Lifecasting vs. Mindcasting on Twitter

comic1I don’t know how many times of I’ve had this conversation:

ME: Are you on Twitter?

THEM: No. I’m just n0t really interested that some guy I follow is having a tuna sandwich for lunch.

I’ve heard similar comments on podcasts like TWiT and Gillmor Gang from people who are widely viewed as celebrities in the incredibly insular fishbowl that is the social media crowd. (Many of these early deniers have since embraced Twitter and have follower counts that make mine look like a square root).

The usual response – let’s call it Twitter Key Message No. 1 – goes something like this: “Yes, but if you’re talking about what you’re having for lunch, you’re using Twitter in the wrong way. A lot of people use Twitter to just to yak about their tuna sandwich, and that’s okay I guess. But I use Twitter to talk about what I’m thinking or to share interesting blog posts or links.”

The somewhat elitist assumption in Twitter Key Message No. 1  (which I’ve been guilty of spewing from time to time) is that mindcasting is superior to lifecasting. But I no longer agree. Mindcasting is great. Mindcasting is philosophy. Mindcasting will help us resolve the pressing issues of our time like whether Twitter is the new Facebook or Facebook the new Twitter. But lifecasting is our social history. If we could access Tweets from 1,000 years ago, I would be far more interested in learning about how people spent their day (tuna sandwich) than to read endless blather about the latest parchment post.

Even today, the best Twitter posts are often the ones about people’s lives. If you haven’t been there yet, check out favrd, which ranks posts based on how many times they’ve been favourited, after filtering out all inside-the-fishbowl mindcasting (what creator Dean Allencalls the “web-strategy, social-media, online-marketing webcocks – unaware as they are of how toxic their presence is in the arenas they cannot shut up about”).

Here’s a recent example of a Tweet that got high rankings on favrd. This comes from @crispycracka of Atlanta:

Analytics project: It is possible I just messaged my professor & asked if he “wanted my Anal. now or tonight?” Did not think this through.

You don’t get gems like that in mindcasting.

Are embargoes going dodo?

dodo1Twitter has replaced Techmeme as my favourite source for knowing what’s hot at this very moment. That’s because people tend to talk on the microblogging tool before they take actions that require more time or commitment such as blogging or starting a Facebook group.

When I checked Twitscoop this afternoon to see what was hot on Twitter today, I noticed that the most discussed term was “embargo” – something that caught my eye as an erstwhile journalist and current PR guy. The news that everyone was buzzing about is that TechCrunch, arguably the most influencial online publication has announced that it will no longer honour embargoes. In a post titled “Death to the Embargo” TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington writes:

One annoying thing for us is when an embargo is broken. That means that a news site goes early with the news despite the fact that they’ve promised not to. The benefits are clear – sites like Google News and TechMeme prioritize them first as having broken the story. Traffic and links flow in to whoever breaks an embargo first.

That means it’s a race to the bottom by new sites, who are increasingly stressed themselves with a competitive marketplace and decreasing advertising sales.

A year ago embargo breaks were rare, once-a-month things. Today, nearly every embargo is broken, sometimes by a few minutes, sometimes by half a day or more. We can’t continue to operate under these rules.

Arrington says TechCrunch will continue to agree to embargoes, but will then break them. The problem, he writes, is that there are no real consequences for publications that break embargoes.

A year ago, when com.motion released our First Annual com.motion-Pollara Social Media Barometer, I decided to experiment with embargoes. I offered the Globe and Mail an exclusive embargo on a few questions and offered a dozen bloggers one exclusive question each. Several agreed to play, but some said embargoes and exclusives don’t make sense in a blogging world.

This year, I tried a different experiment, sending out a message on Twitter that I would offer the full embargoed results to anyone who tweeted me back. Only a couple bloggers were interested. (Many more posted about our results after we formally released them).

Offering embargoes – especially on an exclusive basis – increases the chance of coverage. There are stories I wrote at the Globe because they were exclusive embargoes that I wouldn’t have written if everyone had them at the same time. But embargoes have no value when the news is sent to everybody if even one reporter breaks the embargo. Embargoes have become more common and mean far less. We need to get back to a place where they’re less frequent, more exclusive and respected by both sides. And publications that break ’em need to be punished for the good of those that don’t.

Has Obama Twittered his last Tweet?

obamaI’ve heard that if you keep a birdfeeder in the fall, you need to keep it stocked through the winter, else the birds that have come to rely on your feed will die. It reminds me of one of my favourite quotes, from St. Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince: “Tu deviens responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé.” Translation: We are forever responsible for what we have tamed.

There is perhaps a lesson here for Barack Obama who used Twitter – a popular social media tool – throughout the recent election campaign to communicate with more than 120,000 followers, but quietly exited the conversation after his historic victory. Valleywag accuses Obama of having “pumped and dumped” his supporters – Twittering them into donating time and money, then dropping them for a more “presidential” means of communication.

His last message came Nov. 4 at 2:34 p.m.:

We just made history. All of this happened because you gave your time, talent and passion. All of this happened because of you. Thanks

Then radio silence.

Like the president-elect, many brands and organizations turn to social media for one-off campaigns, but the best results come when the commitment is long-term. Barack Obama will need those followers again – perhaps much sooner than four years from now when he returns to the polls. He’s not past the engagement phase; he’s only begun.