Taking back Twitter

Back in February or 2009 I wrote a post called “I’m done with auto-follow on Twitter“. But, apparently I didn’t learn my lesson.

Once I started running 9seeds and was actively using social media to help ‘build our brand’, I started doing 2 things on Twitter that I ended up regretting. First, I turned auto-follow back on so that I could receive DMs from anybody was following. The second thing I did was for every conference I went to, I would follow the hash tag and then follow as many of the people I saw tweeting from the event. These both seemed like great ways of connecting with more people. Amazingly, it had almost the exact opposite effect.

The tipping point came about 3 months ago. I checked my Twitter account and noticed that I was following more than 6,000 people. But, that doesn’t mean I was reading all their tweets. There were so many tweets coming in that it was basically white noise. I had created a list of friends, family and community members I wanted to follow. Those were the tweets I was reading and interacting with. So, I decided to clean it up. I used Manage Flitter to unfollow about 3000 accounts. Most of those were people who had followed me, got me to auto-follow them back and then stopped following me. I was surprised at how many brands do that. It didn’t really help the white noise, unfortunately. The stream was still too much to deal with and I was stuck reading only my list.

In September I read this post by Chris Brogan where he talks about unfollowing the 131,000 people he was following in order to stop the crazy amount of DM spam he was getting on a daily basis. He took a fair amount of grief from people who were hurt by the fact that he unfollowed them. It’s funny how people can take something as meaningless as a twitter follow so personally.

But, the final straw for me was this post by Aaron Hockley where he writes about what he’d do differently if we here to start over on Twitter. While none of the past was Earth shattering or necessarily groundbreaking, two things he mentioned gave me that AHA moment I needed.

  • I would start a list for each of my top three areas of interest.
  • When I attend an event, I’d start a list for people I met at that event or those who were actively tweeting about the event. During the event, I’d monitor said list closely. After the event, I’d move relevant folks to another list and delete the event list.

Sometimes you need somebody else to point out what is right in front of you.

Over the past 3 days I’ve unfollowed roughly 3000 more accounts and am now down to roughly 350 that I still follow. And since I’m using a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel to do the unfollowing, there have been a few (a few dozen?) accounts that got unfollowed that I will end up following back. I’m still monitoring my list and plan to create a handful of other lists that will let me dive in to specific groups of people more easily. I will also be following Aaron’s lead and creating lists before heading off to my next conference so that I can easily add attendees to the list to see which I want to follow long term or possibly move them to a separate list.

If I unfollowed you, I promise it was nothing personal. We likely didn’t connect much on Twitter to begin with and unless you use some tool to let you know who unfollows you (insecure much?), you probably won’t even notice.

Las Vegas tech events on the rise!

When I organized the first WordCamp Las Vegas event back in January 2009, I was really hoping to parlay the excitement in to an ongoing series of tech events. It worked for a while. We started up a Beer n Blog event that went strong for a while, but then turned in to Beer, hold the Blog.

Aside from BnB, we’ve had quite a few Tweetups. The bulk of which are focused on socializing/networking. Many of these have been excellent events and have connected us with a lot of new people and companies, but these aren’t the types of events that I’m really excited about about.

I have toyed around with ideas for meetup groups and other events that have all fallen apart usually due to a lack of interest at the organizational level. Which makes what has taken place over the past few weeks/months all the more exciting! Here is just a sample of what is going on in the Las Vegas tech scene.

Startup Weekend: A 54 hour event focused on building a web/mobile application bringing together developers, designers and business people to build applications and business case around them. Sadly, I wasn’t able to attend this event last month and I’m really hoping another gets scheduled for Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Jelly: Casual coworking, every other Thursday at a coffeehouse in downtown Las Vegas from 7pm to midnight. Bring a laptop and something to work on.

Ignite Vegas: An evening filled with 5-minute talks by people who have an idea they want to share.

WordCamp Las Vegas: A 1 or 2 day event focused on anything and everything WordPress. I should have a bunch of new information on this one in the next couple weeks.

