Tag Archives: twitter

More RSS Tools: Managing Content with Pipes

This post first appeared on the Idealware Blog in March of 2009.

I’m continuing with follow-up topics from my RSS article, Using RSS Tools to Feed your Information Needs. Last week, I discussed integrating content with websites, and this week I’m going to dive into one of the more advanced ways to work with RSS content. This gets a little geeky, but it really shows off some of the sophistication of this technology.

The article provides numerous examples of RSS sources, but all in the form of web sites, blogs and web services that offer you one or more streams of information. If you want to narrow your view beyond the feeds available on a site, say, because you are only interested in Idealware posts about CRM tools or the ones written by Steve Backman, then you need a tool that will refine your search. Alternatively, you might want to put a section containing news stories relevant to a particular issue on your site, but want some control over the sources, as well as the subject matter. For this amount of control over the content you retrieve, you want to use something like Yahoo! Pipes.

Pipes is an RSS mashup editor. It’s a tool that looks a bit like Microsoft’s Visio, where you drag boxes onto a grid and draw relationships between them. But it’s not a layout or flowcharting tool; instead, it’s a visual mapping and filtering tool that lets you identify sources and then apply rules to those sources before merging them into an aggregated feed. To break that down, let’s say that your goal is to either monitor talk about a bill, or, maybe, to publish a section on your web site titled “What they’re saying about bill 221b” (I made that bill up). You have identified eight blogs that have good posts on the subject, and these are blogs that you trust to properly represent the issues and not, in any way, malign or confuse your efforts.

In Pipes, you can select all eight as sources, and then set up a filter to block any posts that don’t reference “221b”. The resulting RSS feed — which you can then subscribe to our republish — will isolate the posts that are relevant to the bill from your selected sources.

For example, here’s that pipe that will allow you to skip Michelle, Heather, Paul, Laura, Eric and my posts and just see Steve’s:

Picture 2.png

Another, more advanced example: You have an organizational Twitter feed that you want to republish to your site But you only want to publish your posts, not your individual replies. In Twitter, a reply is always identifiable by the very first character, which will be an “@” sign. Twitter RSS items arrive in the format “yourtwitterid: tweet”, so any reply will start with “yourtwitterid: @”. Setting up a Yahoo Pipe filter to block any result with “: @” in the text will isolate your posts from the replies. You can add a “Regex” (e.g. Search/Replace) command to replace “yourtwittername:” with nothing in order to publish just the tweet. The pipe will look like this:

Picture 1.png

If you play with Pipes (Yahoo! ID required, otherwise free), I highly recommend starting with an example like mine or this one by Gina Trapani to get the feel of it. Save your pipe, and you can subscribe to it — it updates automatically, and you don’t have to make it public for it to work.

Google has it’s competing Google Mashups tool in private beta, and similar tools are popping up all over the web. I talk a lot about how RSS is the technology that allows us to manage the information on the web. Pipes let us refine it. It’s great stuff.

Look for more RSS talk on OPML files and Google Reader in my upcoming posts.

Feed Fight

LinkedIn has Facebook envy, and Facebook has Twitter envy. Ignoring MySpace (my general recommendation), these are three big social networks that, sadly, seem to be trying to co-opt each others strengths rather than differentiate themselves.  Per Readwriteweb, LinkedIn is jealous of Facebook’s page views, and is looking for ways (like applications) to keep users connected to the web site.  More noticeably, Facebook’s recent failed attempt to buy Twitter was followed up by a redesign that makes Facebook much more like Twitter.  Al of this inter-related activity has created some confusion as to what one should or shouldn’t do where, and a question as to whether this strategy of co-opting your neighbors’ features is a sound strategy.

My take is that each of these networks serve different purposes, and, while I am connected to a lot of the same people on all three, they each have distinct audiences and the communication I do on these networks is targeted to the individual networks.

