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Posts tagged with: Twitter

A life without Google. It’s harder than you think.

2568436053_a9734f5d0d_zSo I am in China for a week. I will write about the wider politics of the place when my time here draws to a close, but for now I will focus on just one aspect: what China’s block on Google tells us… about our use of Google.

China blocked access to Google services before the 25th anniversary of the Tian’anmen uprising, and it seems that things have not improved since. On my laptop I can access no Google services through my web browser at all. The only thing that works is Gmail via IMAP (web interface is also blocked). Twitter and Facebook are also blocked, but I do not actually need those as urgently, or they are not as central needs. Dropbox not working is a pain, but for a week I can live without it, as I use it mostly for my own files anyway.

So I can live without Google Search, right? Indeed that’s actually the easiest part. I have added DuckDuckGo to my browser and it works fine. Bing.com is just about passable if I need it. The interesting thing here is how I have become so used to browser address bar search – after years of doing just that, going to a website for search felt really odd.

The next challenge was maps. I have used nothing but Google Maps for a good few years, so what’s the best bet for a replacement? Turns out that the search on Bing Maps is rubbish unless you use the Chinese characters. So here Apple Maps (and indeed the Maps app in Mac OS that I’d even forgotten existed) has turned out to be a fair substitute.

Then what about calendars? I use Google Calendars for a bunch of collaborative projects (I don’t use these for my own use), so those I will have to live without for now. Were I to be in China more often I would have to find an alternative, as would businesses doing China – non China collaborations.


Then, to my surprise, there is Google’s Font APIs that are increasingly heavily used, even in open source software – including WordPress that powers this blog. Yes, pages will load without these fonts, but browsers keep on trying to load the APIs, and slow down the loading of pages.

Last but not least, and rather central when in China as I do not speak Mandarin, is Google Translate, which is also built into my browser. Baidu’s translation tool is useless as its interface is just in Mandarin (unless I am missing something), so Pons is basically my only option.

So the conclusion is this: while Google makes the argument that provision of web services is a free market, and that anyone can switch to alternatives, we nevertheless find ourselves so dependent on Google as a matter of habit that those habits are damned hard to break.

If you want one of the placeholder Twitter accounts I’ve registered, here are a few things to bear in mind

I was an early adopter of Twitter, and have been using it for political purposes ever since. Throughout that time I have conducted all sorts of experiments with Twitter, and registered dozens of Twitter usernames for numerous purposes over the years.

One of these experiments was to make unofficial accounts for all Danish government ministries on Twitter, back in April 2013. These accounts were all automated, tweeted news from the Ministries, and clearly stated in the biographies that the accounts were unofficial.

Something has recently started to change in Denmark though, as 4 Ministries have contacted me in the last few weeks to ‘officialise’ their accounts. The first of these – Kulturministeriet @KUM_dk renamed to @Kulturmin – has now gone live.

The process to officialise the account was however far from ideal.

I received a stern e-mail from their Comms guy, telling me the account was a “problem” (why only now is this a problem, I answered, as the account has been tweeting for 12 months?) but agreed to hand it over to them. At no point in my e-mails exchanged with them was the word ‘thanks’ used once from their side, and the newly-renamed and officialised account has not tweeted anything about the process to say it is now official. I’ve delivered them a starter-following of 110 people, for free, and helped out. As I have made clear here I will of course not demand any payment if people want access to any of these accounts I happen to have registered.

Further, if they had been friendly towards me, I could have happily sent some of my 10000 followers towards them too. But no, by being unfriendly they can have this blog entry berating them instead.

The power of a title to make a picture go viral: “Politicians discussing global warming” by Isaac Cordal

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For the last 5 days the picture shown above has been shared far and wide on Twitter (link to the tweet), and to a certain extent on Facebook too. The title “Politicians discussing global warming” and the stunning picture match perfectly. I too was one of the people who retweeted the tweet a few days ago.

Then I thought “Ooh, it’s in Berlin, let’s find it!” But Googling it just found websites talking about the tweet. It prompted me to wonder whether the picture was indeed real, and some debate among friends of mine – including some Berlin residents – on Facebook ensued.

Determined to get to the bottom of it, I downloaded the picture, and ran it through “Search by image” on Google’s image search. Hey presto, the original picture – from the artist Isaac Cordal’s photo stream on Flickr. But with one important difference – the original is entitled “electoral campaign”, and while it was in Berlin it was from 2011! You will not find it today on Gendarmenmarkt as far as I know.

