“Spam, spam, spam, bots and spam”

After getting a ton of uncaught spam on our work’s WordPress site overnight, I did a quick Twitter search to see if the anti-spam filtering by Akismet had been down generally.

Instead, I found that Twitter spambots are now trying to sound more genuine by posting comments about anti-spam measures. Trouble is, they’re all posting the same comment…

Arts 2.0: Twitterstorms and social media stats

My latest Arts 2.0 column for The Stage is online today, reflecting on an eruption of comments on Twitter following agent Stuart Piper’s piece of Wednesday mentioning that some producers are informing themselves of performers’ online footprint.

My first draft of this was absolutely fuming at the sheer stupidity of some people on Twitter. I took most of that out, so that the column could focus on the issues rather than weigh in and get things kicked up again. Of course that does mean that the page views for my column will be rather lower…

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.

I should have taken those odds

At about midday yesterday, I tweeted:

Jedward are performing for Obama later today. What are the odds the UK state visit will start a few hours earlier than originally planned?about 22 hours ago via Twitter for Mac Favorite Retweet Reply

And then it turns out that the President did, in fact, leave Ireland on Monday night, instead of early this morning as planned.

They say it was because of the dust cloud, but I wouldn’t be so sure…

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.

When brevity isn’t everything: The Guardian vs Twitter

One of a number of articles in The Guardian about a Whitehall official’s template document advising on Twitter etiquette for government departments:

> West Bromwich East MP [Tom Watson] spoke out after a Whitehall official wrote a 20-page strategy paper for government departments on how to use the medium, which has a limit of 140 characters per message.
> Even its author, Neil Williams, the head of corporate digital channels at Lord Mandelson’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, admits the 5,382-word official “template” might be regarded as “a bit of over the top”.
> Boasting 36,215 characters and spaces, it would need roughly 259 separate “tweets” to be sent via Twitter.

How dreadful that a style and usage guide is long. Who could possibly conceive of such a thing?

Alan Travis and Haroon Siddique’s article is 1,179 words long. The current print edition of Guardian Style, the newspaper’s stylebook, is 362 pages in length.

Just saying.

Pussy problems, part 2

As well as writing up [the problems with Stuart Jeffries’ factually incorrect G2 article](http://matthewman.net/2009/07/08/stuart-jeffries-mollie-sugden-twitter/) yesterday, I wrote to the letters page of the Guardian to complain.

They have chosen not to publish that letter, but instead have included some discussion of the matter in their regular [Corrections & Clarifications column](http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2009/jul/09/corrections-clarifications):

> A G2 article called the censorship from Twitter of the hashtag (equivalent to a subject line) “Mrs Slocombe’s Pussy” the worst outrage against freedom of expression ever. We should have noted the explanation provided by Biz Stone, the founder of Twitter, for the problem users encountered searching for #MrsSlocombesPussy: a programming bug means that Twitter’s search function does not work on hashtagged words of more than 16 characters. MrsSlocombesPussy is 17 (The strange case of Mrs Slocombe’s vanishing pussy, 8 June, page 15).

Note the wording “We should have noted…”, which implies that mentioning Biz Stone’s comments in Jeffries’ column would have made everything alright. In truth, the whole premise of Jeffries’ piece is flawed, and consequently the whole piece ends up being a work of fiction. There was no intervention from Twitter, there is no censorship issue, and there never has been.

What’s more, currently [the article is _still_ online in its original form](http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/jul/08/twitter-mollie-sugden-mrs-slocombe): no mention is made of the correction. And links to the article are _still_ being cited on Twitter as an example of American prudery. _(see update 2 below)_

Hopefully that’s just an oversight, and Jeffries’ piece of nonsense will either be removed, or have a disclaimer placed on it that’s so large it makes it clear that the content can’t be trusted.

**Update:** The Guardian’s Kevin Anderson, [writing in today’s Technology section](http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/jul/08/hashtags-twitter-spam), gets it right.

**Update 2:** As of 10.30am on Thursday, July 9, [Jeffries’ article](http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/jul/08/twitter-mollie-sugden-mrs-slocombe) is now headed by the correction.