The Twitters tell the story

I was asked to be the wrap-up Rapporteur for the 10th International Symposium on Online Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin last week.

The conference had the Twitter hashtag #isoj, and, partly because it is Webcast live, people were watching and Twittering about it in real time on at least four continents. (Here is a link to the #isoj Twitter stream). By the afternoon of the conference’s second and final day, April 18, there were about 1,500 Tweets with the hashtag #isoj.

Thanks to some extraordinary panelists: NowPublic News Director Rachel Nixon, Paul Brannan of the BBC, Interactive Editor Dwight Silverman and Internet Editor Robert Quigley, the “audience-as-storyteller” muse took flight.

For my wrap-up, I went with the muse and tried something different: I let the audience tell the story through their Twitters.

This slideshow is not particularly linear, although I did “group” the Twitters around ideas: First, the back channel conversation, then the collaborative layers being added by the audience around the world, then the discussion of business models for news, then the discussion of non-linear multimedia storytelling. Last, I grouped together comments around the main theme of collaborating the news and news as a conversation.

Besides telling and interpreting and adding to the conference story, the Twitters told their own stories, including a matter-of-fact, but reverberating comment on the lack of diversity on the panels.

I’m sure I didn’t do this perfectly, but considering that I created this 80-slide package in real-time – and added the last slide just minutes before presenting it at about 5:15 p.m. that day – I think it is an interesting rough draft.

Please check out the slideshow and tell me what you think! I know that the audience (read: you!) often has far wiser things to say than the perpetrator of this blog ;~)

Students, Denver and the Fifth Estate

I’m in Denver today with a group of University of Nevada, Las Vegas students who are kind enough to call me their teacher. Fellow-learner is more like it.

Once again, we’re experimenting with the future of journalism — using the latest tools in different ways to help people get news and better connect with information, events and newsmakers.

The students are using Nokia N95 cellphones to stream video live from Denver and the Democratic National Convention straight to the Web. But that’s not all. The video is being broadcast on our Web channel at that lets anyone with a computer or smart phone chat via text with the students and their video subjects live, in real time.

So if you have a question, you can type it in, and the student journalist can see the question on the phone, and pass it along to the delegate, protester, elected official or whomever. You can even ask them to change the camera angle. It’s transparent, so anyone watching can also see the question and comment on it or type in a follow up.

You can also subscribe to our Twitter feed here, where you’ll get notified every time the video stream goes live>

Historically, the Fourth Estate — the press — has been in charge of deciding what questions to ask. But this week on our channel, the Fifth Estate — the people – will have a voice and access to power.

That means the people in the East Paradise neighborhood next to UNLV — a remarkably diverse and historically underserved area — will have just as much access to their elected officials and delegates as reporters do.

I was 28 when I first got to cover a convention, and it was the utterly scripted 1984 re-coronation of Ronald Reagan in Dallas. I covered the feds — the FBI, DEA, ATF, IRS, Secret Service — and I remember trying to worm some information out of one of the agents about people being arrested. “Robert Ludlum will have it in print before you do,” he glowered.

Having been double-dog-dared, I worked as hard and as fast as I could, and just two days later, Jerry Needham and I had a double-byline story stripped across page one of the Dallas Times Herald about the supposed plot to attack the convention center via hang gliders.

For today’s reporters, news is just a nanosecond away from worldwide broadcast on the Web. And instead of talking to people, we can have a conversation about the news even as it is happening. That’s a great advantage, because as we know, the Fourth Estate commonly asks pretty clueless questions and could use all the help they can get from the Fifth Estate.

I cannot imagine a more fabulous time to be a journalist!

The students and I have many people to thank for this extraordinary opportunity, most importantly, Ardyth Sohn, Director of the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies, who lured me to Vegas, sight unseen, to teach convergence, new media, digital journalism, multiplatform reporting and Web publishing and design, even though I could barely pronounce the word syllabus and had never written one in my life.

