I’m pretty sure this is a new one: incumbent Senator Arlen Specter (formerly R-PA, then D-PA) congratulated his triumphant opponent in yesterday’s democratic primary for Pennsylvania’s mid-term senator race via Twitter
Let the record show, “I lose, you win” still is way under 140 characters. 2008 was supposedly the first campaign of the true digital, social age, but what will 2010’s midterm look like between Tweeting politicians and Facebook notes from former Governors? 2008 was all about the people using these tools…2010 is the leveling of the playing field of candidates showing their face on the channels as well.
Hold onto your hats, November is still quite a ways away.
This infographic captures so many of the different points I’ve been thinking about when it comes to Twitter. I’m planning a longer piece on the life expectancy of the network to get done over the next few days, but for now, enjoy this chart (via Mashable).
Most valuable for me? The contribution of Tweets from the top percent of site visitors. Power distributions are beautiful.
Early last week, All Things D reported on a study released by Baracuda Labs about the nature of Twitter users. A lot of the statistics made complete sense to me; the most telling was that nearly 3/4 of all Twitter accounts they surveyed (Baracuda looked at 19 million) had posted less than 10 status messages since registering – and 34 percent of Twitter accounts hadn’t shared a single tweet. Twitter CEO Evan Williams noted yesterday during his South by Southwest Keynote, there are 50 million tweets a day, and the accepted laws of Internet publishing and power law distribution indicate that it makes sense that the bulk of these messages are not coming from the plurality of users. It’s more likely that a few contribute a ton, while a ton contribute little to none.
But then something irked me from a logic sense, and it’s this chart that was included in Baracuda’s research as well as the ATD post:
This chart is a depiction of the number of tweets shared by accounts with certain amounts of followers. It’s mildly out of proportion to what you’d expect the distribution to be. At the center are the highest content contributors, meaning that there is no direct relationship between the most popular Twitter users and the amount of times they share messages.
Now it’s time for everyone’s favorite question: why does this look this way? Or, put in more specific terms, why aren’t those with the biggest speakers using them the most often? Without fully testing it, my best guess involves history.
See, we’ve been living in an era of media conglomeration where having the most eyeballs mean you have the prerogative to be the most important publisher. Everything from the ad dollars needed to support a media operation to attracting the most-credentialed, experienced talent to create content involve who has the biggest reach. You can’t waste time with a platform designed to talk with 10,000 if you need to reach millions. That thinking is what leads to the belief that users with few tweets but ridiculous amounts of followers can provide a significant influence. It’s much more likely that the 73 percent who hasn’t interacted much with the service are simply following accounts in the latter, driving up the number without justifying the publishing role of those users.
From a publishing and content perspective, Twitter is blind to how many followers you have. There isn’t a switch or barrier that says, “Well, you only have 47 followers, so that means you can’t tweet again until next Thursday. Thanks though!” You can publish whatever 140 characters or less you’ve got at that moment whenever you want – for better or for worse. That’s what makes it fascinating, that there are those who are turned to as influencers within that channel by way of how they use the service.
The outliers in the chart above are those with excessive amounts of followers (most likely celebrities or other well-known personalities) who couldn’t possibly interact with their entire group and earned their following based on offline success, not publishing on the Twitter channel. You need to move further down to those who are just known Twitter publishers and then the frame starts making sense.
Attention span is an interesting variable, everywhere from Kindergarten classrooms to the corner office. In it, though, may lie the roots of the digital shift in news media.
There is a common metaphor used to describe the overload of news that many face, caused by newer forms of information retrieval. You can’t drink from the firehose (no matter what Michael Richards said in UHF), which means that at some point, if you try to handle all of the media you are trying to consume – via the quest for realtime search, your 1,500 Twitter friends, or your scores of RSS feeds – you will miss something, even if you had intention of looking for it.
The metaphor I’ve been using recently is that Twitter is like a whiteboard. It’s not a posting place for solid reminders: it’s an easily erased, ever-changing form of information that has new information up there every second. This lack of permanency has its place in reporting and breaking news, but not in telling the whole story and certainly not in lasting impressions and legitimate news sharing.
Where attention span fits into this is a chicken or egg moment. Do people flock to Twitter because they can rest at ease if the miss something? Or was Twitter the inevitability of the movement from a newspaper (a source of news with finite information, but developed a sincere time investment) to the television/radio broadcast (less amount of news, but still significant in terms of content, with lower time investment) to blogging and blogging’s cousins of RSS and Twitter? In the latter, the well of news is the deepest it has ever been, but there is no human amount of time or ability to consume it.
By developing our own content, we had options on what to do with our news reading time.
- Option 1: Try and consume it all, anyway, and fail.
- Option 2: Filter down to a few sources that are not connected, basically becoming our own editors. Personal bias creeps in here, and we start shrinking down to really few.
- Option 3: Turn to a trusted, “third-party” editor, who isn’t associated with a central content developer, and see what they say to read. (This is the “I’ll read what the smart people read” model).
I have found, across the hundreds of sources I stumble upon – creeping up on thousands if you combine all my feeds and Twitter friends – that the last model is the most efficient way to get information. In my most honest moments, I’d like to think that I’m at least contributing to that for my own friends and followers and providing them information about what I follow closest, turning to them to pick up the other slack.
As it exists right now, that unbelievable majority of us are consumers, relying on the few who, even without access, are able to be sources of information. Media history called this two-step flow, but there are way too many steps in between than there used to be to think its simply two. The point remains the same, and, ultimately, this is the theoretical and actual root of social media. Even when it comes to news, we rely on our social connections before the institution, and we have for hundreds of years.
