Friend Feed and Twitter – an experiment

I followed a reasonably heated Friend Feed debate-thread some days ago. It was initiated by someone complaining about Twitter ‘crap’ appearing in the Friend Feed Home feed and supposedly diverting or undermining ‘meaningful’ threaded conversation; it was clearly a gate-keeper post by someone who felt Friend Feed’s real strength was being diluted by these disembodied 140-character cross-posts from Twitter, many of which are (let’s face it) if not crap,  then often meaningless or tiresome.  That particular thread kept popping back up into the lead position on the Home feed over the course of the conversation, proving the point about Friend Feed’s ability to thread and keep commentary real-time.

Now anyone who tells anyone else on a social network how to use a particular tool is going to get some strongly opinionated comment, some of it useful, some inflammatory or defensive,  and this is just what happened.  The conversation petered out eventually, but it provided food for thought.  On reflection I’m sure part of the problem is that many users – including myself – had not taken the time after signing up for the service to learn how to use Friend Feed to their advantage.  Having created a Friend Feed account with a link to their Twitter account and other social network apps,  they continue to work in Twitter. What happens then is that their stream of tweets or Face Book status updates also appear in Friend Feed in an apparently random stream of so-called junk.  I know I’ve had more than a few cross-posting bloopers between various social networking sites in the past, and was concerned that my own random use might not be contributing to the problem. I decided to experiment in the use of both apps, and it began by getting to know Friend Feed a little better.

I’ve written in the second post in this series on how I went about this.  I’d suggest that if you already have an account, or are considering getting one, that you spend some time in the Friend Feed tools page and decide what you want from this application. If Twitter works for you, then stay in that stream; don’t dissipate your energies by signing up for another app that isn’t going to add anything to your social networking needs. You might even consider deleting your Friend Feed account, or at the very least, unchecking the cross-post from Twitter. There’s a good reason for this apart from the spammy-ness of dozens of your tweets flowing through Friend Feed while you’re not there. Jesse Newhart posted a thoughtful video last week that asked ‘Are You a Social Media Hologram?’ It’s worth a look in the context of how you operate as a presence in the social network neighbourhood.

I preceded my experimentation with a search to find out who of my Twitter friends also had Friend Feed accounts. I then bulk subscribed to them all. This is easy to do from the Friend Feed sign up page.  I should also say that many of my Friend Feed subscribers are not part of my Twitter clan, although I’m sure they have Twitter accounts; we just didn’t meet at the Twitter party.  I decided to begin my experiment by working from within Friend Feed ‘natively’ for one day, and with no cross-posting at all to Twitter.  The added benefit here would be that I would avoid some of the less interesting stuff that flows through the stream: the links, the endless quotes, the memes, the hashtag stuff.  The upside, I hoped, would be more engaged conversation.

I sent out a message via Twitter first thing on the first morning of my experiment indicating that I was not ‘at home’ in Twitter that day, but over on Friend Feed.  I wondered who, if any, would care whether or not they got any of my posts.  If they weren’t on Friend Feed they wouldn’t see me at all … unless it were via other social networking services … like an RSS feed that I had linked through to Twitter, or my Flickr or Tumblr uploads. However these were not conversational pieces … though they could well be RTd or commented upon.  I responded to every tweet that arrived from a friend but without cross-posting back to Twitter.  One or two only used Friend Feed to get back to me; and a threaded conversation began.  Meanwhile I engaged as actively as I could with conversations from others in Friend Feed’s Home stream. By and large, the conversation and the experience was satisfying,  with threaded conversations and especially images to accompany posts.

Why were most of my comments on tweets ignored? For a few reasons:  Twitter friends had not subscribed back to me on Friend Feed – odd this – or they were not using the application that day, or my comment was being ignored.  It’s not unknown over on Twitter for an @ (a reply to someone) to be ignored deliberately or otherwise – sometimes the stream is just too fast-flowing and you can miss lots of good stuff  (part of the problem of course).  I suspect it was for all of these reasons.  Anyhow, on Day 1 and working natively from Friend Feed, my tweetage dropped way down, my conversations were more meaningful and diverse, whilst another side-effect was that I received one only new follower instead of the usual 20 or so.  Drop below the radar for a while and your followers drop off too!