  • LinkedIn is a business network. This is a place where potential employers and business associates are likely to go to learn about me.  Accordingly, I sparingly use the status update feature there, and never post about what movie I took the kid to or how funny the latest XKCD strip was.
  • Facebook is a casual network where I have some control over who sees my posts; it’s also the place where I find the most old friends and family. So, given that my potential employers and business associates aren’t likely to see my profile unless they have a personal or more collegial relationship already established with me, this is where I’ll give a status review of the Watchman movie or post a picture of the kid.
  • For me, Twitter is the business casual network, where my nptech peers gather to support each other and shmooze.  I am mindful that my tweets paint a public picture, so I keep the ratio of professional to personal tweets high and I don’t say things that I wouldn’t want my wife or boss to see on the web.

The multiple, overlapping networks create some issues in terms of effective messaging.  One is the echo chamber effect – it’s ridiculously easy to automatically feed your tweets to Facebook and LinkedIn.  The other is the lack of ability to do more than broadly address numerous audiences.  I mean, my Facebook friends include co-workers, business associates, childhood friends and Mom; you’re probably in a similar boat.  For some people, this creates the “I really didn’t want Mom to hear about the party I attended last night” issue.  For most of us, it simply means that we don’t want to bore our old friends and family with our professional blogging and insights, any more than we really want our co-workers to see what sort of hippies we were when we were 17.

So I manage some of this by using Tweetdeck as my primary Twitter client, because the latest version lets me, optionally, send a status update to Facebook as well as Twitter, which I do no more than once a day with something that should be meaningful to both audiences.  What I won’t do (as many of my Facebook/Twitter friends do) is publish all of my tweets to Facebook — that’s cruel to both the friends who don’t need to see everything you tweet and the ones who are already seeing what you tweet on Twitter.

At first, I thought the idea of Facebook incorporating Twitter might be a good one.  Facebook has a big advantage over Twitter.  It’s hard to be new to Twitter; the usefulness and appeal are pretty muted until you have a community that you communicate with.  Facebook starts with the community, so it solves that problem.  But, for me, the amount of control I have over the distribution has a lot to do with the messaging, and I like that Twitter is completely public, republishable, and Google-searchable.  I communicate (appropriately) in that medium; and if you aren’t interested in what I want to communicate, I’m really easy to drop or ignore.  But my Mom is probably far less interested in both non-profit management and Technology than my Twitter followers, and I don’t want her to unfriend me on Facebook.  So I’d rather let Facebook be Facebook and let Twitter be Twitter.  Just because an occasional beer hits the spot, as does an occasional glass of wine, that doesn’t mean that I want to mix them together.

Tweaking Twitter

This post originally appeared on the Idealware Blog in February of 2009.

Twitter is my favorite social network. Why? Because it’s easy to use (type a short message and hit enter); it’s easy to follow (just keep scrolling through the main page); it’s more casually interactive than the competitors; and, because I follow it in Twhirl, which is always in the upper-lefthand corner of my desktop, it’s always there. To contrast, I usually have Facebook open in a Firefox tab, as well, but I can go for hours without thinking to click on it.

If you’ve been curious about Twitter, or you tried it, once, but couldn’t see the utility, now might be a good time to try again. Getting started with Twitter can be a bit of a challenge if you don’t know many people who are on it, but we have an active community that Idealware readers should fit right in with. The nonprofit Twitter pack gives you a quick index of people that you might actually want to follow. And as we move into nonprofit conference season, with NTEN’s big shindig up in April and Techsoup’s Netsquared a month behind it in May, there are a lot of people joining in. Just be sure that, before you follow a bunch of us, that you tell us who you are in your profile, and maybe post an introductory Tweet — most people will not automatically follow back a blank slate.

Convenience, simplicity, immediacy, camaraderie — these are the terms that I associate with Twitter. There are some features that I’d love to see, though. These could all be implemented by Twitter, or some by a clever third party.

First, I’d like to have the option, and for my followers to have the option, of typing an introductory note to appear in the email announcing that someone has a new follower. That way, if I follow you (assuming that you’re on Twitter), I can say “Hi, you, I’m following you because I can tell by your tweets that you read the Idealware blog, and that indicates a refined taste in blogs” or “Hi, you, I see that you have all sorts of tweets about Android and the T-Mobile G1. I’m a fellow G1 user.” Make this optional, sure, but the ability to set some context when I’m establishing a social relationship would be a welcome addition.

