spurt last year to 1.3m copies a week."

Of course, some of those healthy profits have to do with The Economist’s web site. But even here, it bucks the trend: rather than make everything available for free, its archives are only available to subscribers or readers who have to sit through an irritating Flash ad.

Of course, The Economist’s print strategy is simple: steal a bigger slice of the smaller pie. Rather than just run to a growing market (online advertising), it has decided to also concentrate on getting a bigger share of print advertising, too.

How does it do it? Simple: By producing content that’s better quality, better-researched, and better written than anyone else. No blogs, no Twitter, just better (and harder) work.

Will the success story of The Economist be taught in journalism schools? I doubt it. The new, shiny and cool tends to be more exciting to those in college than dull stuff like writing to a tight style, making lots of phone calls and nurturing contacts.

But hey, that’s enough of this curmudgeonliness – let’s concentrate on things like Twitter, which has a bigger user-base (1.9 million) and has never made a single cent from any of them. Now that’s a success story that the young ought to emulate…