The losers that day, if losers is the right word, were those others in my active Twitter community who are not Friend Feed users, and with whom I converse regularly.  I hoped that my one and only tweet about being over in Friend Feed would explain my absence for 24 hours or so.  What I didn’t miss at all were most of the other tweets that flowed right on by. So, the first part of the experiment showed me that not all who are subscribed to Friend Feed actually work there natively, and that apart from contributions from my Twitter-only friends, I got much better bang for my posts over the fence on Friend Feed.

Day 2 and I continued working natively in Friend Feed, but this time I CCd my Friend Feed posts and comments on incoming tweets back to Twitter. This meant my non-Friend Feed contacts were included in the conversation – more chat.  However, subsequent tweets from them on the same topic would arrive disconnected from the originating comment in Friend Feed.  It was still not perfect, but better. My Discussions page on Friend Feed was ‘cleaner’ and the conversations of the day were easier to track down.

Perhaps the biggest bang of all was finding out who actually was active in conversation with me during these couple of days.  Despite having well over one thousand followers, and following 700, I actually engaged actively over those couple of days with far, far fewer.  During the experiment I created a group in Seesmic Desktop called ‘NFF’ (Not on Friend Feed), and every time a tweet arrived directly to me, or I had a reply to a comment (originating out of Friend Feed), or got an RT of one of my comments, or was mentioned in another’s tweet,  I placed the user in the NFF group. Now I had sifted out those who really engaged with me.  Whilst I follow some from whom I never expect to hear, I’m focussing more on those Twitter people I’m gradually adding to the NFF group. I’ll try to encourage them to try Friend Feed; it’s partly what this series of posts is about, but perhaps they are not interested in working out how to use another social networking app. Perhaps Twitter or Face Book is perfectly adequate for them, and that’s fine too.

Meantime, I’m staying in Friend Feed, working sparingly out of Twitter, and gradually wrangling the tools so that I keep up without compromising the quality of my engagement with my networks.

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Friendfeed: a ticket to ride – but where?

Well, the pussycat’s among the pigeons as of this morning with news that Facebook has acquired Friendfeed. The interwebs are aflutter. What will it mean? Has the jock got the good-girl (as Louis Gray wittily notes)? What will it mean for us dedicated Friendfeeders? Only time will tell. Let’s hope the feel of Friendfeed with its access to the Twitter stream doesn’t get swamped by the Facebook nutty stuff – oh, and ads! I for one will be delighted if it makes access to each other easier for my two communities. Right now they are in two separate places.

The longer you socialise online – and an awful lot of us do – the more familiar you become with the online ‘neighbourhoods’ you inhabit.  I visit a lot of these neighbourhoods or social networking sites and services.  I like to stay in touch and keep up to date with them all but, like most commuters, I don’t like the travelling I have to do to get from one neighbourhood to another.  Jumping from website to website to visit yours and your friends’ Flickr, Twitter, and YouTube sites, switching from Face Book to Vimeo to leave comments, or clicking through your Tumblr site, your blog (or blogs),  your Delicious account, checking what’s what in the latest feed subscriptions via Google Reader, or Digg, or Stumbling upon interesting sites – all gets pretty tiresome after awhile.  Have a look over there in the sidebar,  and you’ll see a Friend Feed widget with some of the stops on my own social network neighbourhood line.

After commuting between up to a dozen of these neighbourhoods it became pretty clear that I needed an application to serve as a hub or aggregator – something that would pull my various neighbourhoods together and get my friends, contacts, subscribers, followers – call them what you will – in a place where we could talk and share our ‘stuff’ in a real-time stream like Twitter’s,  but without the disconnectedness of the disembodied one-liner that is typical of a tweet.  Then along came Friend Feed, and it didn’t take much to get me signed up and experimenting.  However, and despite its potential, I found that I wasn’t really putting Friend Feed to work for me. I’d been over in the Twitter crowd more often than not, and suddenly, Friend Feed was just another stop on the line.

