What’s Twitter, and why I love it

If you work in an environment filled with friendly, fascinating people, where you continually hear about exciting news (local, online, and around the world), and you are encouraged to be witty and playful, then you don’t need Twitter.

If you work in an environment filled with friendly, fascinating people, where you continually hear about exciting news (local, online, and around the world), and you are encouraged to be witty and playful, then you don’t need Twitter.

However, I work in a cubicle in my house (really — I had a surplus Herman Miller cubicle installed here) and the cats have their limitations as colleagues.

Thus, five or six times a day, I Twitter. I take a look at what people are saying, throw in some of my own teasers, check “@” replies, answer publicly posted questions, and look at private “direct mail” I receive. My Twitter breaks correspond to the pattern I followed when I worked in a traditional office: Greet people on arrival, mid-morning coffee break, lunch, mid-afternoon break, and departure in the evening. The one addition is that I’m likely to check Twitter once or twice in the evening — by which time most of us are talking about what we’re cooking for dinner or what activities we’re up to (shopping, yoga, classes, crafts, dealing with the kids, etc.)

Who, you might ask, are these people I’m Twittering with? Well, unlike the real office where you are usually stuck with a few folks you don’t want to deal with, on Twitter you hear only from the people you want to hear from — you select the individuals you follow.

I’ve selected colleagues from my past jobs in tech, clients and colleagues from my current SEO work, leaders in the Seattle social media and blogging field, some belly dance, yoga, and fitness folks, and — here’s the twist — their friends. This “second tier” of Twitter is where it gets really interesting. I see my friends commenting on other people’s remarks, and I get curious about the other people, who often get curious about me, and the next thing I know we’re exchanging tips on everything from cooking to software. Or meeting in Ballard for lunch.

Twitter is also a great way of keeping up on what’s going on with friends from out of town. This way you don’t end up finding out, months after the fact, that they’ve changed jobs, moved, or split up with their significant others. You pick it up on Twitter, and can jump in with an appropriate private direct message.

I most often use Twitter from a web browser, but there are a variety of third party apps that let you read and post Tweets from a smart phone. (This list includes desktop widgets and smart phone apps.) I use PocketTweets but also use Twinkle, an app that lets me see other Twitter/Twinkle users within 1 mile, 2 miles, 5 miles (you get it) from wherever I am. It’s fun during an event (such as Folklife) or when you’re traveling. Or during a snowstorm, when you want to know what’s open in the neighborhood.

Yes, some people do take Twitter a bit too seriously. Some try to game it as a social networking tool, posting a bunch of marketing messages thinly disguised as clever repartee. (It’s like having a colleague at work suddenly launch into an attempt to recruit you into their religion, or sell you Amway products.) Fortunately, Twitter makes it very easy to “unfollow” these folks. And I do. (I’m not selective about who follows me, but Twitter offers a blocking tool for people who are.)

The competitive types get all excited about Twitter Grader, which ranks your influence within the Twitter community. I don’t know what the grading algorithm is, but I suspect it looks primarily at the quality of your followers (how long they’ve been on Twitter, how often they post, and how many followers they have).

There’s a trend towards merging all your online communications into one dashboard, so you’ll see people having their Tweets appear on their blogs, or on Facebook. That’s too large, and too uncontrolled an audience for me. What happens on Twitter, stays on Twitter, as far as I’m concerned.

Warm wishes for the holidays

The winter holidays are pretty much contiguous this year, which means we can light our menorahs, Christmas trees, and Yule logs all at the same time.

I like it — this feeling of everything all together.

In the 60s people talked about “integration.” In the 80s, it was “celebrating the differences.” Now you hear words like “transparency,” “remix,” and “mashup.” Whether it’s done carefully and intentionally, or it just happens, it’s all about the blurring of what once were differences — differences between our work lives and home lives, our public activities and our private activities, and even elements of our identities, such as race, ethnicity, and age.

Of course there’s are frightening aspects associated with this feeling of everything coming together. People of my generation were educated to think that things were better off clearly defined, categorized, and controlled. This wasn’t the best preparation for a world that now prizes the abilities to perceive connections, to keep moving forward despite ambiguity, and to monitor fast-moving, continuous feedback loops. Problem-solving has become more important than problem-prevention.

Interestingly, the new ways of thinking, and the new technologies inextricably mixed with them, are leading people to revisit older ways of doing things. Many of these old ways pre-date my generation and pertain more to my grandparents’ lives: eating locally grown food, and appreciating the aesthetics of handmade crafts. Many of the younger people I work with in the tech field are enthusiastic gardeners, knitters, cooks, musicians, and do-it-yourselfers.

