Category Archives: twitter

I think my RSS news reader is smarter than your Al Gore rhythm

(Sidenote: On, I’ve written about the new Getty embed feature like the one I’ve posted above.)

The Verge has an interesting take on the acquisition earlier this week of the mobile app owned by CNN, Zite, by Flipboard, another app that does the same thing as Zite, but differently and with greater success (apparently).

Here’s a clip from the piece:

“The premise of apps like these is that they will find interesting articles for you that you never would have seen otherwise….And yet for all the millions spent and the machine-learning algorithms that have been built, none of them have improved on the big portals — CNN, The New York Times — or social networks like Twitter or Facebook, which bring you both the news and the conversation happening around it. Newsreading-app developers hire PhDs to do the easiest thing imaginable — find you something interesting on the internet that you haven’t already seen — and then beat you over the head with it, bludgeoning you with an endless barrage of links that never feel half as personalized as they’re made out to be.”

I especially agree with the writer on two things: (1) Twitter does a good job of finding me things I would have missed if I didn’t use Twitter (along with lots of links to cat videos, but still) and (2) I agree with the premise that PhDs don’t seem to be unlocking the secret of relevancy and context necessary to make their algorithms better than what I can hack together with other tools. It’s much like the way advertising “retargeting” algorithms consistently misinterpret why a web user might surf by a product without having any interest in purchasing it).

Where I disagree with the analysis is this: There is a technology that allows people to personalize and customize a flow of news that’s been around since the Mesozoic era of the web. It’s called RSS and is an often misinterpreted part of the infrastructure of the web that enables us to access content as a real-time flow of news, audio, video, etc. (Despite the never-ending predictions that somehow RSS will die, I’ve written before why that’s never going to happen.)

Ironically, the Verge piece not only fails to mention RSS, it fails to even mention that Flipboard is a self-proclaimed RSS newsreader.

But the thing is…

Flipboard, doesn’t look like an RSS newsreader. The vast amount of coverage it has received (and that’s a vast amount) has focused on its user interface that replicates, in skeuomorphic fashion, the conventions of a print magazine, specifically (thus, its name) the virtual flipping of pages.

I’ve always considered it a bit ironic that web-based tech and media writers would buy into the notion that the ability to turn a page is the killer feature of magazines that should be ported over to the web. I would think, rather, that great writing and graphics that work together to tell great stories would be.

Setting the stage for a real showdown

So here we are in 2014 and we’re still looking for ways that the web was supposed to do something promised to us by Al Gore when he invented the internet: Customize and personalize content and deliver it up to us with our morning coffee and toast.

For a moment, I’ll ignore that this blog has 12 years of me talking about this topic and pretend that we are starting out today and no one has ever actually thought of the hundreds of ways that exist for people to do this. In other words, let’s pretend to be like the Verge article.

Let’s make this a show down between what we will pretend are “brand new” personalized, customizable news catching filters created by people who weren’t around for endless iterations of this concept.

Here’s what we can do to test this brand new, never thought of before, “algorithm vs. human” theory.

(1) First, do whatever it is that you do now to catch up on whatever topic you turn to the web for. (Sort of like what scientists might call, “the control.”)

(2) Set up a TweetDeck account (or use the one you already have) for tracking a few hashtags (Here’s how.). If you are willing to spend five minutes learning to do it, set up some lists of Twitter users or topics you’d like to follow.

(3) Set up a Flipboard account (it’s an iPad/iPhone, Android app) and follow the standard instructions of how you should subscribe to the topics. Some of the instructions will result in you subscribing to an RSS feed, but they (wisely, perhaps) have hidden the “how it works” and are focusing on the “what it enables.”

(4) Set up an account on (an RSS newsreader with an interface and instructions you’ll understand that has an app version and is also available in a browser). While there are other new-fangled RSS newsreaders that are far superior to Google’s now defunct newsreader, Feedly is what I use, so I’m most familiar with its strengths and weaknesses.

(5) (Optional) Set up a Zite account (like, Flipboard, an app) and let their algorithms do their magic. It looks like Flipboard but the test is over the algorithm vs. manually choosing news sources.

(6) (Optional) Download the new app from Facebook called Paper and see their version of recommending news stories based on the preferences of people who were your kindergarten classmates.

I know that I’ve already revealed what I think you’ll discover is best among this group for  delivering a consistent flow of the most relevant and personal content, in the most efficient way. I trust the network of smart news catchers I’ve put together manually more than those that aggregate their suggestions by algorithm.

Answer to a question I’ve been asked several times today

clint-eastwoodI have received several questions today related to the unique username I have for Twitter.

Has it ever been the target of a hack similar to one receiving a lot of attention today?

The answer is, “yes,” it has been a target, a successful one. On July 9, 2012.

I recovered the account.

I also decided, at the recommendation of a friend,  to never blog about it, other than to say it happened.

That is all.

From RexBlog, 2008 – Twitter is something you’ll never understand, so stop trying

[Note: I posted this in February, 2008, but it seemed appropriate to rerun it today.]

I’m sorry if you landed here thinking this was going to be a helpful explanation about what Twitter is. I’ve given up on attempting to explain Twitter. And chances are, if you’re someone who wants to understand something by reading about it instead of using it, then you’ll probably never understand it.

Twitter is really easy to explain: You set up an account so people can follow what you have to say via the web or instant messaging or via text-messaging on a mobile phone. Unfortunately, Twitter is apparently incredibly difficult to understand, because any time I explain it, the response is inevitably something like: “Uh, so why would you want people to do that — and why would they care?”