A quick segué about Twitter – although there’s probably not much more to say; it continues to grow at an astonishing rate – at least millions have signed up for the service, and millions are following millions more; there’s the viral part. If you’re on Twitter, then you’ll also know that the conversation (if not the activity) is very limited – to 140 characters in fact – but with links to image sites and embedded URLs that take you out and beyond the constantly streaming chatter – no bad thing some would say. The ebb and flow of Twitter conversation – and increasingly not two-way-or-more real conversation – was getting on my nerves. Too many followers who never contact, a lot of chatter which didn’t interest me, more hopping across to other sites. I began to notice that when I did visit, the conversations on Friend Feed and the embedded content were qualitatively and, because you are not character delimited, quantitatively different from Twitter’s. For me, this provided a better socialising experience. Here are a few reasons why.

I love Friend Feed’s customising tools – its ability to pull in the latest posts to (so far) 58 other social networking services.  There’s also a handy bookmartlet that can send a website link with image and a comment to your Friend Feed.  With image and a brief description, there need be no more disembodied hotlinks for friends to puzzle over.  You can also push out your Friend Feed posts, so if tweeting is your thing you can cross-post to Twitter from within Friend Feed.  If you haven’t customised your Friend Feed messages to post to Twitter by default, all it takes is a tick of the CC button beneath a Friend Feed posting pane.  I also like that it can determine which of your friends currently using other sites like Twitter or Facebook , GMail and Yahoo Mail are also signed up to Friend Feed. Click a button on the Friend Feed sign-up page to find out who they are. From there you can bulk ‘subscribe.’  They’ll get an email from Friend Feed, and can choose to follow back – or not. Of course, like any other social networking app, Friend Feed is only going to work if there are enough ‘others’ to get conversation flowing. And this is part of the problem; if your current friends/subscribers or followers aren’t using Friend Feed, then it isn’t going to work for you – remember the network part?  You can always find new ones – say friends of friends you already have on Friend Feed.  You’ll be able to see when someone (not your friend) has liked or commented on a message from someone else (already a friend of yours).  If you think they might be interesting or useful or fun to have as part of your network, you can click on their name, get some more info and subscribe to them – and so the networking ride continues.

I also like Friend Feed’s ability to organise my friends into lists so that, if I choose, I can follow their postings apart from the main or Home feed.  I’ve got lists based on topic feeds, timezones and general interests: theatre folk; social networkers; and one random list called ‘wits and philosophers’ – I’ll let you work out why.  I know my American friends have been working while I sleep, so one of the first lists I open over my morning coffee is theirs. When they’re asleep, the Australian lists come into their own.

Friend Feed also has a feature called Groups, which are a bit like rooms on other services. Groups can be organised around niche topics or subjects; Friend Feed lets you search for people or topics, so you could create a group based on a search. Join a pre-existing one – again do a search to find an area of interest – or create your own.  If you create a Group you can make it Public or Private, and invite people to join.  If it’s Public, anyone can see it, join, and post material.

As I mentioned at the outset, I’m a fan of Friend Feed’s ability to push out and pull in material from my other social network neighbourhoods. Now I get to choose what appears where, and who gets to see it  … so I don’t, for example, send all of my Friend Feed activity to Twitter, or bombard the Friend Feed Home with content perhaps better appreciated in one of my Groups.  Indeed, the flooding of the Friend Feed Home stream with what some consider unnecessary ‘junk’ (aka certain tweets) is a current bone of contention amongst some in the community.  However, it seems to me that the main issue is that not everyone, and even those signed up for Friend Feed (like me), has worked out how to use it to leverage its considerable potential. Friend Feed is a wee bit more complex than Twitter or Face Book.

In my next post I’ll talk about how a minor flame war on Friend Feed got me thinking about whether or not I was using the application to its best advantage, and how a subsequent experiment changed the way I now use my social networking apps.