I’ve also been in discussions with a couple of people regarding two other events we’d like to get rolling; The Las Vegas WordPress users group and a WordPress Hack Weekend. You can expect to hear more about those two events starting in August. If you are interested in helping out with either, drop me a line or leave a comment.

As you can see, the Vegas Tech scene is definitely picking up steam. I’m sure there are other tech events going on that I’m not even aware of. If you know of any, drop a link in the comments.

Cocktails at Lucky Bar

A few weeks back I got a call from my buddy Sean in a bit of a panic. He’s been scheduling these mini-social meet-ups where he’s been doing interviews with some of the local social networking folks, and his interviewees for that evening needed to reschedule. Never one to turn down an offer for a free cocktail, I agreed to fill in.

Side note: I’m not sure why, but I have the perception that driving from my house to Red Rock Casino requires an overnight bag and rations for a couple days. I don’t know what was going on this night, but we made it door to door in just over 20 minutes. Either I was flying (I wasn’t), or my ability to estimate distances is way off.

My wife and I were the first to arrived at Lucky Bar. Sean and Todd showed up shortly after. We grabbed a booth and each ordered a cocktail. There’s a bit of an issue at Lucky Bar; they have a martini menu that has several drinks on there that all sound amazing. So narrowing it down to just one wasn’t nearly as easy as I made it sound. Luckily the cocktail waitress was able to give us a little guidance and helped us each pick out something tasty.

Lucky Bar is a bit of an anomaly. It’s situated right in the middle of casino floor, there are two doorways that do not have closing doors, but yet once we were seated inside, the sounds from the casino were basically non-existent. I should also mention that the shape of the lounge, plus the decor gave me the feeling that this is what it must have been like inside I Dream of Geanie’s lamp. (I just assume she had a full service bar in there.)

After our first round of drinks was just about gone, Sean asked Todd and I some questions about WordCamp, Work and our lives in Vegas. We each had a second cocktail as we finished up the interview and then just kicked back and chatted for a bit before heading back home. From what I hear, our interview will be turned in to an article and should be available online pretty soon. I’ll link to it once I get the deets.

The whole evening was a nice change of pace for us. I’m certain this won’t be the last time we have cocktails at Lucky Bar. ESPECIALLY when Sean is picking up the tab! (I kid, I kid)

Has #FollowFriday on Twitter jumped the shark?

FollowFriday Jumped the SharkFor the uninitiated, #FollowFriday is an Internet meme that goes on every Friday on Twitter. The concept is simple, each Friday you pick a person (or group of people) who you think is interesting, informative, funny, or in any other way remarkable. Then you construct tweet telling people why they should follow this person. At it’s core, the concept is very cool if you think about it; somebody who you respect enough to follow on Twitter is now suggesting somebody that THEY follow and respect. That is a pretty powerful endorsement, right?

I’m not so sure anymore.

Since first learning about the #FollowFriday concept, I have personally tried to remain true to it’s original intention. When I send out a #FollowFriday message, I select only 1 or 2 people to include in the message and I explain a reason WHY you should follow this person. My biggest gripe about #FollowFriday these days are the people who send tweets that start with the #FollowFriday hashtag and then they fill the rest of the space with as many Twitter user names as will possibly fit. They give no reason why to follow them, just the demand to follow them. This makes no sense. You are telling me to do something but giving me no reason as to why I should. Without a reason, I promise you, I’m not going to start following.

So, the question is, has #FollowFriday jumped the shark? For me personally, the answer is an emphatic YES!

To me, the #FollowFriday tweets have become white noise. They are filler between the rest of the filler on Twitter. Have a look at the current search stream on Twitter for #FollowFriday. You’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.

If you think I should follow somebody because they have solid information to share, please, don’t wait until Friday to tell me about it. Send a tweet telling my why I may be interested to follow this person and chances are I’ll check them out and I’ll follow them if I’m interested.