And we couldn’t have done this without a generous grant to support civic journalism from, KLAS-TV Channel 8. That provided students with reporters’ backpacks, MacBooks and cameras to explore and document the neighborhood. The money also supported the student-developed Website, East Paradise, and it paid the four students’ way to Denver.

I am tremendously grateful to Nokia, where some good-hearted folks had the technical chops and the vision to imagine what kinds of remarkable things can be done with the powerful N95 cellphones that only recently became available in the U.S. They loaned the students (and their lucky teacher) phones to experiment with this summer for this project.

Over at the San Francisco startup, Kyte, people went way, way far out of their way to help us load beta software and launch a classy-looking channel for the video and chats. You can make my day by embedding our channel in your Website or blog and spreading the word.

And thank you to my fellow learners, Reid Geary, Ariel Gove, Sandra Herandez and Denitsa Yotova. You truly are the ATeam!

I hope you will watch, participate and tell us what you think.

Sad face TwitterSync no workie

When my friend Chris O’Brien messaged me yesterday asking how I link my Twitter updates to my Facebook status, I had to haul myself out of denial and figure out what went wrong.

For months I had been speeding along in the fast lane with my FB and Tweets all linked together for one-stop updating. I communicate with different people on different platforms – some on Twitter, some on Facebook, some on IM, and the integration made my wacky life a lot easier.

Then it went down, kaput, zonk. Out like a light. Twitter and Facebook and IM stopped speaking to one another, and I had to manually copy and paste (egads, how 1990s!)

I noted it on Twitter when things first came unhinged, but what with final exam week, having my job cut (details here and here) and moving and driving 1,350 miles home to Texas, I was too distracted to souse it out.

For a moment, I couldn’t even figure out which side to start the forensics on, the Twitter or the Facebook.

O’Brien’s reaction to my initial confusion was sweet: “sjcobrien Geez. You mean you broke Facebook AND Twitter? Careful, or they might ban you from the Internet for ever.”

On the Twitter side, here’s one of the error messages (complete with the sad/happy face/Twitterface barometer).

On the Facebook side, there’s finger-pointing and silliness. I had used the TwitterSync application to pull the two together, but the application developers now say Twitter undid it: “Twitter has temporarily, 5/23/2008, turned off the TwitterIM feature of Twitter — meaning TwitterSync is broken until they turn it back on.”

Well, that explains it!

For a little therapy, there is a discussion board right there on TwitterSync for “What are you doing while we wait for TwitterIM to come back …”

While I wait, I may go over and check out the integration-on-steroids called FriendFeed, which Michael Arrington describes as “this year’s Twitter.

But I get irritated when I have to spend a lot of time figuring something out, when the whole point to begin with was to *save* time.

I guess I could just unplug for a while. Go off the grid. Relax.

Sad face.

Visualizing Twitter

New Twitter applications just keep getting more and more fun, but they are tough to keep track of.

Here’s a delightful and encompassing post from Flowing Data on 17 Ways to Visualize the Twitter Universe.

(Call me crazy, but it reminds me of “Visualize Whirled Peas.” )

The blog’s author, Nathan Yau, says he is a UCLA PhD candidate, “statistics graduate student/computer science graduate obsessed with data and visualization.”

There’s a lot for journalism students (and journalists!) to learn from in his blog. We used to call those pretty, colorful things that went alongside the type “graphics,” but these days, data visualization can be a much better way to tell stories than with words.

I spent an enormous amount of time researching Twitter and then trying to be clear in my description, so I have a great deal of admiration for the folks at Common Craft for raising simplicity to an art form in the following wonderful video.

Twitter in plain English:

Twitter 101

What is Twitter?

It is like a microblog, a place to say your piece, or Tweet, in 140 characters or less.

And it is a place to listen.

Unlike my soapbox of a blog, my Twitter home page is actually a waterfall of other people’s words, blended in a real time river from streams around the world. They are people I have stumbled upon and collected simply by clicking on the button to “follow” them.

