How to fix Twitter

Over the last 15 years, my affinity for social networks have come and gone, but Twitter has remained largely constant and for the most part, beneficial.  That said, Twitter has some serious wounds that they have yet to address after all of this time.  Twitter does have a tendency to get toxic in its discourse and does seem to often devolve to trolling and harassment.  While Twitter has paid lip service on fixing the issue, boasting about their improved capabilities in reporting and responding to abuse, it doesn’t seem like Twitter has the wherewithal to take the issue head-on.

Twitter’s problem: the blue checkmark

I remember when Twitter started to gain traction beyond the tech community, and you would start to see actual bonafide celebrities gain a massive amount of Twitter followers. Given the skepticism of the platform and its stage of growth, it made perfect sense for Twitter to institute a “verified” certification to help followers distinguish between a real person from a fake or parody account.  However, that blue checkmark has morphed into a validity tracker, a sign of whether someone has “made it” in the zeitgeist of popular culture.

By being secretive about how and which Twitter users get verified, Twitter has enabled the checkmark to become a status symbol, and a clear way of distinguishing who Twitter deems an influencer on their platform. This has resulted in the public developing a belief that verification is a defacto Twitter endorsement of that user on their platform. You see this play out when a celebrity or influencer causes controversy, which is met with an outcry that their verification status should be taken away.

Twitter needs to get back to the basics and impose the original intention of its blue check mark – that the Twitter user is in fact who they claim to be. This is the root of how to fix Twitter.

Step 1: Enable any user to get a blue checkmark

Rather than reserve it for the elite amongst our population, verification should be accessible by anyone. In fact, Twitter should enable users to request verification by collecting a modest fee – say $10-15 – to cover the costs of validating a users identity. As a user who is vested in the platform, I would gladly pay that amount to prove the legitimacy of my accounts identity to the world. In many ways this could enable another revenue stream for the company.

Step 2: Change the platform to ignore mentions and replies by unverified users

Twitter could then alter their interface to toggle between showing mentions/replies/interactions from unverified users. They say that on the Internet, anonymity is a hell of a drug – then enable Twitter users, from celebs to muggles, to choose whether they want to remove anonymity from their engagement. People could even take it a step further and allow their Tweets only to be seen by verified users. There are benefits in Twitter providing access to anonymity (e.g. whistle-blowing, speaking out against an oppressive government), but those that are concerned about trolling and harassment can easily disengage from those that aren’t brave enough to attach their identity to their comments.

Step 3: Ban the disruptive users

I know, they already ban the trolls, especially when they cross the line. Many will turn around and create another account, but this time when they do it, they will permanently lose their access to verification. They will now be relegated to the cesspool of anonymity that can easily be turned off with a toggle of the switch.

I realize this won’t fix all of Twitter’s problems, but I do think it would go a long way of re-establishing credibility within the platform, promote civility among their users, but yet continue to enable the ability to converse, discuss and debate on this public platform.

Please, @jack and the rest of Twitter, democratize the blue checkmark. Oh, and stop being jerks to the app developers that got you where you are today.

Is it time to give up Foursquare?

foursquare

Yesterday turned out to be a pretty busy day for us. In addition go going out to breakfast and running errands, we were also treated to a date night (dinner and a movie).  Ultimately we went to over a half-dozen places, and for each one I neglected to check into Foursquare.

I started using check-in apps back in 2009 with Gowalla. At the time Foursquare was gaining popularity but wasn’t yet on Android at the time. When Foursquare finally released their Android app in 2010, I switched allegiances and was quickly checking in at every place I went. What initially attracted me to Foursquare was their presentation of your statistics.  I loved the gaming aspect of the app: the points you get from checking in and the mayorships you collect.  My whole family and a lot of friends got onto Foursquare, and we had a lot of fun trying to one-up each other in points and check-ins, especially when mayorships were on the lines.

As with all tech startups, Foursquare had to figure out how to generate revenue, and over the years you’ve seen the app design and focus shift from the gaming aspect to trying to become a recommendations engine.  If you look at the app today, the points you get for checking in are no longer display by default, and you have to dig pretty deep in the app to get your mayorships or the scoreboard with your friends.  Whenever you check in anywhere, it doesn’t even tell you who is the mayor or how far away you are from stealing their title.  The news feed showing where your friends last checked in still adds some value, but without the gaming aspects I find myself questioning whether my friends really do care whether I went to the grocery store or gas station.  Part of it is attributed to the fact that my activities are probably a little more mundane now that I have a baby, you don’t see as many bars or restaurants in my feed anymore, but even if I’m somewhere interesting: Foursquare is providing me with little incentive to bust out my phone and check in.

Just like with Twitter, I realize that Foursquare needs to monetize in order to be sustainable – but I don’t understand how you can call yourself a social network when you take out all that is social.  If I want an app that is going to give me good reviews and recommendations, I’ll go over to Yelp or just stick with Google Maps.  I can respect a company trying to pivot, but now Foursquare is pretty much out of bounds.

Enough with the tape delay, CBS!