Unlike with some online phenomena, understanding Twitter is not a “generational” thing. Twitter is not one of those fads that caught on among kids that has worked its way up the age-chain. It’s more like Google, in that it started as a drop-dead simple solution to a problem no one knew they had — and has become an obsession with a sub-set of tech-geeks and people obsessed with the nature of online community and conversation (I confess).

My then 16-year-old son was with me last March (note: 2007) at South by Southwest where Twitter first grabbed the attention of the geekorati. He observed the obsession’s ground-zero, but I’m sure he’d echo the quote from the daughter of this NY Times columnist, who says, “I’m looking at the site right now, and I don’t get the point.” Here’s my theory why teenagers don’t get the point: There’s a feature on Facebook called “status updates” that does everything a teenager would care to do with Twitter, so why bother? To high school and college students, Twitter is like Facebook without the dozens of other things they like about Facebook — except on Facebook, your parents can’t follow you if you don’t allow them to. (You can block someone on Twitter or opt to limit the visibility of your message to only those you follow, but the common practice is to allow anyone to become a follower — really, why not?)

I’d feel worse about my inability to convey to others any level of understanding of why Twitter is important but in comparison to some explanations I’ve seen and heard, I do a decent job. But, unfortunately, we all fail because we drift into explaining Twitter by telling how we use it. But the most amazing thing about Twitter is this: everyone uses it differently.

It’s a little like trying to explain the telephone by describing what people talk about on the phone. “Telephones are devices that teenagers use to spread gossip.” “Telephones are the devices people use to contact police when bad things happen.” “Telephones are the devices you use to call the 7-11 to ask if they have Prince Albert in a can.”

Like the Internet itself, Twitter is hard to explain because it doesn’t really have a point. And it has too many points. Here’s what I mean: All it does is provide a common-place to relay short messages to a group of people who agree to receive your messages. Here’s the second part of what i mean: When you stop thinking those short messages aren’t limited to “I’m about to get on the elevator” but can be eye-witness accounts of breaking news stories or bursts of business-critical intelligence, or warnings that a gun-man is loose on campus, or shared conversations about political debates you and your friends are watching on TV, the possibilities of what can be done using Twitter becomes amazingly confusing — I think in a good way. It’s easy to understand something when you think it’s limited to Prince Albert in a can prank calls. It’s more difficult to understand when you start imagining the ways something that’s today more toy than tool can be used to create new models of communication, conversation and community. It’s even more difficult to imagine that something called Twitter will morph into a serious business platform — or that it will one day save lives. But it will.

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On another channel, stuff I’ve written lately

eno loungerI confess. I’ve been a post-slacker on the RexBlog.

However, over on the Hammock blog, I’ve participated in a couple of posts that might interest two or three of the 12 RexBlog readers.

The post called “How Safari’s Shared Links Will Reward Content Your Customers Love” predicts that browsing patterns among non-techie users will change when links from their LinkedIn connections and Twitter subscriptions become a prominent default feature on the browser that accounts for around 10% of the mobile and desktop web traffic. (By the way, this post was from Hammock’s Idea Email that’s gaining popularity and subscribers. You can find back issues and a subscription form here.)

In an accompanying post that I wrote, I share (with a blog-friendly subject line), “5 Ways Savvy Marketers Should Prepare for Safari’s Shared Links.”


People who’ve inspired me during the past 24 hours

I’ve spent over a decade being an active resident of the World Live Web.

During this period, there have been over a decade of natural and man-created tragedies. Yesterday’s Boston Marathon bombing was the most recent of these events that have come to serve as some form of communal inflection points in the evolution of internet-enabled digital media, channels and community.

We’ve all learned that people turn to such communal places as Twitter and Facebook during these tragic events. We all want to express our grief, sorrow or outrage. We want to learn anything we can about friends or loved ones. We want to help.

I’m not always successful, but I try to refrain from tweeting during such an event.  I don’t want to add to the noise when people are looking for information that may help them find out about someone they care about who is in the vicinity of the event.

However, I have two exceptions to this “no tweet” policy:

  1. When the event is taking place in the zipcode from which I’m tweeting.
  2. When someone I know or discover is providing some unique context to the event, whose insight I can relay to a larger audience.

As I said, I’m rarely successful with my “no tweet” policy. I nearly always tweet the concern I feel at the moment.

Click on photo for an interview with Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki about this instantly iconic photo of 78-year-old marathoner Bill Ilfrig and Boston police
Click on photo for an interview with Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki about this instantly iconic photo of 78-year-old marathoner Bill Ilfrig and Boston police.

During the past 24 hours, I’ve seen and heard a lot of amazing and inspiring things on the World Live Web. I can’t recall an event, short of an Olympics opening, that had so many people witnessing it with smart phone and video camera in hand.

I wanted to make note in this post of a couple of the most inspiring things I’ve encountered, despite their reaching instant event-related trend status, and it’s likely you’ve also seen them.

Both of them inspire me — and will for many years to come. (I love being inspired by people far older than myself, as it gives me hope that I can be like them when I reach that age.)

First, my newest hero: Bill Iffrig. He’s the man in the photo above, the iconic image that captures the confusion and dis-connect to the seconds right after the explosion. Bill is the 78-year-old runner who was knocked over by the explosion a few feet from the finish line. Bill is the 78-year-old runner who stood back up and made his way across the finish line.

The next man who inspired me yesterday passed away ten years ago at the age of 75. I had never heard this quote from Mr. Rogers, however. I will remember it for the rest of my life.:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’

(I’m not sure how long this video will remain online, but it’s a video of Mr. Rogers sharing this thought.)