You can’t take a straw to the firehose, it’s an awful way to get anything to drink. However, the most useful source out there is the person who tells you where in the spray to stand to actually get something useful.
Please note, in the clip below, Michael Richards is not helping:
The Southeastern Conference (much more commonly known to college football fans everywhere, as the SEC) is going to announce a new media policy today that will render any game accounts on social networks – including those of fans – illegal.
The reason for the smackdown, as noted by the headline from Sunday’s St. Peteresburg Times article, is control of their multi-billion dollar broadcasting rights. “For SEC, tech-savvy fans might be biggest threats to media exclusivity.”
When media conglomerates are paying billions to air your product, you want to ensure that their investment is well spent. The business is easy on this one: CBS/ESPN pay the SEC to bring their millions of viewing fans so that they have a very specific audience to sell to advertisers.
If the lawyers think that the social media audience is using their networks as a replacement to national broadcast coverage, then the move makes sense. But, anyone who has ever turned on a TV to catch an exciting sports moment they heard about through Twitter or Facebook knows that this is a supplement to the audience that is already watching, not a threat.
Adam Ostrow at Mashable argues that the motivation is more than misunderstanding:
For the moment, these policies seem a lot more grounded in fear than reality. Sure, these days someone could theoretically live stream a game from their camera phone. But a shaky, low resolution video from the upper deck of Yankee Stadium isn’t exactly the same as watching FOX’s telecast on your big screen TV. Social media should be viewed a fantastic compliment to sports that is good for both fans and the TV networks, but at the moment, it seems that’s anything but how it’s being perceived.
The best part about this (coming from a homer of an ACC guy) is that there are other conferences around the NCAA using social media to increase their audiences and are succeeding. The ACC was smart to engage quickly with people Tweeting about its member schools during the March corridor of collegiate sporting events – and they constantly pushed out updates on everything from March Madness to Lacrosse. The two responses between the SEC and ACC could not be any more different.
Twitter (or Facebook, Flickr, anything else) has a definite benefit for broadcast media. Social media is a broadcast traffic driver because it actually is above the “link economy.” You can’t excerpt a live broadcast and post it to your blog – you still have to either be there or in front of your TV to see the events unfold. It’s an opportunity to increase the gross audience and these are not competing forces of media. Whoever’s lawyers are behind that hopefully see that not as a contract violation, but just one of the many positive externalities to increase the value of the investment.
One of the most shocking sports stories from the last week included the shrouded news of Steve McNair, former quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans as well as a breakthrough college star at Alcorn State. On Saturday July 4th, news started coming from a variety of sources that McNair had been found dead in his home; a true loss for the sport overall because of the level of play, commitment, and toughness that McNair showed.
The manner in which the story broke on the holiday led to several more examples of the Statusphere vs. Mainstream Media. There were some that were brutally scathing of MSM’s coverage, such as Aaron Brazell’s piece over at Technosailor:
WKRN, in Nashville, was the first with the news and it quickly disappeared off their page – a result of too much traffic or erroring on the side of caution, who is to really know.
NBC Affiliate WTVF, Channel 5, was the second to report it filling the gap where WKRN dropped off.
It was a long time (30 minutes or so) before national media picked it up. ESPN, the Worldwide Leader in Sports by their own slogan, didn’t have it. No one did. We were left gasping for more. Is the rumor true? Can anyone confirm? Can police confirm?
Was any of us on Twitter making calls? Maybe. A few possibly. Not many.
There were a few other comments in and throughout Brazell’s post, as well as follow-up from the readers questioning his rush to blame, but I think that he may have taken it too far to the end of the spectrum. When it comes to a story surrounded by so many circumstances, it is obviously in the best interest of the journalistic community to get the story right. 30 minutes to check the story is better than getting it wrong, correcting it, and making the error the story, not the event.
On the complete other end of the spectrum is an old media guy accusing Twitter of being too involved in the conversation about the former-MVPs passing. Tim Keown, a long-time writer at ESPN put together this piece in response to the reaction of another NFL QB’s wife that was captured in the midst of the coverage. The same negativity Brazell had toward ESPN for failing to report the story, Keown has toward Twitter for pressuring MSM to respond:
The problem is, there is a widespread attempt in the media to bring validity to the enterprise. There’s pressure to get stuff out there, to be connected to the story. CNN wants us to follow it on Twitter, when following it on CNN should be about all it demands of us. Viewers are invited to respond, and there’s nothing quite like the awfulness of a guy reading a truncated, abbreviated, code-language message from someone with no expertise beyond opposable thumbs.
(And I’ll say it before you do: There are exceptions, and the election protests in Iran are a big one. Without Twitter, the amount of useful information leaving that country would be minimal at best. This leaves aside the validity of the information being Twittered — or whatever the heck you want to call it — but that’s secondary to the importance of the technology in spreading useful information.)
The bold in the above section is mine. Also, I wanted to include Keown’s waiver to not completely throw him under the bus, but that shouldn’t be a complete hand washing for the piece.
Twitter has broken stories, we know that. Folks in DC will recall when Twitter was in its mainstream infancy and news about Tim Russert spread, in addition to the reference Keown makes and the many other breaking outlets. Remember: that’s not what Twitter’s purpose is, to be a journalistic mainstay. It’s for information sharing, not confirmation; we need to recognize the bridge between the two.
Sure, as a reporter, you have to move a little quicker now, but let that be an advantage, not a hurdle. Keown opined that this stuff will sink the media ship, but he places to high of a premium on what it means for journalism to be accompanied by “You heard it here first.” That’s ignorant, to me.
For journalists, the service should be used like a hiker uses a compass: it doesn’t show you the trail, just points you in the right direction. We are telling you where to go, just don’t get lost along the way and everyone stays happy.