Can Smart Filtering Save Both Us And Google Buzz?

Robert Scoble today brought up an interesting idea on one of his postings to Google’s new ‘Buzz’ service:

THE MOST PRODUCTIVE thing I’ve done this week is to use Gmail’s “More Actions/Filter items like these” to rid my inbox of spam and bacon emails, which makes my inbox much more useable.[…] I so want this same feature for Google Buzz. Imagine if you could say “get rid of Scoble anytime he talks about Twitter.” Or, if you could filter out something like any message that includes the words “Tiger Woods.”

Wouldn’t you want this too?

buzzI’ve been thinking about filtering a lot since I became a regular user of Twitter and Friendfeed in 2008/2009. Here is my riff on this question, expanded from my initial comments over on Buzz:

Yes, intelligent filtering is the future. If Google Buzz can pull off per keyword, per user (or per group) filtering, they will win. It is a huge flaw in Twitter that I basically still have to view all (follow) or nothing (unfollow or block) from a given user, and if I choose “all”, then everything arrives with the same priority.

This is simply not how we’re going to overcome information overload. Remember that in an information economy, attention becomes the only scarce resource. So it is worth saving and protecting your attention. On Twitter or any other social media or wider “information stream”-type of service.

(Yes, that includes Email as well. Your email is simply yet another inbound information stream you consume. Sometimes you reply to something, sometimes you forward something.)

Whoever does the best job in helping you to do this has a true business proposition, and will be rewarded by the marketplace. (Here is a nice summation of the problem by Louis Gray in slide deck format.)

Now the reverse case is also important: Per user (or per group) surfacing (“track”) of keywords, that pops items of key interest to you to the top of the heap of your inbound stream, past all others.

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Twitter Tries To Change Retweets, Doesn’t Get The Social In Social Media

A passage from Twitter CEO Evan Williams’ post why the new, formalized Retweet function "works the way it does" shows lack of depth and clarity in Twitter’s thinking about the significance of trying to replace the "Retweet" (RT) forwarding convention, something that arose organically from its community without any assistance by the company whatsoever:

The attribution problem: In order to get rid of the attribution confusion, in your timeline we show the avatar and username of the original author of the tweet—with the person who retweeted it (whom you actually follow) in the metadata underneath. The decision is that this:

…is a better presentation than this:

No fault of @AleciaHuck’s but the first is simply easier to read, and it gives proper credit to @badbanana. Even if you know @AleciaHuck, there’s no benefit to having her picture in there.

 

So here is the big problem: That last half sentence (my BOLD highlight) shows complete ignorance of the way that Twitter works as a social engine and calculus.

Twitter users, whether consciously or not, are with each tweet putting a little bit of previously accrued social capital they have with their "followers" (Twitter users that are subscribed to them) on the line. So the act of forwarding another, often third party user’s tweet is significant in that it is a form of a micro-endorsement for this user that their followers are themselves typically not even subscribed to.

If the text of the forwarded tweet or (in many cases) the link to further content that it contains is ill received, the retweeting user in some sense is held accountable by their followers. At best, only a little bit of "social capital" is deducted, at worst, some will unfollow completely.

The user has put their stamp of approval on the retweeted content, and if it contained a link, it is largely expected that by extension the content at the end of that link was read and approved of as well.

(There are some exceptions to this when the news contained in a tweet is considered "breaking" enough so that the timeliness criterion overrides the need for checking out all of the content at the end of a link first. But, as most Twitter users have discovered before, the risk of forwarding something that turns out to be of questionable quality or outright bogus or even harmful goes up exponentially. "Blind" retweeting of links should be avoided.)

So, because of this micro-endorsement element, a Retweet has always gone well beyond a mere surfacing mechanism. Social media statistician Dan Zarrella in a prescient post a few months ago warned that the proposed RT formalization would do away with this form of social proof inherent in the RT convention ("Using the orig­i­nal poster’s pic & name in my time­line destroys any social proof the ReTweeter may have lent the Tweet.").