Let me ask you this, when was the last time you followed somebody new on Twitter simply because of a #FollowFriday recommendation? Leave a comment a comment below and let me know what YOU think.

The 5 Phases of Twitter

The other night at our weekly Beer and Blog meetup, we had a pretty interesting discussion about Twitter. It all started because one of our friend who is a promoter recently had his Twitter account suspended. As far as I could tell, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. His tweet-stream had a mix of conversation, random tweets and information about things going on in and around Las Vegas. For some reason he managed to trip the suspension switch and down his account went. We decided to rally on Friday and see if we could help convince the powers that be to give him back his account. I’m quite pleased to see that they took notice, reviewed his account and then reversed the suspension.

The conversation went on to cover how we each use Twitter and for what purpose. Communicating with friends, physical in-person friends, being the main reason. This brought to light something that I have been noticing for a while; the way I have been using twitter has changed several times over the past 2 years. That lead to this post.

Here is how I’ve used Twitter since I opened my account in July of 2007.

What the hell is this?
I’m not sure how I heard about Twitter that first time, but I signed up and I probably tried to talk a group of friends in to signing up, too. I got the basic idea right away, but without a group of friends also on the service, it wasn’t all that useful to me. I would spent the next several months ignoring Twitter for the most part. Picking it up and putting it down without much regularity.

Oh, cool. follow follow follow.
In early 2008 I started planning a trip to Alaska. At that time I bought a digital SLR camera and started trying to learn as much as I could. Then, it all clicked. I found several photographers online who already had twitter accounts. I immediately started following them and anybody that they followed, I followed, too. It was like being spoon-fed free information. These guys would throw out tips or links to tutorials and a ton of other helpful information. If you were the least bit interesting, I started following you… and likely anybody that you followed.

Hey, I’m semi-popular.
As I was getting all sorts of free information from Twitter, I started to return the favor. I started using desktop software like TweetDeck to search for “wordpress.” I would then read the messages that came in and would respond immediately to anybody who was having trouble. I’d either answer their question directly if it fit in 140 characters, or, I’d have them contact me for assistance. The more I helped out, the more followers I would gain. Of all the phases of my Twitter history, this was by far my favorite.

Stop spamming me.
at some point along the way, I was introduced to a service that absolutely must have been conceived by the Devil himself. This service would update your Twitter account to automatically follow anybody on twitter who would follow me. At first I thought this was a brilliant idea. Wow, what a time saver. At the time I was basically following anybody who didn’t look like an out-and-out spammer if they followed me first. Not to mention, I was still going out and finding tons of new people to follow on my own. So, the amount of people I was following was getting to be crazy. The amount of TwitterSpam I was getting started to be too much. I shut down the auto-follow service and spent an entire afternoon going through and removing anybody I was following who was even the slightest bit spammy.

What did you say? I missed it.
Recently I’ve had something annoying happen several times. I’ll either be at lunch with a group of friends, or at our weekly meetup and somebody will mention an upcoming gathering or maybe a cool new iPhone app or website and when I ask about it somebody will respond, “I sent the link out on Twitter yesterday, didn’t you see it?” No, as a matter of fact I didn’t see it. And here’s why…

I do a lot of my Twitter activity from my iPhone. The software I use will load up the last 100 tweets from the people I follow when I first start it up. Way back when, that would cover a few days of activity. The other night while we were having our Twitter conversation I loaded up the software and saw that 100 tweets covered 14 minutes. (I double checked, that is NOT a typo.) So this means that if you did not send the tweet directly to me (like an @reply), or if I didn’t happen to check Twitter in the 15 minute window following your tweet, I missed it. This seems to defeat the purpose of Twitter, doesn’t it? I want to know what my FRIENDS are up to. I want to hear their recommendations. It’s not that the rest of the Twitterverse isn’t interesting, because it is. But, if it means missing what my friends are up to, then I’m just not that interested.

