Open letter to a disruptive Twitter user

To the person who decided that he would respond to my Twitter feed today:

Yes, I tweeted on Monday that I had booked tickets to see the new play, Teddy Ferrara, at the Donmar Warehouse. I did so partly because the Donmar’s so small that it can feel that securing a ticket can be an achievement in itself. It was also prompted by the cast including an actress whose work I admire, and whose friendship I feel privileged to enjoy.

So I decided to share with my friends and others who follow me that, at some point in the future, I would be seeing the play.

And yes, I know that the play has LGBT themes. And that perceptions of the play have been decidedly mixed. And that the reasons for the criticisms have varied, from story events to characterisation to dialogue.

I also know that some audience members agree with those reviews. Just as I know that others, including friends of mine who have seen it, disagreed with them.

All of which I am sure I will discuss with those same friends – once I, too, have seen it. After all, talking about the merits of a play before you have experienced anything about it is not the greatest endeavour for anyone concerned.

So I am open to discussing the play.

But not yet.

Continue reading Open letter to a disruptive Twitter user

What to do if your Twitter account is ‘hacked’ – and how to avoid it in the first place

This morning, I received a direct message to my Twitter account. I was initially pleased, as it was from someone I first met through work but hadn’t spoke to in a long time.

Unfortunately, as soon as I saw the content of the message I realised that it wasn’t from him at all, but a computer-generated message.

You look different in this pic http://tinyurl.com/…

The link itself (which for obvious reasons I’m not about to repeat here) led to a web site that was a carbon copy of the twitter.com homepage, complete with login form.

And it’s that last part which is the crucial one. By impersonating a trusted website, it will trick enough people into entering their username and password. And from that, whoever collects that information can do anything they like with your account, from reading potentially sensitive private messages, to sending out DMs or tweets with malicious intent.They could even change your password so that you can’t access your own account. The key is, they will have total access to your account, and can do anything with it – and not only will they not have your own (impeccably high, I’m sure) moral and ethical standards, but it’ll be next to impossible to prove that anything they do wasn’t done by you.

Continue reading What to do if your Twitter account is ‘hacked’ – and how to avoid it in the first place

Dave Lee: Twitter is not a news service

Twitter never lets accuracy and truth get in the way of passing on a line that is guaranteed a few retweets, followed by an irrelevant post on Mashable.

Dave Lee rants (in a good way) about people taking Twitter as a serious source of news. It’s not – it’s more akin to pub conversation, the sort that allows old wive’s tales and silly lies to propagate.

What Twitter for iPhone 3.3 gets wrong

When it comes to iPhone apps, one thing the world definitely does not need more of is Twitter clients. There are so many out there it’s unreal. And as a heavy Twitter user, I’ve tried most, if not all, of them at some point.

I was a loyal user of the paid-for app Tweetie 2 by Atebits, and when Twitter bought it and converted it into a free application, I continued to use it. It seemed to strike the right balance for me of allowing some access to more sophisticated functions, while keeping them unobtrusive when you didn’t need them.

One of the ways it achieved this was by hiding advanced features – picture uploads, autocompletion of @ usernames and #hashtags, location marking, etc. – behind the keyboard. If you clicked the button that displayed the number of characters remaining, the iPhone keyboard would slide down, revealing the additional options.

I suspect that some of these functions were so well hidden that some users didn’t realise they were there at all. Which is why, I’m guessing, that with the latest update, to Twitter for iPhone 3.3, the key ones are now visible as you compose your tweet (compare with this screenshot from GigaOM’s review of Tweetie 2):

Twitter for iPhone's new editing screen, with completions and geotagging

Also previously hidden, the ‘shrink URLs’ option is now an automatic function, with Twitter using its t.co shortening service on the fly. When tweets are displayed, the t.co link is replaced by an abbreviated version of the destination URL, making it easier to spot where people would like to send you should you click on their links.

All this is great. They are gradual refinements that shows that great iPhone design eschews gimmicks in favour of straightforward, simple and practical application.

If only the rest of the app followed the same rules. I’m going to set aside the repeated crashing I had with version 3.3.0 – when it comes to apps that repeatedly crash on startup, I’ve been there, done that, and feel the developers’ pain – and concentrate on some of my bugbears.

Continue reading What Twitter for iPhone 3.3 gets wrong

#Twespians bloggers’ seminar (part 1 of 4)

I’ve been going to Twespians meet ups (or, in the more practical parlance, ‘piss ups’) for some time now. As the name suggests, the meetings are generally for people involved in the performing arts industry who use Twitter. Tonight saw the first of a planned series of events that focusses more seriously on a given topic. And only then goes down the pub.

