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, chron.com Interactive Editor Dwight Silverman and statesman.com 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 Kyte.tv 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 LasVegasNow.com, 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 Kyte.tv 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 extra.com 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 Alltop.com, 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 TheStreet.com, 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:  http://twiends.com/get-twitter-followers And for the more visual among us, Twiends also has a fun ‘How to Twitter’ infographic with beginner Twitter tips at this link: http://twiends.com/how-to-twitter

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 IceRocket.com 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.”