How to save twitter aka #deardickc

Articles,Networks, Theory, and the Web — Sean Bonner @ 8:14 pm

I’ve been ranting about this on twitter for days, or years if you think about it, but thought it was time to collect some of these thoughts in one place. I purposely didn’t include punctuation in the title of this piece because it could just as easily be “How to save twitter!” as it could be “How to save twitter?” – in fact it might be both.

If you are reading this you likely know about @dickc, CEO of twitter, sending an internal note accepting that twitter is horrible at dealing with abuse and taking ownership of that problem. This of course is a problem that the rest of the world has known about, and has been discussing, for quite some time.

I’m not a twitter employee, investor or anything, so why do I even care? Because I love twitter, or at least I loved it, but it’s been bumming me out a lot recently.

As one of the first 140 people to sign up for twitter, I’ve seen almost every change the site has gone through first hand. Some of those changes were natural evolutions and just made sense – for example getting rid of the “All” feed which showed you every tweet by every user on twitter at once – eventually there were too many people posting too often for this to be useful at all. Similarly the addition of the “Replies” feed where you could see tweets by people talking directly to you rather than having to scroll through the feed comprised of lists of your friends or the aforementioned “All” feed to see if anyone had mentioned you. These were natural evolutions based on how people were using the site. The addition of “replies” changed everything, and overnight a jumbled string of comments turned into conversations you could follow. This little change has irreversibly changed how people communicate online. It’s impossible to downplay the importance of that.

The benefit of enabling conversations came with the side effect of bubbling up comments, or “replies” from people whom the recipient might not already be acquainted. This was a positive thing because it allowed anyone in the world to talk to anyone else, but it was also a negative because it allowed anyone in the world to talk to anyone else. The positive was more immediately apparent than the negative, but it wasn’t long before the negative was impossible to ignore. This was the start of a problem that was never effectively dealt with.

This is a lot of history but I’m getting to a point here so stick with me.

“Verified” accounts were introduced after St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa sued twitter after someone else set up an account in his name, the suit claiming twitter enabled this impersonation. Twitter denied responsibility sticking to their hands off “platform not publisher” approach to dealing with such complaints, but created “verified” accounts as a future solution – so that the public could tell the difference between real and parody accounts. At face value this seems like a viable solution. But it came with problems of it’s own (like new users assuming anyone not verified is fake), the largest however is twitter never publicly disclosed a set of standards or process for people to get their accounts verified. Worse, they quickly turned “Verified accounts” into a marketing product. Celebrities and high profile people who would give this new user class(* I’ll get to this in a minute) validity and value started popping up as twitter hand picked who to give these accounts too. Blue checkmarks became a hot commodity and it wasn’t long before business partners, read that as paying advertisers, ended up with verified accounts as well. As of this moment there are 121,215 verified accounts  (of 288 million users) and a quick scan of that list shows lots of brands, and lots of people associated with those brands, not a lot of people at high risk for impersonation. I clicked 6 or 7 of the most recent names on that list at random and not one of them had over 1000 followers. Meanwhile a guy who was on the original team that built twitter, the guy who started #hashtags and people with tens of thousands of followers aren’t. Hell even current twitter employees who are followed by the CEO aren’t verified.

I think we can all agree “verified” has nothing to do with how high someone’s profile is, or if twitter is assured the person is who they claim to be. Just sayin’.

It’s pretty obvious that twitter has felt that brands and businesses are their primary customer for quite some time. Which might be true, but only because they’ve never offered a way for people to be customers as well. Giving people access to their ad platform which is 100% designed for businesses doesn’t really count. The mistake here is assuming that their primary customers were their primary users. Or even should be. Individual people far out number the brands on twitter, and this is a loyal resource that twitter has been taking for granted. So it’s no surprise that when all efforts are spent to attract brands, people get left behind. Brands don’t harass each other, when all focus is on how to make brands happy, is it any surprise ordinary people fell through the cracks?