The more I explore the new, and revisit the old, the more I enjoy myself! I can’t always control the long-term outcomes, but I can, each day, control the steps I take toward my goals. I think often of Steve Jobs’ assertion that “the journey is, and will continue to be, the reward.”

My best wishes to you for a happy and healthy year; one in which the rewards of the journey are many.

Web content: We’re (probably) doin’ it wrong

This piece by Kristina Halvorson on A List Apart raises some excellent issues about web content strategy. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it unflinchingly describes some of the problems with the content a lot of us are involved in producing. And it reminds us of the tools we could employ to do it better.

That said, the sites that I find produce outstanding content (Twitter.com, LinkedIn, FaceBook) don’t seem to be doing it by systematically leveraging the content-related disciplines this article describes. They’re doing it by first breaking a lot of rules to create a unique web service, and then evolving based on the way that users and third parties make use of their innovative structures.

Of course, very few of us are developing content for a Twitter.com or a LinkedIn. We’re working on more traditional sites we’d like to see do a better job for both organizations and users. For us, Halvorson has an important message:

“But until we commit to treating content as a critical asset worthy of strategic planning and meaningful investment, we’ll continue to churn out worthless content in reaction to unmeasured requests. We’ll keep trying to fit words, audio, graphics, and video into page templates that weren’t truly designed with our business’s real-world content requirements in mind. Our customers still won’t find what they’re looking for. And we’ll keep failing to publish useful, usable content that people actually care about.”

Losing sight of the fax? Not yet.

When was the last time you faxed something?

I quit struggling with the blankety-blank cheap fax machine in the den a couple of years ago, and finally unplugged it last summer when it began making strange grumbling sounds. The convenience of sending something out (after the machine had grabbed and mangled multiple pages a few times) was offset by a constant, noisy, influx of junk faxes. I doubt had received a legitimate fax on the machine in more than five years.

But now I have a corporate client whose client base doesn’t use email. I needed to send drafts of text to some of those folks for their approvals, and the 20-something-degree weather did not encourage me to go tripping off to the local fax place.
So…hello RingCentral.
I checked various Mac forums for info on Mac-friendly online fax services (I do not want another piece of anything requiring a cable anywhere near my desk, thank you) and RingCentral got the nod from MyOnlineFaxMachine.com as being the most friendly for sending faxes. (It also receives them, but I hope I won’t have to deal with that; the approvals get faxed back to my corporate client.)
MyOnlineFaxMachine provides a  30-day free trial of RingCentral (and some of the other services), after which the plan is $10 a month. I am very happy to report that setting up the service and sending the faxes was painless.

Amusing advice to people who aren’t listening

I’ve been known to dish out advice (no, really!) and I’m aware that the people it’s aimed likely aren’t listening. And those who are listening are probably the folks who don’t need it. But, at least, they share my mixture of amusement and righteous indignation.

I’m sure Mighty Girl doesn’t harbor any delusions that the coffee shop troll hogging the four-person table and nursing a latte for three hours while he downloads gargantuan files over the cafe’s WiFi is paying attention. (Of course he’s not; he’s too busy loudly yammering on his cell phone.) But she’s written some advice for him you might find amusing. Particularly if he’s been hogging the wall outlet you’d like to get at with your laptop charger.

That was then, and this is now

I am putting my indispensable Harvest timesheet clock on “unbillable” for a few minutes to talk about what’s been flooding our email inboxes for the past few days: Requests for money, from both business enterprises and charities.

Like the current economic situation (dare I use the R-word?), it’s only going to get worse.

So, I’m sitting here thinking about what I hope things will look like two years down the road, when the bad times begin to recede.

And the answer is: Different. A lot of these businesses and non-profits will be gone. Which ones will remain will be determined, in large part, by their ability to adapt to reality. Starting right now.

To all those organizations asking me to fund your efforts to keep presenting the same type and level of services you did during the boom years, the answer is: Absolutely no. Sure, I liked the plays you presented last year. But perhaps next year you need to consider ones with lower production costs?

Come back to me with a plan for how you are going to be leaner and meaner during the next two years, and I’ll give long, hard thought to what I can contribute to help you survive.

To all those businesses asking me to pay $110 for a sweater with a trendy label (that will be discounted to $29.99 in January): Fat chance. If I really need a sweater, I’ll be buying it from the local consignment shop.

I regret that people spent so much effort during my childhood teaching me to say “Please” and “Thank You” without bothering to teach me how to say “No.” I’m told that now that I’ve learned to say it, I’m a bit too emphatic and harsh. But something tells me I’ll be getting plenty of practice in the coming months refining my delivery.

Perhaps I’ll try softening “No” with a phrase my friend Charlotte Goldstein, a child of the Depression, uses to great effect: “That was then — and this is now.”

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