The interesting conclusion here is that the picture, with the title “Politicians discussing global warming” as tweeted above, is immensely more powerful than entitled “electoral campaign”, and that is the reason for its reach now as far as I can tell. I wonder whether it was Nigel Britto who first applied that title? Anyway, it’s an interesting little case!

(thanks @benteka and @ManagerYin for contributing to my thinking that informed this blog entry)

I was @JC_Juncker. Lessons for Twitter, and for political social media too.

Just over a week ago, as the EU Twittersphere was starting to turn its attention to the EPP’s Dublin Congress, I wondered what presence – if any – Jean-Claude Juncker had on Twitter. None was the answer. So on 2nd March, at 2117 CET, I registered @JC_Juncker, a spoof Twitter account. This screenshot of the confirmation e-mail from Twitter confirms the time of the registration.

The profile of the account looked like this:


The screenshot is from Tweetbot on my iPhone, but you get the idea. The cover picture is an overflowing ashtray, alluding to Juncker’s well known smoking habit. The biography is clearly not serious. This is obviously not an official account – it is a spoof.

So then, just over 2 days after creating the account, and having followed 800 people, and having amassed 300 followers, the account was suspended by Twitter on Wednesday 5th March, sometime in the late afternoon, and remains suspended. I do not know when exactly the account was suspended, as I received no e-mail notification of the suspension. I filled in the form on Twitter’s website as fast as I could, requesting the suspension be overturned (screenshot of the e-mail confirming this request was submitted is here).

Since then I have heard nothing from Twitter. The account, I admit, does not fully comply with Twitter’s parody policy, but I have had no opportunity to add “parody” to the username to make it clear the account is not real as Twitter would demand. Further the account has now been suspended for more time than it was actually running, and this leads me to smell a rat – how did someone manage to get the account suspended so fast, while I am still awaiting a response from Twitter to my appeal? The Twitter parody page very clearly states “We process complaints in the order in which they are received” – in this case this has clearly not been respected.

Does the fact that Twitter had a stall at the EPP Congress in Dublin have something to do with it I wonder? Does having the right connections to Twitter allow you to bypass the official policy? If we are to trust Twitter as an impartial platform for political communications then it should not be possible to use connections to bypass the policy – I do hope this is just an oversight from Twitter in this case. I will update this post once I know more.

Merkel in London – a case study in political tweeting

Angela Merkel spoke in London earlier today, and – as could have been predicted in advance – it was one of the most interesting political stories of the day in UK and indeed EU and German politics. A BBC story with all the background can be found here.

Such events of course are now accompanied by live commentary on Twitter, today mostly on the hashtag #Merkel. Here are some of the key tweets, and explaining what they each show.

The “the speech in a tweet” tweet
Congratulations to @olafcramme here. This, sent within seconds of Merkel having spoken the words, summed up the whole speech. Nailing it so clearly and so quickly takes skill, and 47 Retweets is the least it deserved.

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The amusing but nevertheless political tweet
Some amusement never goes amiss when you’re trying to maintain your concentration through minutes of impenetrable prose. Here @lukereuters managed the tweet of the day (210 RTs), likening the Cameron and Merkel on the sofa to an IKEA catalogue. Guido Fawkes followed up with analysis of the DVDs behind them.

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The “what does all this mean” tweet
Not all summed up in the tweet itself admittedly, but the title of the piece is neat – this tweet by @kosmopolit drew my attention to this piece from @jeremycliffe at The Economist that, in its short and succinct way, summarised many of the issues at stake in today’s speech.

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The person who’s actually there, providing context
While the speech was live-streamed, the later press conference was not (or at least I was not aware of it). But @DavidCharter was there or somehow watching, providing context on Twitter, and was ready to follow up if you asked him questions.

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Those were my highlights of following the Merkel speech on Twitter. Anything interesting I missed? If so do comment below, or tweet me – @jonworth.

[UPDATE 28.2.2014]
Some of this is also featured in Tweets of the Week from viEUws.

If you want Twitter your way, use a third-party Twitter client

I’m growing rather tired of loads of complaints on Twitter… about Twitter. Redesigns, changes to the chronological listing of tweets, pictures appearing in-stream by default are common complaints I keep on reading. This has prompted analysis, and even odd browser-based work arounds.