Known Avatar = Benefit

Back to the example given in the excerpt, there is in fact a GREAT benefit inherent in the picture/avatar of a user you have been following for any length of time: It is known to you, it is far less of a stranger all things being equal.

You have imbued it in your mind, by way of repetition (active Twitter users may be seeing the profile pictures/avatars of other active followed/friended users hundreds or even many thousands of times), with some trust and social capital.

It has been pointed out by multiple people that the surprise of seeing a "stranger’s" avatar in one’s Twitter inbound stream is downright shocking to some people, so strong is the identification with known people one has been following.

This has been one of the 1st rules of Twitter: You see only who you elect to see (i.e. follow).

If the avatar is now switched out to show that of the original author of the forwarded tweet, this trust is gone, unless the recipients (your followers) also happened to be following that same user. But even if they were, you, the Retweeter, are now cut out of the equation!

The social capital you put on the line is now not really rewarded anymore by having you be clearly associated with the surfacing of the information for the benefit of your followers. This can, especially over time, have several unintended consequences:

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Warning: Before You Do Anything Else, Search!

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, because the topic is so important. Search, in any of its forms, is fast becoming one of THE skills to master for the 21st Century. I first heard Rich Schefren a few years ago at a private conference refer to it as “search literacy”, and the idea has stuck with me ever since:

Given the overwhelming, ever-exponentially-growing flood of information in the age of the Internet, being able to perform sophisticated searches is becoming so important that it isn’t too far-fetched to call it a literacy issue. Without these skills, you are in a sense in danger of becoming functionally illiterate in this brave new world.

Those individuals (and by extension businesses) with advanced search skills will be running circles around those without, because it saves so much time to search intelligently, and because a lot of answers can be found that are simply impossible to find otherwise. In a way, this separation into the search haves and have-nots has already been occurring over the last 5+ years.

And by the way, all of this isn’t simply about Google. Not at all. In a moment, I am going to walk you through a number of examples of advanced searches, and some of the tricks and techniques underlying them. But before I do, let me stress one other thing:

Even if you do only the most simple of "everyday" keyword searches, you are already going in the right direction. In fact, if you aren’t doing it already, make it a point for the next two weeks to stop yourself at every turn and ask: "Could I be doing a search right now to speed this up?"

I think you’ll find that the answer is almost always YES, and that it will be well worth your while to develop this as a new habit (a habit takes about 30 days of repetition to form).

Simply search for everything, and avoid using "manual" searching, i.e. avoid scrolling through documents, web pages, and lists both with your mouse and visually, asf. to find passages/names/etc. you’re looking for. Search options exist in Word, in your browser, on blogs, on Twitter, on Facebook, everywhere. Yet often we don’t use them, and the authors of software/Web tools don’t put sufficient front-and-center emphasis on search capabilities/ease-of-use.

For example, in your browser, never again manually search through long Blog comment threads or other large pages/articles manually, use your browser’s "Find" function and type the first few letters of your name or keyword, etc.

Granted, Gen-Yers on average are likely far ahead of all older generations when it comes to matter-of-cause use of Google, etc., however I doubt that even they know in large numbers about the kind of in depth, advanced search I am about to show you.

General Search Operator Considerations

Let’s first consider the most important search techniques by way of the so-called search operators. These may sometimes be accessible indirectly through a Web form under the heading of "Advanced Search", but originally they represent a kind of mini-programming language for telling the Search Engines what you want them to bring back. (Search Engines from here on shall include the "Search Function" in Web services other than stand-alone search engines.)

These are the "logical"/Boolean operators you may remember from math class or Logic 101 (fun, I know, but you really want to know a leetle bit about this, at least in these practical applications). Why know about these when you could also get most of the same results from using the Advanced Search forms?

Remember, this is about LITERACY. You want to become fluent in a secret language of sorts, and true command and mastery only come from truly delving into the heart of the matter. Plus, you will find that it is almost always faster to type queries into one search box than typing bits and pieces into Advanced Search forms which tend to look a little different for each service.

So let’s get started. I have made all of the examples clickable links, so that you can study the results. All results should be very similar on Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft’s Bing (formerly Live):

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