Those of my colleagues who already think I’m some kind of weirdo for being on Facebook will probably not be encouraged by the fact that one of my favorite followers on Twitter is a dead guy named Buckminster Fuller. (I’m just saying.)

By Twitter standards, I am a mere amateur, following 150 or so people, a museum and a few news services. (I have not yet made the leap to follow a plant, although it is mighty tempting.) By last night, about 90 or so people including my husband ;-) were following me.

What is Twitter? I think it is giant leap forward in communication and connectivity — and I’m incorporating it in my advanced reporting class at UNLV to help students learn to be better writers, communicators and global netizens.

How, why and when? Here’s the Wikipedia entry, and for that matter, here’s a Wiki started and maintained by Twitter Fans. Laughing Squid posted a nifty little clip and save cheat sheet of commands, and there are more applications born each day.

Thanks to the folks at Strategic Public Relations, here is one of the best tutorials and Twitter hack sheets I’ve seen.

How big is it? Here’s the Swiss Army Knife of stat boxes, Twitstat, real time Twitter analytics. Not to be confused with Twitterholic: Who are these people?

As for where, you can Tweet on your computer or Tweet on your cell phone. But unlike simple phone calls, emails or text messages, Twittering is not ordinarily a one-on-one experience.

A Twitter is a broadcast, tossed out there for everyone to hear.

But that’s just the technical answer.

Twittering, someone else said, is like being in a crowded bar surrounded by people talking on their cellphones. (If someone sends me that link, I would love to give credit.)

Twitter is for parents. “If you can’t let go, just Twitter,” wrote one mom in a delightful New York Times piece.

Twitter can be a lifesaver.

Twitter first got my attention when Chuckumentary got the Twitterverse scoop on the Minneapolis bridge collapse, as is chronicled here in a wonderfully encompassing post in David Erickson’s Internet Marketing Blog.

Last fall, KPBS news in San Diego put up a Twitter headline feed of news on the devastating Southern California Wildfires and massive evacuations. When people are evacuating their homes, putting news on a Web page can be useless if the computer is at home or on the back seat of the car. Sending an email is tantamount to delivering a newspaper to the lawn and hoping they get it. But rushing out a Tweet stream to their cell phone with emergency info is better than gold. As Mark Glaser wrote in his MediaShift column at the time, people quickly learned of the emergency alerts and flocked to the Twitter feeds.

Twitter is news.

I first learned of the death of Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto from BreakingNewsOn’s Twitters, and I now subscribe to BBC, TechMeme , the Associated Press, and TheNewYorkTimes, among others, so I don’t miss anything.

Journalist Jim Long, aka, Newmediajim, is using Twitter to give a very real glimpse behind the scenes as he, an NBC cameraman, takes off with the White House press corps on Air Force One to exotic places such as Crawford, Texas or Africa, and then back again, to a perch in the Senate press gallery, or even at home with his girl. (The past few days he seems to be in a super-secret and dangerous location whose initials are Baghdad.)

Other journalists do it differently. Take former Wonkette, AnaMarie Cox, who has fine-tuned her snark to a priceless 140-character Tweet from the campaign trail. She’s worth watching, even though there is sometimes a gap of days between posts.

Twitter is community.

It can be like sitting with your friends on a coast-to-coast couch, eavesdropping on a national conversation.

Take the mashup from the Super Tuesday primary night, that let us all see primary-related Tweets live.

Twitter is a village, says Laura Fitton, known as Pistachio to the Twitterverse.

Twitter is connecting people to raise money for breast cancer, as this piece in Loudoun showed.

