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.

Decennial Blogiverasry–10 Years Later, Why I (Don’t) Blog

May 9, 2005: Early Monday morning I ventured onto Xanga to be one of the cool kids and start my own blog.  While I wrote the majority of my inaugural post on May 8, it hit the interwebs on at 22 minutes past midnight on the 9th.  Today I am ten years and (only) 770 posts later into my blog, still (somewhat) posting.

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Bethany and I back in 2005

It’s a bit surreal to go back and read some of my initial posts, being younger and more naïve about who would actually take the time to write the posts. I started off using my Xanga as most 20-somethings would: as a personal diary to capture my thoughts and post all of the random stuff that I didn’t think would interest anyone.  I’ve always enjoyed writing, but didn’t have a lot of opportunity do it outside of email.  A couple of years and two platforms later, I started to get some Google Juice into my blog and found that when I complained about things, people in similar situations (or perhaps seeking to solve them) would start to respond.  As small as it was, I realized that I started to have a platform.

However over the years, I’ve dwindled in my posting – something I really regret.  Despite multiple attempts to jump-start my blogging cadence, my posting rate sputters out and this blog lies dormant for months on end.  What once started with daily posts turned into goals of posting a few times per week, then at least once a month, with months passing in between posts.  I’m not sure how many people use RSS or blog subscriptions to keep tabs on my blog, but I apologize to those of you that do. I’m sure that you’ve wondered multiple times if my blogging days are over.

The truth is that I still love blogging, still have a lot to share (actually probably more than I did ten years ago), but there are many reasons why blogging has gotten away from me:

The “Time” Factor

Let’s start with the premise: blogging takes a lot of time.  When I’m going strong in my posts, I find that I need to carve out at least a half hour to formulate my thoughts and get things posted.  While I write I start to refine my thoughts, go through revisions and typically won’t hit “publish” until an hour after I started writing.  A decade ago (it’s crazy writing those words), I was able to sacrifice sleep in the name of blogging, but now due to age and commitments, that’s not a sacrifice I’m able to make.  As most parents can attest, once you have kids you’re pretty much tired all the time, looking forward to any rest you can get.  Blogging would often take a back seat.

Work Demands Most of Me

Luckily in the course of ten years, I’ve been fortunate enough to make advancements in my career. Of course that means more responsibility, with an obligation to meet those responsibilities.  While I used to be very successful in compartmentalizing my work and home computer time, I’ve been pretty terrible at doing that lately.  If I do find myself with laptop time on my hands, I usually end up triaging work emails and trying to catch up on loose ends.  This is definitely a good thing, I never would want to be stagnant in my job and I do appreciate the opportunities that I have – it’s just that blogging now goes down another rung in the latter.

Families Are Important

God Bless Bethany, who is always really supportive of my crazy activities. She’s been a saint about being patient and understanding of the nights I’m away from home with my various music projects, volunteer efforts and family and friend commitments.  Nonetheless, I try my hardest to be a good husband and father and give as much time as I can to my deserving family.  The Xbox has now become a video-streaming machine, having last played a game back in 2014.  In the midst of our busy lives with work and other obligations, we take any opportunity we have to spend time as a family and cherish Clara’s childhood.  Being present to your family does take a lot of work, and once again, blogging (rightfully) takes a back seat.

I’m worried what other people will think

There’ve been points in my posts where I’ve shared some very personal and raw reflections on my experiences. In a lot of ways, those are my best posts.  However thanks to Google, Facebook and other social media outlets, my blog has been easier to find and associate it with me.  This gets into my head and causes me to fret about who may stumble onto these posts and what they’ll think.  I’ve always been good about avoid stupid mistakes (in naming names or disparaging situations and people that could result in severe consequences), but oftentimes I to too far in my worry about how posts will be perceived by people who are least likely to read my blog.

I’m too busy doing cool things to write about them

This goes back to the “time” argument, but as I was thinking about this post, I do think I have a lot more cool stuff going on in my life than I did a decade ago, and because of the limited time I just not make the time to share it. This does frustrate me, as I do think there’s a fine balance between living in the moment and not preserving any memories. One of my favorI ite times to blog is when I’m visiting exotic places and having some cool experiences.  I do have a list of blog topics where I want to share some of these things, but next thing you know they’ve occurred six months ago and no longer seem relevant.  Part of me needs to accept that I don’t need to write long essays about each experience, maybe less words will accomplish the same goal – which brings me to the biggest detriment in my blogging career.

Twitter

I jumped onto Twitter pretty early on, back in 2007. For me, Twitter always made sense and it’s still one of the most valuable communication platforms that I use today.  Moreover, Twitter does allow me to express my immediate and raw thoughts, in an easy method that doesn’t require the commitment of a revised essay.  Do I have an opinion about what’s going on?  Can I express it in 2-3 sentences? Can I do it from my phone? Done. 

Did I get to express my full views on the issue? Probably not, but I got the gist of it out, and if I do have more to add I’ll just post another Twitter post.  Whether platforms like Twitter have propagated the “bite-sized communication” movement – for better or for worse – we live in that society today.  The fulfillment I get from self-expression is often satisfied from using Twitter.  If you’re looking for the most accurate and unapologetic depiction of my view of the world, follow me on Twitter.

The problem is that my poor blog has suffered.  There have been times where I’ve tried to port some Twitter posts to my blog, but the two platforms make as much sense as dogs and cats living together.

So thank you for joining in my Blogiversary.  Please accept my apologies and explanation as to why this is not a more significant event, because let’s face it: averaging one post every 21 days isn’t that impressive. However please accept yet another commitment that I’ll keep checking in with my blog when I can and share some cool things that happen to me and my family. Thanks for joining me on this ride, here’s to another 10!