I’m going through a major Twitter purge right now. My goal is to be able to see at least the last 4 hours worth of tweets when I load up my iPhone app. That may be ambitious, but a boy can dream, right? Do I expect to lose a lot of followers because of it? Yeah. But, if I plan to continue to use Twitter, I have to use it in a way that makes it useful to me. The benefits far outweigh the consequences.

So, what about you? Does your Twitter history sound anything like mine?

WordCamp San Francisco Wrap-up

I just returned home from WordCamp San Francisco and wanted to write my wrap-up right away so I didn’t forget any of the details I wanted to throw in. I’m exhausted from a day of travel that included our flight being delayed (twice), landing in Vegas and sitting on the tarmac for 20 minutes and then another 20 minute delay as they failed to let us know which carousel our luggage was going to come out on. Ahh, the joys of travel.

Anyway, on to the good stuff.

My wife and I made our way to San Francisco a few days early to do some sightseeing prior to spending all day at WordCamp on Saturday. This is 3rd time this year I’ve traveled to attend a WordCamp but the first time I saw something other than the inside of a conference hall. I gotta tell ya, it’s the way to do it! We had a blast being tourists on Thursday and Friday!

Oh, right, this is a post about WordCamp. OK, I’m back on track now.

After the morning welcome by Matt Mullenweg, we headed downstairs to check out Andy Peatling‘s talk about BuddyPress. Andy is the lead developer on the BP project and his passion for the project shows through. He gave a bit of an overview on how you can integrate BuddyPress in to a site to let people contribute and interact, but stressed the fact that BP doesn’t automatically turn your website in to a social network type site. He provided some links to resources that will help designers and developers customize their BP installs. I’m definitely looking forward to researching this further.

Here are the resources if you are interested:
List of BuddyPress loops
BuddyPress hooks
The Skeleton Component
Vote for new BuddyPress features
– BuddyPress dev community

We stayed in our seats downstairs after Andy wrapped up and got ready for the next presenter. Dave Moyer who was going to give an intro to Podcasting. At the ripe old age of 16, Dave is a “been there, done that” guy in the podcast community. He’s been podcasting since 2004. He passed on some info about the tools he uses (Skype and Audacity), places to find free/inexpensive tunes for your podcasts (penmachine, freeplaymusic, soundsnap) and an easy way to make your podcast ready for iTunes (hint: publish via feedburner). Again, this is something that I’ll be researching more over the coming weeks as it’s a topic that I’ve been interested in for ages and just haven’t dove in to yet. Soon, though!

Next was the State of the Word. This is when Matt Mullenweg gives a past, present and future view of WordPress. One of the big announcements was that WordPress and WordPress MU (multi-user) are going to merge. Undoubtedly this means that a site admin would have the ability to turn on/off the ability to add multiple blogs to a single install of WordPress right from the dashboard. No real time-table given on when that would be happening, though. He also spoke about the P2 theme. A very cool theme that turns your blog in to a twitter-like site. This would be a great tool for a team working on a project. New posts and comments are shown in real time and the page doesn’t need to be refreshed to show new content. I’m interested in getting my company to use this for development groups.

In a stroke of genius, rather than having a Q&A session immediately following the State of the Word, instead we broke for an awesome BBQ lunch and then headed back for an hour-long Q&A. I say it’s brilliant because I wouldn’t have wanted to miss any part of either, but not sure sitting for nearly 2 hours straight would have been all that much fun.

Next we checked out Tara Hunt’s “Makin’ Whuffie” presentation. Tara gave some great information on using social media to build your business. She talked about how it’s ridiculous for companies to say “We need a twitter campaign” when what they really need to do is find out why their customers use/like twitter and how they should become part of the community.

We headed downstairs again to check out Ann Oyama giving an intro on WordPress Themes and Plugins. For those of you who read my blog on a regular basis, you know that plugin development is something I’ve been in to lately. As I’ve said before, it’s impossible to teach an entire subject like building custom themes or plugins in a 40 minute presentation, but Ann gave a nice overview and people should have plenty to follow up with once they get back home.