Second, please, make the user lists (followers and followees) into a manageable interface. Let me sort them by name, location, average number of tweets a day, whether they’re following me back, how long since they last tweeted, how many tweets they’ve posted total. These are all useful metrics, and I can gleam some of them on Twitter; others via useful tools like Tweepler, which takes a stab at this type of manageability. And let me add people to groups, something that I really appreciate in Facebook’s feature set. This can be done, in a fashion, by Tweetdeck, but only if you want to donate that much of your screen’s real estate to your Twitter client. Twhirl added spellcheck this week, so I’m not going anywhere soon.

Third, while we all appreciate innovations like “Mr. Tweet“, a service that analyzes your Twitter connections and makes additional recommendations, the main algorithm for this service seems to be “who are your friends following? You should follow them, too”. Seems logical. But the result is that Mr. Tweet tells me, and everyone else, that we should follow the Twitter superstars, mostly social media gurus with followers in the thousands. Analysis of my profile should reveal that I use Twitter to converse with friends and associates, and follow very few people like that to begin with. So a recommendation engine based on my behavior, as well as my friends lists, would be great — the current options are like a Google without the option to search on terms, just a button that returns the most popular sites on the web.

Those are my top three — add your Twitter wish list requests in the comments.

Why We Tweet

This post was originally published on the Idealware Blog in December of 2008

Skeptics take note – I agree with you that Twitter, the “microblogging” service that your friends are pressuring you to join, appears to be the ultimate synthesis of vanity and wasted time. All of that potential is there, and, worse, the service seems to advertise those traits as its raison d’etre. But I’m going to ask you to bear with me as I offer some arguments for the service.

Twitter is, at its core, a messaging service that is more immediate and casual than email, but less immediate and intimate than IM (Instant Messaging). Just as email bridged the gap between the letter and the phone call, Twitter bridges these digital extremes. But, unlike email – and more like, say, Delicious or Flickr, web sites that take what were traditionally private things – bookmarks and photo albums – and make them social, Twitter makes this messaging social. You can protect your tweets so that they can only be seen by people that you approve, but the majority of tweeters don’t do that.

I came to Twitter via NTEN. In 2007, as we were revving up for the annual conference in DC, a bunch of us signed up for Twitter accounts and used them — to mixed success — for casual announcements, off-agenda organizing and “Hey, what session are you in?” friend pinging. By the 2008 NTEN shindig in New Orleans, Twitter was an incredible asset. Even before the conference I was alerted to nationwide problems with flights, as I followed my friend @kariapeterson (and others) stories about being trapped in airports hours after their flights were due to leave.

Joining Twitter with a good chunk of my social/professional community was definitely a boon. If you sign up without a group of friends established, it can be a fair amount of work to identify and connect with people that share enough of your interests and motives for using Twitter. Because using Twitter involves more than just finding interesting people. It’s also about finding people who will interact with you on Twitter in ways that fit your needs and goals.

Margaret Mason’s wonderful blog entry on Twitter tips breaks down Twitter users into two camps:

“With the usual exceptions, people on Twitter tend to fall into two main camps. There are responders, who use Twitter as a channel to interact heavily with other users, and broadcasters, who use it primarily as a micro-blogging platform.”

The nptech crowd that I hang out with is squarely in the Responder’s camp. This is a social tool for us, not additional brochureware, and we use it to engage each other. For me, this has primarily meant that I have a casual channel to share and query my professional community on. I ask and answer a lot of questions. I engage in casual conversation. It’s allowed me to learn more about people who I share my nonprofit and technical interests with, broadening into family, film and music conversations, but in a way that is far more natural, friendly and interactive than poring over their Facebook profiles.

But the real power comes from the crowd. For example, @johnmerritt, who works as IT Director for a SoCal YMCA, did a Twitter survey about email server message limits. He requested that survey response tweets include the tag “#inboxlimit”, and then he set up a web page subscribing to an RSS feed for that tag, so that we could share a growing list of responses. This survey helped me provide context to my staff about our email policies.