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.

Happy 8th Birthday Twitter – will you please grow up?

Twitter turned eight years old yesterday and offered folks the opportunity to go down memory lane and see their first Tweet.  Over 7 years later, mine is pretty terrible:

I first heard about Twitter through the Boagworld Web Design Podcast, where it was described to me as a networking tool that enables you to keep tabs on acquaintances, with the home page of Twitter asking “What are you doing?” I spent my first few months on Twitter answering that question every time.  Over time my usage of Twitter has changed from being a semi-anonymous brain dump of my rants and ravings (that is until my friends and family discovered the service), to now being a platform for anything I think is remotely clever.  Twitter has also become invaluable when it comes to gaging immediate reactions to any events, having conversations with mutual followers who share my same interests, as well as breaking news in things that I care about.

Out of all the social networks I use (and there’s been many of them over the years), Twitter has been the one that has been most integrated into my daily life.  Every day I have Twitter open in the background on my computer, and Twitter is 2nd on my list of apps that I go to when I have a few minutes to kill on my phone (Instagram is currently the first, but that’s another story).  When Lent came up, giving up Facebook was a realistic option, but it would be a real struggle for me to give up Twitter.  I have a lot of stake in Twitter and want to see it succeed.

That said, Twitter needs to grow the hell up and remember when it came from.

Two weeks ago, MetroTwit, my favorite Twitter client shut themselves down because they became too popular for Twitter.  Back in 2012, Twitter imposed a stupid 100,000 limit against other people’s clients.  Imagine discovering an awesome local band, but when they finally get some exposure and explode in popularity, you’re not allowed to listen to them anymore.  This is essentially what Twitter’s imposed on clients.  If you find an awesome client on your phone, tablet or computer, you better hope you discovered them early, otherwise you’re not going to get much usage.

Twitter is obviously doing this to discourage developers from releasing clients, and driving people to their own official app.  I can appreciate that, and realize that Twitter is a business that needs to make revenue.  The problem is that Twitter didn’t even have official apps when they started and built their popularity on the backs of the very developers that they’re not stabbing.

As I mentioned above, the way I consume Twitter has changed over the year, and it was through some of these apps that inspired this behavior.  Digsby taught me to read Twitter from top to bottom and taught me to read Twitter in a linear fashion, starting 100 posts back and catching up.  MetroTwit was one of the last desktop clients that had the “timeline stays in same position when refreshes”, allowing you to catch up.

This is even more evident in the mobile space, where the Twitter is even more limited. A few months back I moved away from Twicca (which is a great Android App) over to Tweetings , which is a very attractive client.  It’s only a matter of time that a client this awesome will become too popular for it’s own good, and Tweetings will need to raise their price to something outrageous to try to curb development.

Twitter’s definitely entitled to make money, but they’re going about this all wrong.  I’m sure if they imposed a modest fee to exceed the the 100,000 limit, clients can pass that over to their users.  They could require that these clients maintain Twitter’s ad stream. There are a ton of possibilities when it comes to playing together nicely, yet Twitter imposes these draconian policies that make no sense.

So happy birthday Twitter, here’s to maturing.

Friday Tech Roundup, June 21

I’m going to try something new here, and do a little recap of tech news, developments and my take on various tech news stories for the week.

Facebook announces video for Instagram

Normally I detest Facebook’s propensity to blatantly copy features from their competitors, but in the case of of InstaVine and in the interests of having a good video sharing product on Android: good on them!   I may hold a lot of unfair hostility towards Vine, but I can’t get past the terrible first impression they made upon Android users. If you’re going to make users wait for months later than your iOS users, you better make a pretty good first impression – but between the very limited functionality (like not being able to search), the problems with capturing and playing video (audio out of synch) and the lack of worthwhile options (like muting your videos by default): all you did was give me all the more incentive to look forward to something else.

If Twitter seems unwilling or unable to quickly improve their app, I’m more than happy to spend time with an app that can.  Instagram is giving me most of what I’m looking for, with a bigger user base. I’m more than happy to put my video eggs in that basket.  That said, I hope this is a wake up call for Vine and Twitter, as great products come from competition.

 

Feedly updated with Cloud sync and app support ahead of Google Reader shutdown

When Google announced they were shuttering Reader, I remember freaking out as I drove home.  In terms of getting my information: Reader was where I got the majority of my news.  Given that I consume it on multiple computers, my phone and tablet, I was concerned about how I was going to be able to sync my feeds.  I began my quest looking for the replacement, and am happy to be living in the Feedly space.  They’ve really stepped up and have done a great job welcoming Google Reader refugees, and have been very open about their roadmap and where they want their product to go.  They don’t deliver the exact same functionality of Reader (yet), but they are a great alternative that will soon get there.  I previously thought I was going to be counting down the days until Reader was shutdown, but I’ve been so happy with Feedly that I’ve all but forgotten.

 

Falcon Pro removed from Google Play Store

I don’t use Falcon Pro (I’m more of a Twicca man), but this news is distressing nonetheless.  The way Twitter has turned the table against the developers – on whose backs they built their service on – irritates me to no end.  While Twitter’s app has greatly improved, it still lacks a ton of features that their advanced users – who also have used Twitter the longest – count on every day.  By relying on these apps early on, people like me learned how to use Twitter reading from oldest-to-newest, and have come to rely on Twicca for this continued experience.  This back & forth between developers and their apps need to stop. Just be satisfied that 80% of your mobile users are using your app, you don’t want to piss off the other 20% with stupid stuff like this.