I’ve ranted for years about my problems with this system and won’t go back over all those here, suffice to say “verified” implied confirmation of identity when it fact it should have been something like “twitter gold” or “premium.” The manufactured exclusivity made it valuable, but detracted from it’s value. If you know what I mean.

This is actually where I think they made the biggest mistake, and where they can correct it all pretty much overnight.

I mentioned earlier that verified accounts are a user class. This isn’t transparent. To the general public a verified account looks just like any other account with the addition of a blue checkmark. But behind the scenes verified accounts have access to additional tools and filters which are designed specifically to improve the experience. Not the least of which is the ability to ignore everything but other verified accounts. As you can imagine there is very little verified on verified harassment.

So here’s the roadmap:

1. Give up the exclusivity of “verified” and create a transparent process for anyone to prove they are who they say they are and get verified. This isn’t a “real name” policy, it’s a “I’m a real person attached to this account” policy. Essentially letting “verified” be what it was initially promised to be – a way for people to know if the account is actually run by who it says it is.

2. Step 1 in play gives anyone access to these enhanced filters if they want them. Web and mobile should have mirrored features. Right now anyone using the web interface can filter replies to only see messages from people they follow, but they don’t have this option in mobile. Giving everyone all filters on all platforms makes harassment infinitely easier to manage, block and ignore.

3. To compensate for lost revenue from brands by removing the exclusivity of “verified” twitter should introduce paid accounts. Maybe this is tied to the verification process, but web users are far more comfortable with paying for accounts in 2015 than they were in 2006 when twitter launched. We happily pay for accounts all over the web these days so the oft repeated argument that people won’t pay for accounts rings hollow. If verification cost $5 a month, or $20 a year I can’t imagine enough people wouldn’t jump on it to more than cover the difference. In fact, I’d bet this route is way more profitable.

Now this doesn’t solve everything, but it takes some massive steps in the right direction.  I put up Dear Dick C (dot com)  in hopes to bring some attention to this, it worked (sort of) when I tried it with Marissa, so I thought I’d give it a shot again.

Attention Stats and Questions

Followers is a term I’ve never been too comfortable with. It implies acceptance of leadership when in fact it’s more like just half assed interestingness. Am I a follower of someone I “follow” on twitter or am I just curios what they might be thinking about. That’s a pretty big difference. And worse is when followers are called “fans” – just because I “follow” someone doesn’t mean I like them, or am their fan, again I might just be curious about their thought process. I don’t have a better term, but this one is no good either. Anyway, this is all something I think about when people talk about influence and attention online. How much influence does having some number of people’s attention translate to? It’s very hard to say.

For example:

I have 38,781 followers on Google+
I have 11,442 followers on Twitter
I have 2,237 followers on Tumblr
I have 510 subscribers to my mailing list
I have 112 subscribers to my podcast

I have other profiles online but you get the point I’m making I hope.

WTF does that mean? Certainly you can’t add those together as inevitably there is some overlap, and while there are certainly some people following on Google+ who aren’t subscribed to my podcast, it’s probably less likely that many of the podcast subscribers aren’t also following on twitter. Is the difference in numbers due to platform adoption or personal messaging? How many people are actually paying attention to any given thing I post? Accepted wisdom is that all those things should reference each other so people can easily find one or the other, but does that build in some redundancy?

I don’t have answers here, just something I was thinking about and wondering what others thoughts are.

Encryption and Suspicion

Networks, Theory, and the Web,Uncategorized — Sean Bonner @ 6:19 am

Why using encryption is seen as suspicious — the difference between privacy and secrecy.

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(Originally posted on Medium)

Not long ago I discussed some of the steps I was taking to ensure some privacy online and since then have had quite a few conversations with other people about their own efforts to do the same. We most frequently talk about how easy or hard something is to implement and express shared desire to have more of these options baked in as standard features on normal applications used by everyone. If encrypting an email was as easy as CCing some for example, it’s safe to assume more people would encrypt their emails.

