Tag Archives: The Internet

Bye For Now, Twitter.

bye, Twitter

I’m not going to write a long thing about Twitter here. It’s been written before, and from Twitter users far more insightful than me (including here and here and here and here, and that’s just a small sample).

But what I will say is: Especially in the last year, I’ve realized that Twitter frequently makes me sad. Or angry. Or frustrated.

I log into Twitter, and I leave mad about the world.

What I loved about Twitter early on was that it helped me discover interesting things to read or watch, and interesting people to talk to. But I don’t feel that way anymore. Right now, when it comes to discovery on the internet, I’m more excited about apps or email newsletters.

So here’s a very quiet goodbye to you, Twitter. Maybe I’ll be back one day. Maybe not.

Anyway, bye for now. Six years is a long time since that first tweet:

That original artwork at top comes via Flickr’s Pete Simon.

We, The News Industry, Are Still Searching For Our Can Opener. But It’s Coming. (Eventually.)

There is a lot of frustration in the news industry right now. We have this amazing distribution system called the web. We’re entering a golden age of storytelling. Every year, more and more people are taking time for stories.

And we’re still not making money.

But consider the following:

The can was invented, and then it took 48 years to invent the can opener, which made the can truly useful.

This is what I’m talking about.

We invented the web. We haven’t figured out how to fully open it up, though.

We’re still learning about this amazing thing we’ve created. What we know is, with the web:

-We can build amazing tools.
-We can build amazing communities.
-We can learn amazing things.

We don’t know much else.

Journalism is searching for this big, magic answer to our problems. We want things fixed now.

They’re not happening now. They’re happening slowly. Eventually.

Not now.

That’s no consolation for the mid-career professionals who are really struggling in today’s journalism market. But its the truth. It’s going to take a long, long time to sort out the business models. Decades, probably.

But we will figure it out. We will invent our can opener.

In the meantime, all of us need to get cracking at this thing we’ve got on the table. We have something wondrous on our hands. It lets us tell amazing stories.

Let’s keep building, let’s keep doing.

We’ve created the can.

Now let’s figure out how to open it up.

This Research Is Really Interesting. The Problem Is, It’s Also Really Old.

Flipboard

The PhD with whom I share an office wall at RJI just published a cool study on how readers react when they stumble across news. In it, she makes a number of really interesting points about serendipity and the news. And before I go any further, I want to say this: Many of the points the study makes seem to be universally true. Points like:

-People like checking the Internet for news when they get bored at work.
-People feel guilty when they waste time reading news on the Internet.
-People read news because they want to be well informed.

But the real meat of the research looks at how readers respond when they stumble upon news. I was excited about this. A real look at how certain mediums — print, or social media, or smartphones — affect the way readers experience a story? Yeah, I’m interested!

Then I read the fine print, and it bums me out. The research is based on interviews with readers in Columbia, MO… in April and May of 2009.

Remember how people consumed news 33 months ago? Facebook and Twitter were wildly different(1). There were no tablets. The iPhone and the App Store were less than a year old.

It’s strange to read a story about modern news serendipity and see more mentions of Yahoo.com’s homepage (4) than Facebook (0), smartphones (0) or tablets (0) combined.(2)

I’m not saying the study is worthless. I’m not saying the study is wrong. In fact, just the opposite: A lot of the points made in the study seem universal and worthy of larger discussion.

My frustration is that the study is based largely on media consumption habits that are three years old, and in Internet time, that’s just a step away from forever. I wish it better reflected how readers consumed news today.

  1. Actual sentence I just dug up from a social media site in July 2009: “We’ve all heard the predictions and discussions from those in the blogosphere around MySpace. However, whether or not you believe that Facebook is going to overthrow MySpace, and Twitter is going to rule over all isn’t really important.”
  2. And this research took place long before Yahoo! really got into serious news reporting, too.

What Happens When You Call Three Airline 1-800 Numbers in One Night… And Then Zappos.

Travel Sponsor: Zappos

So this is the story of how I called three airline customer care numbers in one night — and then Zappos.

And then I understood.

Now, I don’t recommend calling multiple airline customer care hotlines within the span of an hour. They’ll make you mad. At the first airline, it took me 15 minutes to get on the line with someone — and that’s only after pressing every button on my phone five times just to figure out the secret code to get to an actual human. At the second, the customer care rep actually snarled at me over the phone. By the third call, I was numb.

Airlines have gotten pretty good at replicating the in-flight experience over the phone, it seems.

Then I called Zappos. And this is where all the happy-smiling-elves, over-the-rainbow stuff that I’d been hearing about Zappos comes into play.

