QOTD: Arrington on Brands and Twitter’s Real-Time Search

I stopped regular reading of TechCrunch a long time ago — it had become a downright nasty place, where the community displayed repellent levels of acrimony, greed, sycophancy. But techmeme recently sent me to a TechCrunch post that reminded me that Arrington has been and remains a talented, blunt-spoken analyst.

In It’s Time To Start Thinking Of Twitter As A Search Engine, Arrington writes:

Enough people are hooked on it that Twitter has reached critical mass. If something big is going on in the world, you can get information about it from Twitter.

Twitter also gathers other information, like people’s experiences with products and services as they interact with them. A couple of months ago, for example, I was stuck in the airport and received extremely poor service from Lufthansa. I twittered my displeasure, which made me feel better – at least I was doing something besides wait in an endless line. I’ve also Twittered complaints about the W Hotel (no Internet, cold room) and Comcast (the usual Internet gripes).

More and more people are starting to use Twitter to talk about brands in real time as they interact with them [emphasis mine]. And those brands want to know all about it, whether to respond individually (The W Hotel pestered me until I told them to just leave me alone), or simply gather the information to see what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong.

And all of it is discoverable at search.twitter.com, the search engine that Twitter acquired last summer.

People searching for news. Brands searching for feedback. That’s valuable stuff.

Twitter as search engine. Twitter as listening tool for organizations that want to find out what people are saying about them, and respond where warranted with customer service.

I’ll see that, and raise the wager: Twitter as a tool for tracking the conversation around specific topics, and — because Twitter search/tracking is a real-time service — discovering people who are, at that exact moment, actively interested in that topic. A radar system that monitors what — with apologies to Arthur Miller – is more and more the sound of the wired world “talking to itself,” and filters Babel down so that flares are generated only when it finds the keyword(s) you’ve specified.

Could this help groups working to solve global warming, save polar bears, or help disaster victims? I think so. Next up: posts about how twitter might be used in this way (hint: not by outsourcing it, or dropping it in the lap of a marketing person, or even tasking your whole marketing department with making it happen), and a look at how a few brands are trying to

David Weinberger on Obama’s Singular Focus

David Weinberger explains why he woke up weeping with joy — and articulates for me why I teared up, again, this morning listening again to the last three minutes of Obama’s victory speech:

To live up to the ideal we just embraced, we have to do intentionally what Obama does by nature. He listens to those with whom he disagrees, but he responds only to the goodness expressed in even the most fear-driven of statements. Ignore the small, the petty, the self-involved, the defensive, and respond to the moments of goodness in all of us.

This is a practical program. I’ve seen it adopted on purpose and I’ve seen it work. Avoiding getting dragged into negative shoutfests is basic troll management. Learning to hear and respond to what is good and shared in an expression we find detestable is harder. The best teachers do this routinely. We can all learn to do it. We can. Yes, we can.

It is a big part of how Obama brings out the better nature in us. It is a big reason the unrelenting and unreasoned negative campaign aimed at him failed.

It’s been really heartening to read all the reports of reaction around the world to news that Americans have elected this black man, who I really believe — in his temperament, intelligence, humility, and uncanny ability to make people feel included — can be the truly Great Man we need for our times.

Shameless Horn-Tootin’

Just published a blog post for OnEarth Magazine about finding unexpected similarities between my parents’ 1970s “back-to-the-land” environmentalism and today’s less ideologically driven green movement. Kind of pleased with how it turned out.

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Working in public: How online communities reward their stewards’ good behavior (and punish bad behavior)

I’ve just now learned of the departure of Derek Powazek and Heather Powazek Champ from JPG Magazine. JPG is the user-driven photography magazine that (until now) was Exhibit A for anyone trying to make the case that participatory, community edited websites can produce really high quality content. Today, however, I link to it only out of respect for what Derek and Heather (and even the bad guy in this tale, Paul Cloutier) built and nurtured; but for that I wouldn’t touch the site with a 10-foot pole. Very sad. But at the same time, there are aspects to this story that I find heartening.

You see, it seems that Derek and Heather — two of the most respected and experienced online-community builders I can think of — got screwed. Visit the link for Derek’s blog post about the split — it’s an eye-popping read, simply for its full-disclosure approach to a career disaster. (I should say would have been a disaster, in the era that this post may well have ended.) Based on Alexa stats, I’d estimate that 70K-80K people read this post, and most of those would be disproportionately influential — early adopters, technologists, web workers, digital photography “prosumers.” In other words, the heart of the customer base that created all the buzz around JPG Magazine. Derek’s post became a top-of-page conversation item on techmeme.com and digg.com, hundreds of blogs have covered this affair (per Technorati), and at this writing a metafilter thread has engendered 210 comments.