Why is all of this so annoying? Because the solution is both simple and right. Use a third-party Twitter client to access Twitter, and the problems go away (for now at least – more about that below).

What do I mean by a third-party Twitter client? Essentially a software utility to access Twitter that is not run or developed by Twitter itself. This means that the utility is designed to give you, the user, control over what you see, and not let Twitter Twitter’s advertisers determine that for you. Twitter’s own apps, and Tweetdeck, are no good as these are run by Twitter.

You need to sign up for an account with Twitter, which itself has now become more complicated – you need to use the mobile signup to avoid having to download an app – and then use the login details in a third-party app.

So what are your options?

On Mac: I absolutely swear by Tweetbot. Buy it. It may cost £13.99 but it’s worth it. Multiple column views, no ads, elegant interface, stable, list management, super mute filters (don’t like XFactor or the Daily Mail – gone!), and sync with its iOS counterparts. Alternatives are Osfoora, Janetter, Hibari and Echofon.

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On Windows: Here it’s a little more complicated, but try Yoono or MetroTwit. It seems that both Echofon and Janetter have problems on PCs at the moment.

On Linux: Yoono, Choqok, Birdie or Polly.

On iOS: Tweetbot, Übersocial, Tweetlogix, or Janetter.

On Android: Übersocial or Janetter.

On Blackberry: Übersocial.

There is also the web-based Hootsuite, although I have always found its interface too clunky for personal use. The list above is also not exhaustive – do suggest additions, amendments in the comments.

So what’s the problem with this?

Twitter became big in the first place because the platform was great in two interlinked ways – users felt they were in control of what they saw, rather that Twitter controlling that (on Facebook it has always felt like EdgeRank controls you), and the dozens of software utilities that sprung up around Twitter meant everyone could find something that suited them.

But that sort of network is not easy to monetise, as it is relatively simple to avoid advertising. This explains Twitter’s quest to restrict third party apps, and force its users (and especially new users) to use its own apps. So while you may be able to use Tweetbot or Janetter now, there is no guarantee that this will persist for ever more.

So download your third party app now. Persuade as many of your friends as possible to do the same. And then the user base of these apps will be considerable enough to make sure Twitter cannot close them.

The future of #EUtweetup – I need your help

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 10.01.19First the simple bit: the very short term future of #EUtweetup is that the next tweetups will be on Monday 17th February in Brussels, and Wednesday 19th February in Berlin. The Berlin tweetup will be at Gorki Park from 1800 (details same as last time).

But what about #EUtweetup Brussels? Here I need your help.

The event has grown into a large and remarkable network, and hence I think it’s time to reflect on what the future of the event actually should be, and where it ought to be held.

The idea was to be an informal get together for people who had previously only debated EU politics together on Twitter. There is hence, in my view, no need for an agenda or any sort of speaker. The event needs to allow people to come and go as they please throughout the evening. Also as the event has no organiser or budget as such it needs to be easy enough to do – just a free reservation of a place, and then some tweets to announce it.

However for me there are two main outstanding questions, and for this I need you assistance. Please answer the two polls below, and/or comment below!

Currently #EUtweetup in Brussels happens on an ad hoc basis – it’s when Anthony Zacharzewski or I happen to be in Brussels, and we organise it. Should we keep it ad hoc, or should we set a date – second Wednesday or third Thursday of the month or something? Maximum one a month is plenty I think though.

When should #EUtweetup happen?

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#EUtweetup has been at 3 main locations – James Joyce on rue Archimède, London Calling on Place de Londres, and Café des Epices on Place Jourdan. Neither the James Joyce nor London Calling serve food, while Café des Epices is too much of a restaurant. Some sort of compromise – where food is served as well as it being a pub – would be best. Old Oak and Kitty O’Shea’s at Schuman have been suggested to me as alternatives, although the pub quiz on Monday’s at Old Oak means the days a tweetup works there are narrower. I think one preferred location makes sense, with the opportunity to go elsewhere from time to time.

Where should #EUtweetup happen?

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If I were to start from scratch on Twitter, this is what I’d do

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 17.02.26I joined Twitter (@jonworth) just over five years ago. Now with 40659 tweets, 9665 followers, and following 4641, I have accumulated a fair amount of experience using the network – and that’s just with my own personal account, let alone the dozens of accounts I have for other purposes. I’ve never bought any followers, and think I have managed to build a following through being fair, responsive to questions sent my way, and hopefully somehow useful to the people that follow me.