Steve Souders was up next. For me, this was the highlight of the day. Steve is a performance guru who works at Google (after many years of working at Yahoo) and he gave a VERY informative talk on how to speed up your website. Some of the stuff sounds incredibly advanced and may intimidate you at first, but, with some info from Steve and a couple hours of time, you could drastically improve the performance of your website and it could make all the difference in the world to your visitors.

I wouldn’t even begin to do justice to Steve’s presentation. Instead, I’ll tell you to download his powerpoint presentation and as soon as the video is available on wordpress.tv, watch it.

We wrapped up our day by listening to Scott Porad from Pet Holdings (the geniuses behind FailBlog, LolCats, etc…) as he spoke about user-generated content. It was interesting to hear how they do everything they can to make it super simple for people to create and submit content. Then, rather than having people from their company being the judge of what does or doesn’t make it to the website, they leave it up to the community. If enough people say it’s funny, it makes the site. If not, well, sorry.

Even though this wasn’t the last session of the day, it was for us. We headed back to the hotel, grabbed some dinner and made our way to the after party. You just can not pass up the opportunity to have this kind of access to the staff from Automattic and the passionate WordPress community. Guys like Joseph Scott and Jake Spurlock make the entire trip worth it. Where else are you going to be able to bend their ear for 30 minutes and get the inside scoop on what projects they are working on. Plus, it’s a great way to drop a feature request directly in the laps of people that can make ’em show up without having to code them myself. 😉

There are two very unfortunate things about my experience at WordCamp San Francisco;
– As much as I love the idea of having multiple tracks, I’m really bummed that I wasn’t able to see all the presentations. Yes, I know I can watch the presentations online at WordPress.TV in a few days/weeks, but it’s not the same as being there.
– A second day got added to the event that was more geared towards WordPress developers. This was hosted at the Automattic offices and I’m sure would have been exceedingly cool to attend. Unfortunately it wasn’t announced until well after we had booked our flights and I didn’t hear about it until it was too late to make other arrangements. This was definitely a sad trombone moment for me.

Kudos to all the presenters and everybody who had a part in putting together WordCamp SF. I had a great time and I’m already looking forward to attending again next year!

Ashton Vs CNN on Twitter

I don’t normally write blog posts about celebrities, but the running commentary I’ve seen on Twitter over the past few days has forced me to throw my hat in the ring.

Earlier this week, Ashton Kutcher (from That ’70s Show, Punk’d, etc…) posted a video where he was said he recently found out he has over 840,000 followers on twitter, and, that it is “kinda crazy”. He then mentions that CNN’s Twitter accounts has about 50,000 more followers than he does. He then issues a challenge; He’ll Ding Dong Ditch Ted Turner’s house IF his twitter account reaches 1 million followers before CNN’s. This video, of course, instantly went viral setting off the bloggers and tweeters. And, as with anything, there’s going to be positive and negative spins.

“Why would anyone care what Ashton has to say?” said one of the messages I saw this past week. It seems that a large number of people think Ashton is nothing more than a real life Kelso, the bumbling character he played on That ’70s Show. But, if they were to follow Ashton they’d realize that he’s entertaining, he interacts, and he uses his celebrity for worthwhile causes.

Love him or hate him, you have to recognize that Ashton is a very savvy marketer. He knows, maybe better than anyone, how to use social media as a marketing tool. Before you just dismiss him and what he’s doing, think about this… The guy has over a million fans on Facebook and by the end of this week will have a million followers on Twitter. If you fail to see the power behind having a million people willing/wanting to listen to what you have to say, I’m guessing marketing isn’t for you.

Twitter and the ghost writer

The other day an article ran in the NYTimes about celebrities using ghost writers on Twitter. Since then I’ve see dozens of tweets and other commentary about people getting all bent out of shape because they weren’t actually exchanging messages with the people they think they are. Since I know you are all sitting on pins and needles waiting to hear my take on this Tweet-tastrophy, I figured it was time I threw my 2 cents in to the mix.