The theme for the evening was ‘theatre blogging’. Unfortunately, struggles in finding a venue for the serious part meant that this event had to be rescheduled at fairly short notice, so attendance was well down on the initial estimates. However, the four short sessions are potentially interesting to a number of people, so my notes (based on the live tweeting I was doing while others were listening more intently), along with some of my own commentary in italics, are below. (Parts 2 to 4 will follow)

Session 1: The many faces of blogging (@lurkmoophy)

  • Bloggers are becoming as important as ‘traditional’ press in terms of media.
  • Why blog? Amplification of voice, community, inspiration, shared learning, expanding horizons, etc.
  • Differing opinions of theatre bloggers from mainstream critics: “Bloggers don’t have the restraints theatre critics do” (Gardner) vs. “I’m not aware of bloggers championing the important, the new or the unexpected” (Coveney).

Personally I think it’s a bit rich for press critics to imply that they’re the only ones who promote new work. Just as theatre bloggers are incredibly diverse in what they cover rather than being a homogenous mass, many critics rarely go outside the narrow confines of the National and the West End, while others cast their net far wider…

  • Theatre bloggers can broadly be split into three groups: reviewers, those giving opinion & commentary, and theatre companies (with some having a foot in two or three groups rather than just one)
  • Some self-marketing tips: when you’ve posted a new blog entry, as well as publicising links on your Facebook and Twitter feeds, consider a Posterous and/or Tumblr account too. No need to post the whole thing – a short summary and a link will help.
  • If reviewing, absolutely essential that the title of the show and the venue appears in your HTML page title – and ideally the word “review”, too
  • Good semantic markup will help a lot. Not only using <h1>, <h2>, etc., for headings, but microformats, RDFa markup and/or HTML5 microdata. Google’s Rich Snippets – which provide more detailed, structured information in the basic search results – use such markup to discover and track structured information. See Luke’s article on Ubelly.com – “An Introduction to RDFa and the semantic web”

This is a huge subject in itself and is one for the people who enjoy getting their HTML hands dirty. In brief, all three systems referenced above are ways to give search engines additional context for the text you have on your page, from “this string of numbers is a phone number” to “I am giving this production a rating of 4 out of 5”. Microformats markup text using CSS class names, RDFa uses XML attributes, while HTML5 has defined specific new attributes to hold contextual information in a structured way.

  • Where you host your blog can help or harm your credibility. A blog that is created as a subdomain of blogspot.com or wordpress.com can have a harder time gaining credibility than one that has its own domain name
  • When going for a design, nice and/or simple always works best
  • Build a network by intelligently commenting on other people’s blogs

These days, your site will most likely not get any boost to its ranking in search engines purely as a result of you linking to it from your comments elsewhere (so don’t indulge in comment spam!). But those comments will help other humans find your blog, and if they then link to it, those links will help your ranking

  • Be consistent. Consider making yourself a writing template for your reviews – e.g., opening paragraph of context, two paras of talking about the cast, two paras on your personal opinion, conclusion. Your readers will expect a consistency of tone and structure

If you do go for a template approach like this, it goes without saying it should be one that works for you. If nothing else, giving yourself a word count to work to, and relentlessly subediting your work until it fits that word count, will help your writing get much tighter

  • An editor is essential. If you can’t get somebody else to look over your work, you’ll have to wear that hat as well. It can be easier to switch roles if you take a break of half an hour or more between writing your work and then editing it.
  • If you want to be a thought leader in your field, blogging can be extremely useful. For example, @MarcusRomer of Pilot Theatre has done this very effectively
  • For theatre companies, blogging tends to be a value add rather than a solution in its own right. It probably won’t drive ticket sales on its own, but can support other networks and reinforce existing marketing messages
  • Place some thought as to what blogging platform is best for you.
    • Blogger possibly easiest (and tends to rank highly in Google, which owns it), but is the most limited
    • WordPress.com blogs have more modern look, you get more features in the back end, and the option of premium upgrades (although these can mount up)
    • Self-hosted WordPress-powered blogs offer immense flexibility, can be a fully-fledged CMS if need be, but can be a lot more work as you do need to know what you’re doing
    • Posterous and Tumblr have great organic search & virality, but their simplicity can be a downside. They work well as supplements to more fully-functioned blogs
  • When it comes to social media, don’t just join a network (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) because you can. Go where your existing & potential audience is
  • Twitter is for communication & conversation rather than just pushing out notifications. Obey the 80/20 rule – spend 80% of the time conversing & engaging, and people will accept the other 20% being self-promotion
  • Some tools for Twitter include Tweetdeck for managing & monitoring multiple accounts, CoTweet for allowing multiple people access to the same accounts, The Archivist for analysing brand performance, and bit.ly for tracking links and clickthroughs

Session 2 was primarily about SEO, but overlapped with the above points in several places. But that’s for another post. (Update: read part 2, Six tips for great SEO)

The i’s #iTwitter100: generally accurate, but missing the point

The Independent’s 20p little sibling, i, today published its Twitter 100, listing “a definitive who’s who of the UK’s tweet elite.”