But yesterday at an event in Odense in Denmark I was asked for ideas about how to make the first steps on Twitter, and to build a useful network. How, I then wondered, would I do it were I, as an individual, to be starting from scratch? This is my best effort to answer that question.

1) What do you care about, and know about?
This is the important point to start with, because this is going to serve as the basis for your tweets. It does not matter whether you care about a multitude of things – that’s you, and Twitter will help you find an audience, or audiences for each of those things that matter to you. I care a lot about EU politics, UK and German politics, about the impact of tech on politics, and I travel a lot by train. Those are my themes. I am interested, but have nothing unique to contribute, when it comes to – for example – US politics, or football – so I very seldom tweet about those things. Think “I want to tweet about…” and not “I should tweet about…”

2) Learn the basics of who sees what on Twitter
In short: it is not as simple as it initially seems. And there is a super guide to who sees what on Twitter, entitled “Mom [sic] This Is How Twitter Works” – it’s worth reading. I only learned a few of the things in it years after starting on Twitter.

3) Present yourself clearly and simply
How you present yourself on Twitter matters. It can determine who follows you back (see below), and sets the tone for your use of the network. A user that has just a picture, and no biography or link, is much harder to gauge than one that does. Make other Twitter users’ job easier – say what you are about, and more people will follow you. I’ve written a guide to how to design a Twitter profile for a politician here, but the same could apply to any account.

4) Follow a load of people, and use Twitter lists from the start
Twitter allows you to follow up to 2000 accounts initially*. When you yourself get 2000 followers, this limit is lifted. But initially you will need to live within the limit. But be liberal with the people that you follow – anyone interesting and relevant to your fields of interest is worth following, and also try to aim to mix high profile and ‘normal’ people – the latter are more likely to follow you back and engage with you (but will use your Twitter biography to work this out – see 3) above). If you follow more than 1000 accounts Twitter soon becomes complicated to manage, so break down your followers into Twitter lists. Here’s Twitter’s page about lists, and a more detailed explanation from me. You can use Lists to establish a kind of two-stage filter – follow anyone that might be interesting, and add all the really interesting ones to lists. Remember that Twitter is not reciprocal – if you follow someone, that person does not have to follow you. But most Twitter users will cast an eye over their new followers and consider whether to reciprocate.

5) Think about now. Not 5 minutes ago, or 5 hours ago.
You are going to miss things on Twitter. The network is about the here and now. If you worry about this you will get bogged down. So think about what’s happening on Twitter right now, not what you might theoretically have missed a while ago. If it’s still important people will still be talking about it. And if they think it might have been important to you, someone will probably have told you – which also underlines the only exception to this rule: always pay attention to your Twitter Mentions (otherwise known as @replies) – these are the way people are trying to attract your attention, and most of the time this is welcome.

6) Get a third-party Twitter app
You should rarely return to Twitter.com, as the functions there are limited. Twitter itself offers applications for mobile devices, and TweetDeck for advanced users of Mac and Windows, but even that – because it is owned by Twitter – prioritises what Twitter wants you to see, and may want you to see in future, rather than what you want to find. So use a Twitter app from a third party, even if you have to pay something for it. I am personally a devotee of Tweetbot for both Mac OS and iOS, and the two synchronise. On Windows try Janetter or MetroTwit. Janetter is good on Android too. All of these apps restrict or eliminate ads from Twitter, and also give you list management direct within the app. You might also consider Hootsuite, but for personal use its extra features do not make up for the clunky interface.

7) Get some basic analytics
How far do your messages go on Twitter, and how often are you retweeted? Basic link tracking and statistical analysis can help you work this out, and hence start to refine what works and does not work on Twitter. I personally use bit.ly link tracking (that can be built into Tweetbot), and use SumAll and Klout to see how far my messages go. I use the free version of SocialBro to analyse my followers. Having said that, all of that is secondary to actually getting online and engaging with people on Twitter.

So what are you waiting for?

* – it is possible to add people to Twitter lists without actually following them. But do this only for news accounts, as if you follow a person that person may be inclined to reciprocate. That is less important for organisational or news accounts.