These discussions also inevitably note that the simple act of encrypting your email is more likely to draw the attention of folks like the NSA because to some people this is seen as suspicious behavior. But I don’t buy it — if encrypting your email is suspicious that’s only the case because not many people do it, which is only the case because it’s not that easy. And now we’re running in circles. But lets think about this a bit more for a second.

What’s so suspicious about it? (more…)

First 140 People On Twitter

Networks, Theory, and the Web — Sean Bonner @ 10:27 am

(crossposted on Medium)
A conversation on twitter last night reminded me of a list I’d seen compiled many years ago of the first 140 people to sign up for Twitter – known as twttr at that point. The site where the list had been posted was down but thanks to The Wayback Machine I was able to find the list. I thought I’d repost it here just for posterity.

top 6 x 6 following list on Twitter I find this list incredibly fascinating for a number of reasons. We all know what twitter is now, but no one knew what it would be then so if nothing else (with the exception of the people who worked at Odeo) this is a snapshot of a somehow connected (it was invite only) group of people who were willing to try out new things that likely made no sense to them at the time. Who is on the list is just as interesting as who isn’t – and seeing how it spread. Jason Cosper invited me and I invited both Xeni Jardin and Richard Ault who signed up immediately. I recall the first few days much more vividly than I do the following 6 months. Random text messages from people stating that they were making sandwiches or going to the store, and the feeling that this info was probably important in a context I couldn’t quite wrap my head around – which made it exciting. It was also annoying. But it found it’s groove and as I’ve said before the service went on to change my entire world and how I communicate with people, and I’d argue I’m not the only one who feels that way. I can’t imagine a world without Twitter today. And because those first few days and weeks were so new and weird, this list is a bit nostalgic for me. I don’t know how it makes anyone else feel, but like I said I just thought it was worth archiving.

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(Note: Unfortunately it seems that a few people on this list, over the last 7 years, changed their usernames or stopped using them and someone else has snatched those names up. They are obvious when you follow the links below, so this list is more an archive of the names and accounts, no so much the current users.)

(more…)

Message Boards might just be the solution to Comments

In the mid 90’s the community where I spent the most time online was Alen Yen’s ToyboxDX. This site was the epicenter of the Japanese toy collecting world, and naturally in our pre-twitter, pre-blog, pre-social networking world, the message board there was where all the action was. This was also a pre-wikipedia world so research was much trickier and that message board was invaluable for those of us trying to figure out what toys which companies released and when. I still have good friends who I first met soaking up details about rare chogokin and sofubi there. We had built a vintage toy nerd utopia… and then the Transformers kids showed up with their unrefined discussion about toys made in the 80’s. People threatened to leave the site because it had become a cesspool of US released plastic toy talk. It was a nightmare as you can imagine.

Until someone had an idea – what if, all Field of Dreams style – we could build something for those Transformers dorks that would be more appealing to them and would get them out of our faces. We made a special “Transformers” section of the message board (along with an “off topic” ghetto) and instantly the problem was solved and the classic toy threads returned to their previous unmolested toysnob glory.

In the years since then I’ve thought about this strategy time and time again when working with communities online. Adjusting where someone hangs out is easier than adjusting how they hang out. It’s not about getting someone to talk about something else, rather finding the right place for what they want to talk about. (more…)

Encryption and Privacy – What I’m Using

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[Originally posted on Medium] Can you imagine if an email program shipped today without a “reply all” feature? Or a browser shipping without tabs? It’s a crazy prospect because those things are used so frequently used, to not include them would ensure instant death for this new software. I’ve often complained publicly that privacy and encryption tools aren’t thought to be just as crucial, and expressed some annoyance that developers don’t consider them mandatory. Afterall, if these options were baked in and simple people would use them all the time, right? Or at least much more frequently. Recently a friend threw this back at me and asked if we, all of us, are not to blame for these things having a low priority because we neither use them regularly nor demand their inclusion in our software?