As with any top 100 list (e.g., The MediaGuardian 100, or The Stage 100) there’s inevitably a minor flurry of people huffing and puffing about why so-and-so is in the list and they’re not, or why person A is higher than person B. For the most part, the rankings seem to be based upon PeerIndex’s algorithmic evaluation of how each tweeter interacts with their followers, ensuring that the metrics are a little bit more intelligent than just how many followers you have.

Algorithms which take into account engagement rather than link acquisition will always be more useful. And they can act as a source of encouragement, too: demonstrate to people that they will find Twitter more useful not by accumulating more followers, but by entering discourse with the ones you have, and Twitter will be more valuable for everyone.

But generally, the scope of the i’s list, of “all UK Twitter users”, is ultimately too broad to be of any particular value — except, perhaps, to the newspaper itself (some short term publicity) and those who made the cut (some brief ego-plumping). What’s more important for your average Twitter user is connecting with people that matter to them — and I’m not sure that there are many people for whom “based in the UK” is the only criterion for relevance.

PeerIndex’s pages do seem to be rather more intelligent than some of the other Twitter analysis tools I’ve seen. It does at least attempt to quantify not only an overall score for your Twitter account, but tries to identify whether you’re stronger in arts & entertainment coverage than in politics, for example. But still, the sort of metrics PeerIndex provides are better for judging how you are tweeting — and how you could be doing better in terms of engaging with those who follow you — than working out who is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than anybody else.

Such Tweet Sorrow: website-specific theatre that works

I have to admit that when I heard a modern day version of Romeo and Juliet was to be ‘staged’ on Twitter, I was sceptical. Not necessarily that it would be possible to play out a series of characters posting online as if they were real — that has been done before. YouTube had lonelygirl15, which continued for some time before being revealed as fictional. On Twitter itself, the characters behind web-only crime thriller Girl Number 9 conversed with each other in the run-up to the release of the first episode online.

That latter experiment didn’t really work for me, because it involved characters I did not know talking to each other about a crime case I knew even less. As such it proved hard to get drawn in.

And I thought the online Romeo and Juliet, punningly entitled Such Tweet Sorrow, might actually suffer a reverse problem. The story of Verona’s two houses both alike in dignity is so well known that it couldn’t possibly work.

Not for the first time, I was incredibly wrong. Such Tweet Sorrow (aka @Such_Tweet) is an utterly compelling retelling. But the kicker is that for it to work, you have to have it playing alongside your existing Twitter conversations. If you dip in via the official website, it just doesn’t work.

You may have heard of site-specific theatre, a “performance which can only be done in a particular place or site”. Such Tweet Sorrow is the first, truly successful, online version – website-specific theatre.

In its first few days, it was hard to adjust to some of the representations of the characters we know from Shakespeare’s play. Most of the characters’ names have been retained from the original — but apart from Juliet @julietcap16 (and, to a far lesser extent, Romeo, @romeo_mo) none of the characters’ first names really work in a modern context. When was the last time you met a Tybalt (@Tybalt_Cap) or a Mercutio (@mercuteio)?

That disparity, between medieval names and dialogue that fits in naturally with life in 2010 London, provides an initial barrier to suspension of disbelief. Some of the other characters’ integration to the storyline required more massaging. Friar Lawrence becomes @LaurenceFriar (not the most common of surnames), an internet café owner and small-time drug dealer. More successfully, the Nurse becomes Jess, Juliet and Tybalt’s older sister, who had to take on a more matronly role towards her siblings when their mother died ten years ago (explaining her @Jess_nurse username)

And just reading the characters’ tweets, either on the Twitter list page @Such_Tweet/such-tweet-sorrow or on the official website timeline, doesn’t really present the story in the correct light to get over that feeling, because it removes from the narrative the most important aspect of Twitter — that it’s a real time messaging system.

Instead, I elected to follow each of the characters, so that their tweets would show up in my own Twitter timeline, jumbled up amid those of everyone else I follow. It means that events play out at a more believable pace: Romeo had to be coaxed onto Twitter because he was too busy playing an online game with an American girl called Rosaline, and didn’t even show up in the ‘play’ for the first couple of days. A brawl between some of the Capulet and Montague boys saw abuse being hurled long after the event, just as it would in real life.

Throughout Friday, Juliet started to stress about her 16th birthday party that night (coincidentally, the youngest Capulet shares her birthday with the Bard), while the Montague boys debated whether to crash it. It may sound trite, but with events unfolding alongside your own friends planning their own Friday evening jollities, it works surprisingly well.

The story has bled out onto other websites, too, just as non-fictional conversations on Twitter do. Sites devoted to sharing photos and videos via Twitter make regular appearances, while a Tumblr-driven blog provides some insights from @Jago_klepto, a classmate of Juliet’s who provides some additional commentary.