Twitter is crowdsourcing. There was Rex Hammock’s low-tech request for help on using a new table saw. There is a Wiki effort to create “Twitter Packs” of people to follow in various industries. And with a lot of help from his Twitter friends,  Guy Kawasaki has created, which includes a section of so-called Twitterati. (If you have to ask …)

Twitter is about groups that are created, morphed and created anew, as people collect around events and ideas. For the TED conference last week, there was a not-so-secret handshake. Put #TED into your Twitter post, and we can all follow along, thanks to the wonders of a search in Terraminds (the Google of Twitter) and an RSS feed. (Here’s the result.) There are slices of RSS feeds for this week’s SXSW festival in Austin, and there will be more that just grow organically.

Venture capitalist Fred Wilson (a big investor in, where I once worked) calls the “#” slice of Twitter an “event firehose.”

On Twitter things are open and the field is level. You can follow Fred and hear his latest musings, or you can follow Dave Winer, the guy who helped make all of this possible by pioneering and developing RSS, blogs and podcasting too. Or you can follow Howard Rheingold, who foresaw some of these possibilities in his fabulous book, Smart Mobs.

What is Twitter?

It is, says Silicon Alley Insider, a new form of literature, as evidenced by this minute-by-minute account as Ryan K was being laid off from Yahoo!

Written well, a Twitter can broadcast magical poetry of our day-to-day lives, as in this one from Laura Fitton that I quickly “favorited” to share with my students.

Trying to describe Twitter is pointless, Rex Hammock says:

It’s a little like trying to explain the telephone by describing what people talk about on the phone. ‘Telephones are devices that teenagers use to spread gossip.’ ‘Telephones are the devices people use to contact police when bad things happen.’ ‘Telephones are the devices you use to call the 7-11 to ask if they have Prince Albert in a can.’

Twitter, as Doc Searls says, is a prototype.

Twitter is me and you and everybody else talking, connecting and listening.

It is a live window on the world, in at least three dimensions.


Update: Check out this lovely and inclusive compendium of Twitter Resources from Kathy E. Gill’s WiredPen blog. And bookmark this comprehensive Twitter-pedia from Mahalo.

Update 2: The Twiends, a social media company that helps people connect through Twitter, has a nice guide for how to build your follower list at this link: And for the more visual among us, Twiends also has a fun ‘How to Twitter’ infographic with beginner Twitter tips at this link:

Note: As originally published, this piece incorrectly said Guy Kawasaki was with Forrester Research. Kawasaki  is managing director of a venture capital firm, Garage Technology Ventures, and he writes for Entrepreneur Magazine. 

Billionaire Mark Cuban says bloggers should shun ads, sponsors

Easy for him to say.

Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA Dallas Mavericks and a net worth north of $2 billion, also happens to be a blogger. So when he came to speak at the BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas, a couple hundred bloggers showed up and listened up.

Cuban said a lot of provocative things, but what I’m still shaking my head over his is “get-thee-to-a-nunnery” attitude about blogs and money.

“Should you worry about revenue?” Cuban asked the audience.

“No. 1, if you get a sponsor, your customers always own you,” he said. “No. 2, I have no doubt in my mind that a blog that has Google ads — it cheapens it, and it won’t get read.” He acknowledged that he’d outlined a “no win situation,” but added, “it is reality.”

So should bloggers take a vow of poverty for life? “Once you start getting some traffic, then you can make a decision (about advertising), but (not) in the beginning,” he said.

Cuban called bloggers who take ads “sellouts,” and included those who bring in sponsors or sell themselves to aggregators in the unapproved column as well.

“Are you still a blogger if you are getting paid to do it for somebody else?” he asked. “I don’t think so,” he answered. “What’s the difference between someone getting paid to write for Huffington (Post) vs. writing for the Dallas Morning News?”

Cuban clearly sees blogging as a higher order. “Blogging is a way for truth to come out — blogging is a way for alternative ideas and opinions to come out.”

In part because he sees his blog as a way to counter the mainstream media, he doesn’t have a lot of regard for newspapers turning their reporters into bloggers. “I don’t get it,” he said. “Either you are a reporter or you are not. To me, you got to keep them separate.”