Last month, I decided to buy two pairs of boots on their site. I found the ones I wanted. Clicked buy. Got the confirmation email that they’d been sent. And for three days, I checked each morning to see when my shoes would be arriving.

I was weirdly excited for these shoes. I’ve never owned a pair of decent boots before. The thought of looking all professional was… kinda cool, actually.

Anyway, it’s Thursday, and I check the UPS site. The package had been delivered, it said. I walked home, walked to my mailbox… and nothing.

I went to my apartment. Nothing sitting on my door.

I took a loop around the apartment building. Then outside.

Nothing.

I call the landlord. Anyplace else I should be checking?

Nothing.

So I call Zappos. And they tell me: Yeah, it’s not all that uncommon that around Christmas that people steal packages. But that’s alright. UPS insures everything we send. When we get your shoes back in stock, we’ll just send you a new pair.

Sweet!

Two weeks pass, and I check the Zappos website. One pair of my shoes is in stock. I give Zappos a call.

Just as before, a human picks up quickly. She’s cheery, pleasant. Even makes small talk about state abbreviations.(1) I tell her about my issue. She looks through it, tells me not to worry about the stolen shoes. Tells me she’s happy to refund the money for the pair of boots that isn’t in stock, and she’ll send me the other boots right away.

And, just for being patient with us: We’re upgrading you to VIP status, so you can get way faster shipping.

Sweet!

I get the confirmation email from Zappos this morning. The boots will be here this very afternoon.

Really sweet!

And this time — I’m not taking any chances. I’m having them shipped to work.

  1. “MO! I’d never heard someone pronounce your state’s abbreviation as a word before!”

Twitter’s Truth Squad.

Here is what happens when I hear about news indirectly — basically, when breaking news gets to me secondhand:

1. I run to a computer.

2. I open up the nearest Twitter client.

3. I search for the news that I’ve just heard and try to find confirmation that it is either true or false.

In short, Twitter is my first source for news verification. It usually has details on an event long before traditional news outlets can get a full story up online.

But consider what happened to me Saturday night. I see this Facebook update from a friend, a Springsteen fan. It says, “RIP Big Man.”

And I immediately log onto Twitter to search for news about Clarence Clemons.

Except — that’s exactly the wrong place to go for something like this. Twitter is where death hoaxes go to really get rolling. On Twitter, someone impersonating @CNN has announced Morgan Freeman’s death. On Twitter, we’ve seen Adam Sandler and Charlie Sheen and even Mick Jagger die, only to find out hours later that they’re actually still alive.

Death hoaxes aren’t even the worst of it. Sometimes, we’ve got news hoaxes going around. Like the one from real Washington Post columnist Mike Wise. Or a new hoax from a guy who claimed to be a college basketball recruiting expert with inside information. Turned out he wasn’t. Didn’t stop his fake news from getting real attention, though.

What I know is this: we need a way to verify these news-related tweets. Twitter took a big step forward when it introduced verified accounts. But it needs to go a leap beyond that, I believe.

So here’s an open call to the Twitter team: Want to make your corner of the Internet one that actually prides itself on accuracy? Want to make your product the thing that people actually trust?

Start verifying tweets.

Not Twitterers (or tweeple, or tweeps). Go verify individual tweets.

And you’re not going to like how I think we should do it:

With humans.

❡❡❡

Hear me out. I’m talking about Twitter, one of the biggest and most powerful news reporting tools on the planet, employing a team of real, actual humans. Humans who make phone calls. Humans who verify information independently, and don’t just Google something to find out if it could be true.

In the past, we called such humans “reporters.” I’d be okay with using that phrasing again.

It’d work like this. Twitter would bring its own team of reporters in house. They’d monitor activity on Twitter. They’d see what’s trending and what’s bubbling just below the surface. And when something big breaks — say, an #RIPBobSaget hashtag — the reporting team would break into action. They’d make calls. They’d independently verify Mr. Saget’s status. If it turns out Mr. Saget was, in fact, not killed in an awful wakeboarding incident in the Swiss Alps, the Twitter team would move to quell the rumor by:

A. Posting a breaking news update at the top of the Twitter page devoted to the hashtag.

B. Creating a push notification specifically targeted to those using the hashtag — or discussing Bob Saget — to inform them of the truth.

That’s the starting place.

❡❡❡

But what if Twitter went further? What if Twitter created a specific channel for breaking news, where it could publish breaking news tweets in real time? Think the Google News homepage mixed with the instant refresh technology of TweetDeck, with all news curated by the Twitter reporters. Wouldn’t that be a must-bookmark?