On Monday, @webb, co-Exec at an awesome San Francisco nonprofit, asked us all what non-financial giving we have planned for the coming months, with the request that we tag our answers with “#givelist”. If you want to be inspired, and learn a lot of ways that you can be philanthropically productive without increasing your budget for donations, then the responses are a worthwhile read. You can learn even more at this website.

The typical assumption about any social networking site is that it will allow you to market your mission and, possibly, increase donations. Twitter, of course, can do those things, as Facebook or MySpace can, under the right conditions. But it’s a far more natural tool for generating ideas and camaraderie than cash. If you’re writing it off as just another place to promote yourself or your cause, I’d say that it deserves a deeper look.

Web Site Update

Over the weekend, I downsized Techcafeteria.com, something I probably should have done close to a year ago, when I started my job at Earthjustice. What’s left is pretty thin, and is less of a web site than it is a supplement to other things online.

Some say that we’re moving away from blogging to the next trend, dubbed “Lifestreaming“. But I wouldn’t call this a lifestream. “Stream-supplementing” might be more to the point. I hang out in a number of places online, the key ones being, in some kind of meaningful order:

LinkedIn – this is where I keep my resume and stay connected with people I know through work and community.

Twitter – This is where I do most of my online communication lately. My Twitter community is mostly made up of people I know through NTEN and other NPTech circles. You may think I’ve been pretty quiet in the two or three months since I last blogged, but I’ve published about 700 tweets.

NTEN, or, more accurately, the NTEN Groups like NTEN-Discuss and the SF-501TechClub. These are online lists, sponsored by NTEN. I’m also reasonable active on Deborah Elizabeth Finn‘s excellent Information Systems Forum, a Yahoo Group.

Idealware – Laura’s made me a staff writer, of sorts, and I should be contributing more articles this summer. I also comment on the blog regularly. Some of my Idealware articles are also picked up by Techsoup.

So, those are great places to find me. And this is where you come to contact me, or catch up on where I’ve been. I can’t call it “lifestreaming” – my life isn’t a show, and if it was, it wouldn’t be a very interesting one. But I do publish he pieces of it that I think might be valuable to others, and I’d rather publish them in places that others go, so it makes sense to have a web site that serves more as an signpost than a destination.

Losing Facebook

Where do you live? Where do you hang out? Does your social life revolve around a particular location? Presumably, your social life is only as geographically restricted as your travel budget allows. You can meet your friends at a coffee shop, mall, park or home. You don’t always meet them at the same place; and you don’t go to that place to call them.. So why should your online social life be any different?

This week, Google announced that their internet portal page, iGoogle, would be incorporating widgets, or, as they call them, Gadgets that perform the type of social networking functions that online social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace provide. This comes at a time when Twitter, the group chat/micro-blogging tool has been rising up the social staircase and getting a lot of new users and attention. Twitter, unlike the more established social networks, is more commonly accessed through third-party, desktop applications than the twitter.com web site.

I like this trend. My primary social networking site isn’t Facebook or LinkedIn — it’s GMail. Twitter is the first thing to challenge that. Because, for me, it’s not about the brand – it’s about communication. So Facebook has it’s ouvre, it’s demographic market, and, like everyone else, it’s mission to learn everything there is to learn about my network’s shopping preferences, and the slow website and constant “spam your friends” requirements of their tools really puts me off. LinkedIn has a cleaner, more professional aesthetic that I find a lot less annoying, but my favorite new feature of theirs is the ability to subscribe to the feed of my network updates in my RSS reader (something Facebook doesn’t provide). So I’m rooting for the destruction of the social networking brands, and the ultimate incorporation of powerful social tools into my my desktop, RSS Reader and email.

At that point, I’ll be able to take advantage of the powerful interpersonal tools that the web enables. I’ll still travel to my friends and associates web sites; and I’ll still visit the Ning and Drupal communities that matter to me. I won’t need a middle man like Facebook or MySpace. That will be a happy day!