On Engagement and Authority

Since it’s early beginnings, there has been much talk about Twitter’s place in the online media landscape. Questions have been raised over whether it will take over from blogging or if it will become just another messaging service. I think it is important to look at what they both provide to give us a brief glimpse into the future.

Twitter’s beauty lies in it’s simplicity. Friends are easy to come by, do a quick search on a topic you are interested in, find some people that are talking about that topic, follow them and then start the conversation. As time passes and the conversation continues these relationships which started as very tenuous “follows” can blossom in to something more. That is so long as you spend the time actually conversing, rather than spamming them with “Get 200 followers easily” or “I’ve just started playing this cool spy game”.

The barrier to entry to this style of interaction is so low, it is conceivable that you can maintain 200-500 of this style of relationship and as time goes on your followers will grow and the attention each tweet you send will grow. This power to influence a number of people through weight of conversation is engagement. You can engage a huge number of followers in conversation and they will click on your links and retweet you, so long as what you are saying is good.

On the other hand building relationships with blogs is hard. Promoting your finely crafted blogpost to like minded people (presumably bloggers) requires sourcing email addresses and then sending a friendly pointer, or leaving a comment on a number of similar blog posts suggesting they read your post. Neither of these options is particularly good, it makes you feel a bit like a spammer and I’m yet to believe that this method really ends up in an ongoing readership. Basically, blogging lacks what Twitter has in spades. Engagement.

Where it lacks this ability to quickly reach and build a large readership it makes up with being able to say something worthwhile. 140 characters is an extremely short space to write 2 sentences, let alone pose a question and make a compelling argument. This is core of any long form writing, but doesn’t have any sort of comparison in the shorter form of microblogging.

The ability to develop and produce a convincing argument is what writers (and bloggers) apart. This then draws inbound links, that post will then rise up the Google rankings becoming the definitive article for that topic. Much like Wikipedia holds the top spot for so many search term. This propensity to become the definitive resource for a topic is authority.

Authority is something that the temporary nature of Twitter doesn’t allow. The search doesn’t find the most important tweet on the topic, just the most recent. In fact it is very difficult to find something someone tweeted in the past let alone use it as reference.

Each medium has its own benefits and down falls and as someone trying to build a “brand” or “presence” in this world of new media would ignore either at their own peril. Robert Scoble is a perfect example, over the past 6 months he has hardly touched his blog let alone written anything of note while other blogs who haven’t over commited to microblogging have maintained their place in the mindspace of the blogosphere.

Dave Winer’s suggestion of posting every week is a move in the right direction, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. He advocates it primarily because a blog is under your control, it is your place and should be forever. Yet he doesn’t raise the point that you can actually say something worthwhile in a blog post. It is hard to do that in a tweet.

So every Friday, or whenever you have something worth saying post an authoritative blog post, and engage your audience by tweeting about it. They go hand in hand.

Ways to improve TweetDeck

First let me say, I’m still not convinced with Twitter, but I’m using it and I don’t think I’m going to stop any time soon. TweetDeck is the best client I’ve used so far (I’ve only used Twhirl), but there are a few things that annoy me with it. So I’m writing them here in the hope that someone reads them and fixes them.

  • Page up and Page Down don’t work, ever. Either does the other keyboard ways of scrolling, the Google Readeresque “j” key or using the space key to scroll down. This needs to be fixed, soon.
  • When you have scrolled down and come back to the window later, you don’t want to have to scroll all the way back up.
  • There is currently no way to view someone’s profile. What I do at the moment is add a search column for a user, then click on one their username and delete the search column.
  • There is no way to manage your friends/follower list
  • Not really an interface problem, but TweetDeck is THE worst user of memory on my computer. It leaks memory worse than Firefox 2, and that’s saying something. It has such limited functionality that it’s memory foot print should be minimal.

Jabbot: A personal microblogging system

There has been much talk on a variety of blogs demanding a replacement for Twitter. Now having only used Twitter in a very limited and conceited testing way I’m not qualified to speak about all of the features and what the can’t live without features of it are.

I’ve been working on more of a friends-only level of microblogging solution. It operates by monitoring people’s Jabber status and logging them to a viewable webpage, these status lists are then followable with RSS. This project is called Jabbot and there is a test bot currently running, just add test@wakeless.net to your Jabber IM list and then check the webpage at http://dev.wakeless.net/jabbot/ Any status updates you make will show up there. There is also RSS feeds on a per-user basis.

Now this doesn’t seem like anything overly special, just a way of logging people’s status. However this get’s interesting when you log the bot in as yourself, all those people that you already chat with can now update their status and have them sent through to your follow page.

There is obviously a few problems with this as a replacement for Twitter, running a script/bot on your machine isn’t really as turnkey as just adding your account to twitter, however the infrastructure is already in place, every Google Talk user and possibly in the future every Facebook chat user (assuming they become federated which I’m not actually convinced about) will all be “followable”.

This has been banged together while I’ve been learning Python so it might not be the prettiest code. The source code is available, it’s released under GPL. Jabbot-0.1