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The Geek That Keeps on Giving

Oh well of course I had to post this. I’m tired of having to explain the what and whys of my own online engagement. ‘The Society for Geek Advancement’ is a delightful, short video to which I related … immediately. I wonder can you tell why?

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Learning as you go: me and my blog on Thesis

No, not that thesis as in dissertation … been there, done that … but the Thesis theme that graces this blog: DIYThesis a WordPress theme by Chris Pearson.

Now I bought Thesis ages ago because I wanted the freedom to customise my blog’s design without the pain of learning all that coding stuff. I happen to believe that good design matters a great deal. What I wanted was a theme that would provide me with the means to design the look I want – in this instance what’s known as a ‘magazine style.’  I was attracted to Pearson’s design work with other free WordPress themes. In fact I had used his Cutline and Neoclassical themes for quite a while on other blogs. They were clean, minimalist – my preference – and robust in the back end. See, I learned early on to toss the jargon round without necessarily having a clue about the back end of anyone’s blog, let alone my own. More importantly, I came to understand why, like a good auto engine, a good blog backend was as important, if not more so, than a shiny exterior. When Chris Pearson announced the release of the new Thesis theme last year, I was hooked – sorry, no pun intended. The hooks feature of Thesis is what provides the design’s flexibility as well as its functionality.  And Thesis continues getting better. Updates – it’s at 1.5 now – are released pretty regularly, and with each iteration, the theme gets easier to use. Once you’ve bought the theme, your upgrades are free for ever. Nice.

However, I’d be fibbing if I said Thesis was the easy ride I was expecting; it isn’t.  The good news is that there is a responsive Thesis community, and support for newbies like yours truly is provided along the way. I’ve taken my frustrations to the DIY Thesis Forums on several occasions. I’ve heard back smartly and with support from good sports like administrators KingdomGeek and godhammer. There are also some pretty crash-hot Thesis users like Kristarella and Sugarrae who have produced tutorial posts on tweaking the design of Thesis to get the look you like. Again, for a total tyro this is a fantastic resource. There are plenty more at work on Thesis sharing the expertise around. I’ve learned a heck of a lot as I’ve gone along, and I love learning.

So why am I writing this?  Well, I’ve had a successful day or two playing around in the back end – learning on the job – and been helped along the way by the resources that are out there. One thing eluding me was getting that magazine look design I’d craved at the outset. I trawled through the Thesis support forums, and there appeared to be lots of queries that echoed my own, but which didn’t quite answer what I wanted – exactly.  So I shot off a query not too long ago and back came the goods; I got the answer I wanted.  So, time to share the findings around.

In my next post I’ll take you through how I got to solve my problem. I’ll deal with prepping your images, choosing the best place on your domain to store them, and how to get them into your posts painlessly. I hope you will return.

Like a garden, and maybe even life – a blog is a work in progress!

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World Theatre Day 2009: going viral

World Theatre Day isn’t about creating a global theatre experience. It’s about celebrating the local theatre experience globally. World Theatre Day is an acknowledgement that we are all doing this thing that we love. And the internet allows us to share those local celebrations and revel in the fact that we’re not alone in our pursuit, and that no matter how many times they try to prove it to us mathematically, theatre is not dead. Travis Bedard

wtd-avatarNever heard of World Theatre Day? Hardly surprising really. What has been called a global celebration of the power of theatre on one day each year – this year March 27 – has been far quieter than it should have been for too long. WTD is an activity of the International Theatre Institute (ITI), which was founded in 1948 by UNESCO.  The ITI website has only just this week undergone a long overdue revamp.

Each year the ITI commissions a leading world theatre figure to write a special address. Last year it was Canadian Robert Lepage.  This year it’s Brazilian Augusto Boal‘s turn; here’s Boal’s timely WTD address to the theatre community.

The WTD tradition goes like this: companies choosing to celebrate read the address at the start of a performance that day. But it doesn’t stop there. Companies or individuals were encouraged to celebrate in any way they like. WTD celebrations tended to be locally focussed – no bad thing of course – but they remained pretty much unknown outside their immediate location.  Enter a group of international theatre individuals already in touch on an almost daily basis, and keen to put the ‘world’ back in WTD. Given the availability of Web 2.0 tools and applications, the WTD 09 facilitators are using the power of online communication and the occasion of WTD09 to bring the global theatre community closer together.