OK, I get it. You’re bummed out that you aren’t exchanging tweets directly with Britney. But seriously, are you surprised at all? Think of how much time you spend replying to messages. How many followers do you have? A few hundred? A few thousand? Now, how much time do you think it would take to interact with a quarter million people? Can you see somebody may want some help trying to keep up with such a demand? Don’t forget, Twitter is just one of the many ways that fans try to interact with these people. I’m sure they have help answering fan mail, too.

Twitter can be used by celebs to help promote a project they are working on by giving a “behind the scenes” look in to their world. A photo from backstage seconds after coming off stage by your favorite performer, or a photo from the set of a movie or TV show scene being shot RIGHT NOW, does it really matter if the celeb themselves uploaded it? Not to me it doesn’t. I’m just happy to have access to the “exclusive” content.

A perfect example of this is Twitter user Greg Grunberg. You may know Greg as Matt Parkman from Hereos. Matt uses his Twitter account to promote TalkAboutIt.org (a dedicated to epilepsy awareness), he interacts with fans and he uploads shots like this from the set. I follow him because I enjoy the content that comes from the stream. If I found out tomorrow that he has an assistant who hangs out with him and tweets from 10 feet away, would that make the content any less cool? I don’t see how.

The content is the key. If you enjoy the content, the person who actually typed it in is secondary.

[header photo credit goes to Matt West]

It's Thursday, go leave a comment on a blog!

One of the greatest things you can do for a blogger is leave comments on their posts. Many bloggers pour their heart and soul in to their blog posts and unless somebody speaks up and leaves a comment, it can be very discouraging. For that reason I am trying to start a new movement called #CommentThursday on Twitter.

Though you should do it all the time, every Thursday please take an extra minute or two and leave a comment on somebody’s blog. I promise you will be making their day. Then, if you want to help spread the word, send a tweet telling the world. Include the hashtag #CommentThursday. For example:


Blogging isn’t just about writing for the sake of writing. It’s about building a community of people with shared interests. Get out there and help build a community today (and every Thursday!)

I’m done with auto-follow on Twitter

About 2 months ago I was introduced to a site called SocialToo.com. I created an account and added my Twitter credentials. I turned on the feature that would automatically follow anybody on twitter who started following me.

Yesterday, I canceled my account with SocialToo.com.

One feature they offered that I never used was the automatic direct message for new followers. They gave you a form field where you could craft a message that would be sent via direct message to every new person who follows you on Twitter. At first glance this seems like a cool feature. Send everybody a quick thank you for following. However, as Twitter grows, so do the amount of people who start to abuse features like this. Here was one of the DM’s I got the other day.
Last DM
This was the final straw for me. It set off the following series of actions:

1. Canceled account at SocialToo.com
2. Used friendorfollow.com to find out who I’m following who’s not following me.
3. Removed over 200 people I follow who started following me to get a follow-back and then stopped following me.

Up until last week my daily Twitter routine was this:
– Auto follow everybody who follows me.
– Each evening check out the profile, latest tweets and website for each new follower.
– Block spam-only twitter accounts from following me (which also unfollows them).

No more! Instead I’ll skip step 1 and move right on to step 2. I’ll follow back anybody who doesn’t appear spammy, has tweets on topics I’m interested in, doesn’t send out self-promotional links on more than 10% of their tweets. I will, of course, still block all spammy twitter accounts.

After 2 days of turning of my auto-follow and cleaning up my twitter follow list, I can honestly say that it’s removed quite a bit of stress. For some reason the spammy automatic DMs were really pissing me off. I’ll be happy if I never see another one!

(quick note: This post is in no way meant to suggest that socialtoo.com has anything to do with the spammy auto-dms. They simply provide a service that other people choose to take advantage of.)