Working for the man, so to speak, “your brain is gonna change,” he said. “If you take the step to get paid to blog, you are going to lose your ability to be perfectly honest. Because somebody wants something for their money … You go to work, you got a boss, you can’t be brutally honest.”

He celebrates the fact that with his blog, “instead of talking to one or two people I got to talk to a whole universe of people.”

But at the same time, he says a blog is “just an application.” And he’s not a fan of user-generated content. “When it is easy to create, then everybody does it,” he said. “The longer the tail, the longer it takes to crawl up to even the ass, much less to get to the head.”

With such an ocean of information to choose from, Cuban said he has set up RSS feeds on about 500 blogs and newsfeeds, and goes to the homepages of about 10 sites daily.

One of the automated feeds he said he gets is through where he has a vanity search for his own name and misspellings of his name.

OK, so what would the billionaire like to buy next?

He likes Facebook. (And Facebook likes him. Mark has 4,459 Facebook friends as of this writing, along with a relatively private public profile.) “I look at my own Facebook page, and no place else is like that. Facebook is where you are who you are. Facebook has the opportunity to be ginormous.”

“Facebook, if I could afford it, I would buy it in a heartbeat.”

Students out to save the news biz

Here’s the reason for my slow posts this past couple weeks, as I and other faculty herded  students from seven universities to the Online News Association conference in Toronto to present youthful and innovative visions for the future of news.

First, a video of students from each of the three projects from MediaGiraffe.

I’m a little partial to the third project, Tandem, which was created by the team I coached. Besides five awesome students from University of Nevada, Las Vegas, team Tandem had magnificent representatives from Ithaca College, Michigan State University, Kansas State and Western Kentucky University. The other projects also included wonderful students from St. Michael’s College and the University of Kansas.

Here’s a link to the Poynter Online column by Joe Grimm about the students’ projects.

And if you really want to hear a nifty presentation, put this one in your iPod and take a listen.  (OK, I said I was partial — I’ve been living with this project since May!)

We’re halfway into it and now, and seeking media partners to implement each of the ideas. I think they’re going to rock!

But most important, for this cockeyed optimist who got into the news bidness to change the world, here’s the point of the project, straight from the Knight Foundation grant proposal:

“Create new ways for people to communicate interactively to help people better understand one another in geographic communities, share know-how and generate passion in solving local problems.”

Back to basics — doing some good for the world!

Why Facebook Bugsmenot and helps me heart my Westie

OK, so we screwed up.

By we I mean the people such as me who were running news Websites.

When we did it, you rightfully hated it.

What’s remarkable is that Facebook is doing it and you love it so much you can’t get enough of it.

And I think it has some tremendous — and positive — implications for online advertising revenues.

Back to the beginning.

We screwed up by suddenly deciding one day in 2004 (or sooner or later) that we would club you over the head with a two-by-four and forcibly prevent you from seeing content on the site until you registered. When you registered, we asked you to tell us your income, whether you like music or sports, your age and give us all sorts of personal information.

Speaking as one who was on the receiving end of a bazillion vitriolic emails, I can say definitively that you hated it. I would come in each morning and start answering emails with “I am sorry …. but ….”

Believe me, I felt your pain.

The reason we launched registration, of course, was money.

I’m sorry to say that it wasn’t really all about you personally. It was about the collective you, and how much more we could charge advertisers when we told them about your fabulous demographics.

Right. Except that every other news Website did the same thing, so we were no better than anyone else. And sadly, you sliced out into such small groups that it was almost impossible to figure out how to price the ads targeted to your group.

And we spawned a growth industry: was born to quickly give you a password on request so you could get around all that crap. And with that, the reliability of the underlying data came into question.

Along comes Facebook. And it lets you create a page. And join groups. And join more groups. And even create groups. Facebook makes it easy for you to self-select into tiny niche slices and voluntarily – eagerly! — give out that very information that you hated giving to news Websites.

Take my eclectic list of groups.