What all this makes clear to me is that when an enterprise’s customers or constituents have become a true community — networked together, empowered, passionately engaged — there’s an accompanying sea change in that enterprises accountability for its business practices. Basically, if management does something stupid, greedy, manipulative, or unfair that betrays the customer community, the enterprise may pay very dearly. A thousand pissed-off customers who aren’t connected with one another, don’t have megaphones, and are in the habit of believing they can’t make much of a difference probably won’t do much of anything to express their anger. But a community of a thousand customers — well, they might make a LOT of noise, as the response to this incident shows. They might even do something like this:

ouch: Flickr

It’s entirely possible that community action like this could deal a lethal blow to an enterprise that makes a really bad mistake and does all the wrong things in response to it, as Cloutier appears to be doing (removing the first six issues of JPG — which predated 8020 publishing and were all-Powazek, editorially — from the site, stonewalling, etc.). A lot of people think this flourishing brand is, in the blink of an eye, now headed for the dead pool.

So that’s the scary part — an enterprise that bets on community, succeeds in nurturing one to life, and then betrays that community, does so at great peril. (I should note that this whole post assumes that you, dear reader, see in successful community-building the same potential bonanza that I do — “network effect” word-of-mouth, a continuous feedback loop re what works and what doesn’t, user-submitted content, etc. If you don’t share this outlook you’re reading the wrong blog!)

This is good news, far as I’m concerned. Accountability to an empowered customer/constituent community can only make the world a better place.

Also, it seems to me that in this business equation, the aggrieved — a mistreated employee, a supplier who’s being unfairly shafted, a whistleblower, a customer who’s been lied to — have some powerful leverage. When it’s clear that a beef won’t be addressed by the enterprise, you can now turn to the community for support. This is what a longtime Flickr user did, when Flickr removed one of her photographs and a massive string of comments attached to it. The resulting uproar in the Flickr community (“censorship!”) dwarfed the noise over the Powazek/JPG split; a popular blogger’s post about it got some 4,000 diggs.

Finally, all this transparency, this illumination of matters that used to happen either behind closed doors or in obscurity, creates huge opportunity for those who commit wholeheartedly to doing the right thing as best they can — in general, and especially with respect to the interests of their community. In a community-driven “fishbowl workplace” — one in which employees and management are part of the community, i.e. they engage in public conversation with the community, through blogs and other social media — the Individual and the enterprise have the same opportunity to demonstrate loyalty, integrity, trustworthiness.

The two incidents I’ve written about here — Powazek/JPG and Flickr — are cases in point. Both Derek Powazek and Flickr have long, exhaustive, very public and positive records of behaving with integrity and good will online. There cannot be many other individuals or companies as acutely aware as these two of the value of these reputations in a fishbowl world, and it shows in the way they responded over the last week.

Derek’s post is a masterful expression of his “personal brand” — and to me at least it signifies as self-awareness, not spin. He knows who he is, and what sort of work he wants to do:

I chose to tell this story because I wanted the community I spent three years growing to know that I didn’t leave on a whim. As sad and embarrasing as it is to tell, I put the truth out there because my personal and professional credibility is on the line…. To the members of JPG community, thank you for all of your amazing work. I want you to know that I tried to work through a tough situation with honesty and integrity. And, in the end, I left because I could no longer create the kind of authentic media we set out to make together.

And because he’s amassed a record that matches such words, he’ll surely emerge unscathed from this and move on to the next supercool experiment in “authentic media.”

As for Flickr: co-founder and exec Stewart Butterfield weighed in at length in a comment thread (link is to Butterfield’s post, but go back to the thread’s beginning to get the best sense of how well Flickr handled this incident). It’s a nuanced response that makes very plain how hard Flickr works to do the right thing by its user community. After Stewart talks the talk, Flickr community manager Heather Powazek Champ (oh, the irony) then walks the walk of a true online-community ninja, managing to be at once participant in and referee of the conversational flow, until it’s time to put the thread to bed. And it becomes clear from the user comments that most are not just satisfied with Flickr’s response to the situation, they are jazzed, reaffirmed in the trust they place in Flickr as the right place to host their photos and spend their time.

Speaking of putting something to bed, it’s time to crash. There’s so much happening in community development right now — I need more time to write, or I have to learn to write shorter posts!

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