Think of it this way: Why wouldn’t Twitter HQ want to better utilize Twitter as the breaking news service it already is? Give us headlines. Give us the news ticker, Twitter style. Give us a verified account with trusted, we-actually-made-a-call-and-know-this-to-be-true news. Call it @TruthSquad. Call it @VerifiedNews.(1)

And don’t say it wouldn’t pay for itself. When an earthquake hits Los Angeles, and Twitter’s in-real-time news page is posting links and Twitpics, you don’t think the New York Post would pay $10,000 to get their quake story posted at the top of the Twitter breaking news page? You don’t think they’d like the extra million hits they’d get just from Twitter referrals?(2)

Now, do note: there is no way to verify off-the-record or on-deep-background information passed along from some reporters. If @ESPN says, “Sources tell @ESPN that Michael Jordan will be coming out retirement to play for the Miami Heat,” the Twitter team isn’t going to be able to confirm that. They don’t have ESPN’s sources. But they can confirm certain news.

An official Twitter team of reporters can stop hoaxes. They can get truthful information out to consumers.

They can make Twitter the place for trusted, breaking news.

Traditional media can’t necessarily serve this role as the gatekeeper for real-time truth. Tell me again why can’t Twitter do it itself?

  1. Just don’t try to combine Truth + Twitter, because you’ll end up with something like @truthitter. Not a flattering name.
  2. Speaking of which: Celebrities would also be a great source of income for Twitter. When you crash your car, your insurance company pays to fix the damage. If someone starts a Bob Saget is Dead rumor, why can’t Saget get social media insurance to recoup the damages to his brand name? Pay Twitter a little, and Twitter insures that when false information gets out there, they’ll get the real information into the hands of users who care about celeb news.

What the Death of News Cycles Really Means For Most Humans.

A week ago, Mizzou’s men’s basketball coach, Mike Anderson, left to take the same position at Arkansas. And in the past week, there’s been a lot of speculation about who will become my alma mater’s new head coach. Mizzou went hard after Purdue’s coach, Matt Painter. Today, it looked like MU was going to sign him to a contract. I was following it all on Twitter. I had a column up in TweetDeck delivering every tweet related to Painter. They filed in, sometimes by the second. When the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Painter had agreed to sign with Mizzou, Tiger fans started celebrating. Purdue fans, meanwhile, were pissed. When KOMU-TV in Columbia said the deal was 100% done, things got even more charged. Tweets were tweeted that I wouldn’t want to republish here.

And then, in 20 minutes, it all changed. One Indianapolis outlet reported Painter was staying. Then ESPN said so. Then CBS and FOX Sports. Then Purdue announced, officially, that the contract was done.

The tweets turned around. The Purdue fans were relieved. The Tiger fans were pissed.

After it was all over, I started thinking about a friend of mine, who was on a flight from Chicago to D.C. this afternoon. That’s a two-and-a-half hour flight. In the time between takeoff and landing, he missed an entire stream of emotions and news. While he was in the air, the story went one direction, then 180ed and went the other. The life cycle of the story started and ended in less time than wheels up to wheels down. When he landed, the story was already over. Like, over. Dead. Forgotten. By tomorrow, outside of Columbia, Mo., and West Lafayette, Ind., nobody will pay any attention to what’s just happened. The news will be less than 12 hours old, with emphasis on the old.

❡❡❡

So here’s a thought. It’s not scary or frightening or dangerous to our democracy. But I think it’s something worth considering.

It’s this: We don’t have news cycles anymore. We used to. We had news cycles where topics dominated the news and then faded out in favor of other topics. We had news cycles that lasted long enough for the public to learn about the topics of the day and make decisions about them. We had news cycles where what was in Tuesday’s Washington Post was probably still headline news on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”

We don’t have that anymore. But we did, as recently as a decade ago.

I know, because, well, TV told me so. I was just watching a “West Wing” episode — Season 1, Episode 21: “Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics.” It aired on May 10, 2000. In it, Rob Lowe’s character, Sam Seaborn, is photographed by paparazzi late at night while giving a graduation gift to a friend. The friend happens to be a call girl, and Sam’s a speechwriter for the President. Sam doesn’t see the paparazzi, but he does see a car rush away from the scene, and he’s suspicious. His worried about what a photo could do for the President’s public image. He calls C.J. Cregg, the President’s press secretary, to tell her what he’s seen.

Here’s the conversation that ensues the following morning between Leo McGarry, the President’s chief of staff, and C.J.:

LEO: How do you not tell me until this morning?

C.J.: Leo…

LEO: How do you not call me last night?

C.J.: We didn’t know anything last night.

LEO: Sam called you.

C.J.: That’s right. He met the girl and saw a suspicious car. I’m not going to call up the White House Chief of Staff in the middle of the night because someone started a car.