I heart Westies. I heart my Westie Portia
I heart Dobermans. Trust me, I’m a journalist. Dallas Times Herald Diaspora. I’m not in any political groups, but I’ve been severely tempted by He’s not Kinky, he’s my governor. I did join my neighborhood, Mahncke Park, in San Antonio.

When I created a Facebook ad to find home for two puppies, I had the option, for another buck or two, to target the ad to a specific group.

Holy cow! For not much money I could make sure people a few blocks from my home who are dog lovers and have a good sense of humor see my ad? I seriously like that.

And so should the real estate agent down the street. And so should the deli around the corner. And so should the woman up the road who is running for Congress. And so should my friend over in Austin who is looking for people to work on an out-of-state campaign.

One more thing. Newspaper people on the content and editorial side never liked to acknowledge how many people bought the paper for the ads. Sacrilege!

Guess what? If I am on the I heart Westies page and I see an ad about a shampoo to help with their notoriously dry and itchy skin, I think that’s a good thing. Not an intrusive ad.

God forbid, I may actually think of it as content. Because I am there because I Heart Westies. To me, that ad is information.

I know. This is heracy. But it BugsMeNot.

Facebook, the dead tree edition and cute puppies

The other day I found something extremely cool hidden in plain view on Facebook, something that may spell more gloom for online newspaper classifieds, and which might even take a chunk out of eBay and Craigslist.
I found myself in possession of two extra puppies, thanks so some lout who dumped them in our yard during a thunderstorm.
We brought the 6-week-old girls in, dried them out, bought them a bag of designer puppy food and then began recycling newspapers the old fashioned way, in the bottom of a dog crate.
They were cute as all get out (think puppy breath!), and they looked right at home sitting on the front of the NYTimes’ Sunday Styles section.

(So that’s why we still subscribe to the dead tree edition!)

But we couldn’t keep them, because we already have two dogs and a cat. So we needed to find them new homes. I used the occasion to shoot my first video with our Canon PowerShot and then tried out iMovie to make my first very amateur (read: atrocious) video for the puppies’ debut on YouTube.
Hedging our bets, we put a color poster of the adorable duo — nicknamed Mocha and Latte — in the local Starbucks, in a shameless solicitation for new owners.

But what worked was Facebook. I put up an ad, and included a link to the girls’ first slideshow.

I got the first phone call in less than 45 minutes, and had four more inquiries by the end of the day. OK, so Craigslist does that too, right? Well, not quite right.

My brother’s best friend, Mary Giovannini, who runs the Website of the Haines, Alaska animal shelter, cautioned me immediately about giving puppies away for free, fearing they would be scooped up by someone who would then sell them to an animal testing lab.

But because of Facebook, I could give the puppies to someone who, while I didn’t know them personally, came with a profile and a resume and references of sorts. Each of the people who were interested in the puppies opened their profile to me so I could get a sense of who they were. At the same time, they could see who I am — a journalist and a professor, with friends from here to kingdom come who will track you down if you so much as harm a hair on those puppies’ heads!

Less than 48 hours after the ad went up, Hillary came by our house and got the latte-colored, smaller pup, whose name is now Daisy.

When Brittany sent me a message the next day about the pups, I replied that there was one left. Thanks to a prompt from Facebook, I was able to add my answer “to the FAQ” on the ad. Nice! how many times have we told people looking at our Craigslist ad that we really did mean that the motorcyle does not run … really! I would love to be able to automatically append my answers on Craigslist as an FAQ, what a timesaver!

That night, Brittany and her mom came by, and they took the little cutie whose name is now Peanut.

Now both young women are sending me messages in Facebook with updates on Daisy and Peanut. And they’re sending me puppy pictures! I could never do that through the newspaper classifieds — or Craigslist, or eBay.

Facebook gets something that is really, really important: When I know who someone is, I feel a whole lot better, whether it is sharing content or a “business” transaction, like finding a new home for two very lucky puppies.