I initially objected to this idea, but the more I thought about it the more it rang true. Saying “it’s too hard to use so I’m not going to bother using it” doesn’t provide any motivation for people to make it easier because hell, people aren’t using them anyway. On the other hand if people used these things regularly and “how hard it is” became a common gripe, then making it easier would suddenly be very attractive. Looking at it this way, maybe we really do only have ourselves to blame that these technologies and assurances aren’t ubiqitus. And when faced with a realization like that, I always feel like I have to at least try.

So I spent a few days looking back over the tools I’ve used in the past, the tools I want to use now and bringing things a bit more up to date. There’s always a balance between convenience and usefulness because I know myself and if something is a pain in the ass I’ll eventually stop using it. So one of my main criteria here is that is has to be easy to use, even if there are a few hoops to jump through in the initial set up stages. I’m a Mac users and do a lot of my work in the browser so I have a preference for tools that “just work.”

As I have these conversations with others from time to time, I thought I’d share what I found and what I implemented so that perhaps others might find something useful in the mix. I don’t pretend to be an expert here and welcome suggestions for improvement. (more…)

Introductions: The Art of Curating People

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(I initially published this piece on Medium)

Over the years I’ve often found myself in the situation of knowing two awesome people who didn’t previously know each other, and been lucky enough to put them together and see even more awesomeness result from that new connection. I’ve done this enough that from time to time people have referred to me as a hub that connects a bunch of spokes. I blame my short attention span on the fact that I’ve got a foothold in a number of different networks – technology, art, music, etc… – which helps out here as well. To skip to the point, I like connecting people.

Now I should point out immediately that I don’t just connect anyone and everyone, and this is where the “art of curation” business comes in. I could be mistaken, but I think I have a pretty good sense of what people are doing and where they might click and I take considerable care on who and how I introduce people. You’ll see why that is important in a moment. So of course, in thinking about introducing people, how you do that becomes ultimately important. In this, as with many other things in my life, I think about what I like, what works for me, and then try to apply that outward.

What I like: When someone I know and trust connects me directly to someone else they know and trust, gives context for the introduction (who each of us are, how they know us, why we’re being introducted), and then gets out of the way so that I and my (potential) new friend can chat and see what might come from this. I feel like this is the most natural way to meet someone and interact with them, with the least pressure. The best introductions that have ever been presented to me have happened this way.

What I don’t like: When someone I know puts me in touch with someone, or asks to put me in touch with someone, and then tries to play middle man on all interactions, almost holding the contact for this other person at arms length. Right away I feel pressure to say the right thing, or to jump through someone elses hoops and it becomes very difficult very quickly to interact with this new person. I’ve made a few freinds from this, but more often than not talks never go beyond the initial moderated chats.

What I really, really, really, really don’t like: When someone I may or may not know connects me with someone they may or may not know, gives no context for the introduction and then acts like the three of us are instantly best friends, business partners and possibly lovers. This is awkward on every level, and there’s really no way anyone can walk away from it feeling at all positive. (more…)

Where is my mind

Links & Fun,Networks, Theory, and the Web — Sean Bonner @ 12:59 pm

I’ve been low on motivation and inspiration recently and my creative output has been weak. This is a short term lull I assure you, and I assure me. In the meantime, this is where I spend my time on the internets. as me:

I have a mailing list called Just Another Crowd that I send emails out to from time to time, mostly collected links that I may have posted elsewhere along with some commentary, occasionally more commentary than links. I’m trying to use Path more often too, but that’s really for friends only.

I’m also “behind the curtain” so to speak to various levels on a bunch of projects which you may or may not find interesting:

I have a few other projects that aren’t quite ready for primetime yet. Once they are, I’ll post ‘em.

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