LEO: C.J., if it was…

C.J.: I was handling it, Leo. It took me three hours to confirm there was a picture, and another hour to find out who has it.

LEO: Who has it?

C.J.: The London Daily Mirror. They paid a waitress friend of hers $50,000 to set it up and confirm that she was a call girl.

LEO: When is it running?

C.J.: It’ll run later today. American press has it tomorrow morning.

In May of 2000, that was a realistic conversation. It wouldn’t be today. The obvious thing is that once the British paper got the photo, they wouldn’t be waiting for the presses. They’d have the photo online, and then everyone would have the photo. You’d wake up and it’d be staring back at you from your Facebook news feed.

There’s one another thing that wouldn’t happen today: If the President’s press secretary was lucky enough to find out in advance about scandalous news — say, if a USDA executive made controversial, on-the-record remarks — the White House would be barely ahead of the news cycle. But mostly, the news cycle is ahead of the actual newsmakers. Something is said, something is known, the public learns of it, the public renders its verdict on the news, and perhaps only then would the C.J. Creggs of the world have a chance to comment on it. The story is revealed in parts, often haltingly, and often without all the details. By the time the full story surfaces, the news cycle is already over.

❡❡❡

So, no, we don’t have news cycles anymore. We have moments. They start and they end faster than we can even process. A government’s overthrown in Egypt; we watch, and we forget. Japan’s hit by a tsunami, and it’s out of the news two weeks later. Libya’s being bombed, Iraq and Afghanistan are still at war, Sudan’s splitting apart, the economy’s slumping, the Chinese are doing God-knows-what with our money, the price of oil is rising, the dollar is falling, the cherry blossoms are blooming and the Nationals still don’t have an Opening Day starter. All moments. There are all these moments happening around us, all in real time, and we’re able to actually watch them pass and disappear behind us. You can sit there at your computer screen and actually watch the moments pass, in one eye and right out of sight.

I know, because today, I sat with a TweetDeck column open for the words “Matt Painter,” and I watched them pass.

It’s sad that that “West Wing” episode is hopelessly antiquated, because it’s only a decade old. Here’s a better example for our modern news cycle. It’s actually a quote from “Top Gun.” It’s from that fight scene at the end of the movie. Tom Cruise has just taken off from the flight deck in the Indian Ocean. Val Kilmer’s going one-on-five versus the Russian MiGs. The captain of the ship wants to launch additional planes into battle. And here’s what he’s told:

Officer: Both catapults are broken, sir.
Stinger: How long will it take?
Officer: It’ll take 10 minutes.
Stinger: Bullshit, 10 minutes! This thing will be over in two minutes! Get on it!

In Internet time, hours feel like days, and days feel like weeks. The web isn’t killing our brains, but it is killing our internal clocks. When the world is on demand, anything delivered less than instantaneously is an eternity.

That’s what we’re up against today. It used to be that there was no time like the present. No longer. Today, there’s only time like the present. If it’s not happening now, it’s barely happening at all.

What we really need to learn is patience. But where will we find the time?

Okay, So Maybe Facebook Commenting Isn’t The Answer For Internet Civility.

All Things D brings word today that Facebook will soon be loaning its commenting system to major media players. For those who believe that commentating systems that use real names — and therefore add some sort of accountability and transparency to the commenting process — are more likely to limit trolls, this seems like a big announcement.

But what I noticed was the note at the bottom of the article: People.com is already using Facebook Comments, says All Things D. So I clicked over there, tabbed over to news and clicked on the first article on the page. Here’s what I found in the comments:

So maybe we need to hold back praise on Facebook Comments for a little while longer. Or at least end this theory that people aren’t afraid to say nasty things even if their names are attached.

Lessons From My (Attempted) Week Without Twitter.


I took the week off from Twitter last week. Not with any real purpose in mind, really. I just didn’t want to tweet, and I thought that maybe, it’d open up some free time for me to read the paper or be productive.

But it didn’t.

I kept checking Twitter — habitually. I keep reading stories on the Internet — habitually. And when I sat down for breakfast, I did so with my laptop in tow.

And habit isn’t really the right word here. It’s ritual now. I have a routine for checking news, and something like last week’s spontaneous break isn’t going to change that.

For proof, see this. And this. And this.

Which is where I started thinking about how we can apply this information to newsrooms.

What news organizations need to do is create stories that demand attention. So much of our media is just noise in the background: TVs on mute, tweets ignored.

It’s why, in the launch of Stry, we put this line in our mission statement: “We’re a news organization that’s not easily distracted.” We’re focused on building a team of reporters who’ll focus on the important issues, not the headlines, and we hope it shows in our stories.

And the lesson for publishers: invest in well-reported, original content. Your readers/viewers/listeners can tell the difference.