As it stands, Romeo and Juliet spent the night together after bumping into one another at the birthday party, so we can expect the fall-out any day now. Which brings another factor into play. In the latter stages of the play, much of the tragedy comes about through the main characters’ ignorance of the others’ intentions and motivations. Juliet fakes her death; Romeo, believing her dead, poisons himself; a waking Juliet, seeing her dead lover, stabs herself.

Given the way the play has unfolded so far, I feel sure that the people planning Such Tweet Sorrow have worked out how to cope with such big secrets in an arena that is intrinsically open to everyone. It’ll be a test of their creativity, for sure — and if that closing act fails online, it will have an effect on how this venture is remembered. Right now, though, to steal a phrase from one of Shakespeare’s other masterpieces, Such Tweet Sorrow is a palpable hit.

Brevity is the soul of wit, and the bane of the feature writer

I wonder – does nobody buy Sunday papers any more because their contents are drivel, or can those papers only afford to commission drivel because nobody buys them?

Thankfully, the Independent on Sunday puts ‘editor-at-large’ Janet Street Porter’s column online, so we can read it for the cost of what it’s worth — approximately nothing.

I don’t suppose we can blame Street-Porter for the startlingly unoriginal headline, [Twitter ye not, for it will not change the world](http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/janet-street-porter/editoratlarge-twitter-ye-not-for-it-will-not-change-the-world-1772833.html). I mean, it only shows a healthy respect for the oeuvre of Frankie Howerd by the subeditors’ desk, albeit a respect that others [have shown before them](http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/feb/22/wikipedia-internet). However, the resulting spew of words can only be put down to her.

It takes 730 words for Street-Porter to demonstrate that she has no idea what she’s talking about when it comes to internet messaging service [Twitter](http://twitter.com).

> If I want to know whether a show is worth going to at the Edinburgh Festival, or if Bonnie Prince Billy’s latest album is worth buying, I certainly don’t want a 140-character Twitter; I want an intelligent review written in real sentences, not some bastard lingo that’s the ugly love-child of texting and abbreviations.

We can do that. For the Fringe, _The Stage_ is providing notifications of each one of its 350+ reviews through the [@EdinburghStage](http://twitter.com/EdinburghStage) account. Each review is, as Street-Porter requires, intelligently written by one of our six full-time (or a couple of additional, part-time) festival reviewers. The Twitter notification consists of the name of the production, its location and a link to the full review. If there’s room, we also include a short summary of the review but nobody’s under any illusion that this is the review in its entirety.

> Interestingly, teenagers have already sussed Twitter is crap and aren’t taking it up. According to a Nielsen survey, only 16 per cent of the people twittering are under 25, while a whopping 64 per cent are between 25 and 54. The largest group of users are aged 35 to 49 – and that’s enough to deter the young. The use of social networking is already dropping among teenagers as the number of 25-34 year-olds using sites such as Facebook increases. In fact, ITV might have sold Friends Reunited in the nick of time, because at this rate the only people trying to meet up via websites like it will be so middle-aged, dreary and dull that no one will bother logging on.

This is the same Janet Street-Porter who, five years ago, was saying [Yah-boo to the youth cult](http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/janet-street-porter/editoratlarge-yah-boo-to-the-youth-cult-555138.html):

> For a long time now I’ve been writing that this country’s obsession with youth is ludicrous, when it’s the crumblies who have all the power, the disposable income and the ability to vote Labour in or out at the next election.

“Yes, this obsession with youth is disgraceful. Except when I can use it to justify whatever conclusion I’ve decided I need to come to in order to fill this week’s page of newsprint.”

Back to today’s article:

> Twitter panders to all that is shallow and narcissistic in our society, reducing lives and experiences (like childbirth and death) to missives that last even less than the average British male’s attempts at foreplay.

“You see what I did there? A pop at masculinity, by implying every man’s bad in bed, just to prove a point about a service I don’t really understand. What’s that you say? By doing so, I’m being as shallow as I imply Twitter is? The very idea!”

The closing sentiment of Street-Porter’s diatribe really takes the biscuit.

> It makes me angry that we’re so keen to stop talking in sentences, and are swapping having real conversations for knee-jerk reactions. If this is the future for politics, we’re in trouble.

Forgetting, of course, that Twitter is a conversational tool, whose _component elements_ are limited to 140 characters. Those elements can then be built upon to build greater conversations, either on Twitter or diverging off onto blogs, message boards or the real world.

The knee-jerk, of course, is the bread and butter of the newspaper columnist, as shown here. And in an environment where journalists are paid by the word, brevity is far from being the soul of wit: it becomes the enemy of the purse.

To paraphrase Street-Porter herself, if columnists like her are the future for print journalism, no wonder it’s in trouble.