Follow the progress so far on the WTD 09 blog where you will get an idea of what companies world-wide are planning in their own backyards, and how they intend to get out the news to others. Get involved and let us know what you’re planning either here or directly at the WTD09 blogsite. I’m one of the facilitators working locally so more of the world theatre community can engage globally.

In the meantime, start thinking over what you or your company might do. Of course you are busy and resources are probably stretched, so keep it simple, and share with the rest of the world. What about short videos, still images, audio files of interviews, various kinds of audience-engagement activities like backstage tours. What is your group presenting on March 27?  Do you have a website? What about a blogpost on WTD09 and you. If you feel up to the challenge, why not a flashmob? Go on, you know you want to!

If you’re on Twitter, keep up by joining the Theatre Group then tag appropriate posts with #WTD09 or #wtd, and of course, with #theatre. If you’re not already a Twitter member come along and join the fun. There are many theatre companies already sharing their activities quite independently of WTD.

If you write a blog post about your engagement with World Theatre Day it would be great if you could tag your blogposts WTD09 or just wtd … so we can find you and gather in the good stuff.

Plan it, share it, and pass it on … let’s get the world involved on World Theatre Day 2009. That’s March 27 at a theatre near you.

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How (really useful) discussions begin on Twitter

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

I’ve written here and elsewhere about Twitter. You’ve heard about it of course, even if you don’t use it. Twitter’s the application that enables online messaging – 140 character delimited ‘micro-blogs’ or comments to and from people you ‘follow’ or who follow you. It’s changed the way online habitués communicate, taking many of us away from the blogpost as the chief method of open online discussion.

I’ve been torn mostly because of misplaced ‘guilt’ at neglecting the first-born – my ‘macro blogs’ here on Groundling and elsewhere.  Actually I’m convinced that you shouldn’t blog unless you have something worthwhile to say. In other words, less can be more, or quality beats quantity any day – and who needs more guilt anyway! But back to Twitter.

This morning I was discussing #theatre stuff with a Twitter contact in London. By the way the # or hashtag symbol is a way for users to ‘bookmark digitally’ or ‘tag’ subject-related posts on Twitter. We talked of this and that: his day, what’s been happening round the place while I’ve been sleeping and he’s been up and about, a coming global theatre event – when he happened to tweet about a new showing coming to London’s Royal Court – Caravan. I mentioned that right now the caravan is the preferred temporary accommodation for many of Victoria’s now homeless from the #bushfires last weekend. They want to live on their burned out properties and start again. He responded this way:

Image of Andrew Eglinton from Twitter
Image of Andrew Eglinton
LondonTheatre: I wonder if anyone’s working on a documentary (stage or film) of #bushfire ? about an hour ago

And this led to a quick back and forth on the stories that are emerging, television documentaries with survivors, verbatim theatre and dramatic writing. I was able to send him a link to an extraordinary piece in last week’s Australian newspaper about a couple who escaped the ‘flames of death’ -he in turn mentioned a piece he had written some time back about a woman escaping from a fire – and so it went.

It was a conversation that stirred the pot, and hardly a time waster – the other fist that’s usually shaken at Twitter.

Rather than its being a time waster however, I see the increasingly ubiquitous Twitter as a thought accelerator. It can lead to informative, reflective pieces either here in a blog post, or face to face in live discussion.

Dare I say it could also develop one’s productivity and creativity in unforseen ways.

PS Twickie (broken link) is a new bit of software that I used to grab @LondonTheatre ‘s or anyone else’s reply to my original tweet. It’s from the clever Chris Pirillo. You can get the code from Twickie for any reply to particular tweets that you post – and embed them in a blog for reference. Neat eh?

I’m @Dramagirl on Twitter by the way. Would love to meet you if we’re not already in the stream.