For someone who loves technology, especially the convenience that the DVR brings, I definitely watch a lot of live television.  An addict of Twitter, I love watching events and watching my stream light up with comments, jokes and discussion around what we just saw.  Broncos games in particular have me hitting “refresh” on my laptop frantically during the whole game.

On last week’s Vergecast, they had a fascinating discussion on this very topic: the relationship between social networks (particularly Twitter) and TV.  They both need each other: Twitter needs to be validated by other businesses, while TV Networks need to give viewers an incentive for people to watch live and immediately participate in the conversation.  It seems that every TV program (or commercial for that matter) is flashing a hashtag or a Twitter name of a personality.

So why the hell does CBS still insist to tape delay live broadcasts?  Two nights ago they aired the Grammys, and while I was watching 60 MInutes my Twitter stream started blowing up with reactions from those watching it in the Eastern and Central time zones.  When the Grammys finally started at 7pm in Mountain Time, my stream became a complete mess, with people reacting to stuff taking place live, now with us in Mountain time reacting to our events.  By the time our friends in the west join in, Twitter is just a cluster at this point.

This wouldn’t bother me so much, except for the fact that CBS and the Grammys disingenuously feature Tweets as a part of their show. Every time LL Cool J came back from a commercial he would read some random (and often crappy) Tweets, with the half the country being denied the opportunity to participate.

I don’t understand why the Grammys and CBS don’t get it.  The Oscars are broadcast live and everyone manages to watch it.  Aside from the Olympics (which still don’t get it), sports are always carried live and people manage to watch them.  Don’t sit there and pretend you’re inviting us to be part of the social media conversation, then turn around and slam the door on half of your viewers.  CBS: why don’t you join us in the 21st century and get with the program?

Facebook Fail: How to ruin a year’s worth of burritos

Ah, Social Media.  Every company wants to get in on the action, using tools like Twitter and Facebook, finding new ways to engage customers and drum up interest for their company.  Some companies do it well, and for others: their good intentions blow up in their faces.  I talked about Motorola’s mismanagement of their Facebook presence, the Denver-metro area Qdoba also now has an unfortunate Facebook story to tell.

Last weekend I got ping’d by a friend on Facebook, who was taking part in a contest put on by Qdoba with the prize of a year’s supply of burritos.  In order to win, Qdoba wanted you to get your friends to “Fan” them on Facebook, then write their name and Qdoba Card # on their wall.  On paper this seems like a great way to build Facebook currency (friends/fans) and drum up buzz for your company.

Introduce the chaotic variable known as the Internet into the equation, and your contest is now FUBAR’d.  While my friend was lobbying people through his Facebook contacts, his two main competitors were packing their own ammunition.  The first is allegedly a “Professional Contest-Player”, and quickly rallied her other “Professional” colleagues on the various contest and giveaway sites (I Googled her name + her card number and got these search results:
QdobaScreen

The other competitor, has some association with ThePensBlog and his plea for help got picked up there, rallying their army and ultimately bringing him the victory.  However, along the way, the blog got wind about the “Professional Contest-Player” and lobbied some attacks in the form of: “Do you hate this bitch’s face already? Want to bring pain to her ego? After the jump, a call to arms.” Of course, when you take prideful Pittsburgh fans and pour gasoline on your story, your commenters are going to light the think of fire with hate and vitriol. Say what you will about “Professionals”, no one deserves the mud this poor girl was slung.

Qdoba’s once great contest idea was fast becoming a platform for slander, so they had no choice, but to post the following on their wall:
QdobaResponse

Of course, you can comment on anyone’s fan page, so the people who were perpetrating this slander were now acting like their candidate was the victim in all of this, and made threats about what would happen if Qdoba didn’t award the contest to him.  Ultimately Qdoba made the most of their bad situation: gave the prize, then awarded the runners up with generous prizes of their own.  Still the proponents of the winner are still whining – nothing like looking a gift-burrito in the mouth.

To be fair to the guy who won, he didn’t make any public disparaging comments about the other contestants.  At the same time, there is definitely an association of guilt, and I’ve always found it fair to judge people based on where/who they build their community.  Responsibility should be taken up, especially since the guy is now 52 burritos richer.

Ultimately I feel bad for Qdoba. We’re all still trying to navigate this social media river, and when you have something like this blow up in your face it doesn’t encourage you to get back on the boat.  They ended up giving away nearly 2 years worth of burritos, and all they have to show for it is a page full of slander and intimidation.

Companies like Qdoba, please don’t lose heart in this. I think if they were go back and do it again, they could have made one tweak to the rules and avoided much of this mess.  Simply add a rule to the effect of “No promotion or lobbying outside of Facebook is allowed. We will be running searches on the leaders and if we find any external lobbying, you will be disqualified.”  I used Google to get that above screen shot, and discovered the blog post by doing a similar search on the winner.  That way you keep your promotional efforts within Facebook (which is what you want), and ensure that your winners are using the same platform to campaign.  People may try the winner’s excuse of “I can’t control what people do”, but let’s be honest: if I wanted to win that badly I’d make damn sure people kept it as word-of-mouth.

So sorry Qdoba, I still think you’re great. Better luck next time!