Twitter, Jumping the Shark?

With Twitter’s recent announcement that they don’t want you building new 3rd party Twitter clients nerds everywhere are calling foul. This drastic departure from their previously open stance has caught a few off guard while others think it was an inevitable step in the evolution of Twitter in to a profitable company.

While I’m not in anyway opposed to having developers and content creators make money, I believe that Twitter is biting the hand that fed it. It’s undoubtedly true that a large portion of the success of Twitter is due to 3rd party developers taking advantage of the open public API provided by Twitter. Use of this by 3rd party developers made Twitter easy to use for you and me from which ever device or computer we happened to be at.

I’ve rarely used Twitter’s website (because it’s been terrible till recently and is now only tolerable) and while I have used their iPhone and Mac clients they’ve never been my favourite ways to access the service. Other applications have had better features, nicer designs and cleaner UI. With this recent announcement I’ve just removed the applications from my iPhones and Mac. While this is admittedly an entirely political statement it’s one way to show Twitter we’re not happy with it’s current stance.

With that said lets take a look at what Twitter states are the reasons for this change in policy.

Consistent User Experience

Twitter cites the lack of consistent user experience as one reason that 3rd party developers should not be making any new Twitter clients. Sure if you tweet from any client or the Twitter website it should do the same thing. A retweet should be a retweet. But how come Twitter’s own native OS X client doesn’t provide a constant experience? Oh sure it is consistent for Twitter but it’s broken in OS X.

The OS X client doesn’t respect spaces. It broke in the second update and while they’ve found plenty of time to update the icon (3 times) they haven’t found time to fix a known bug in the software. So while they can get a holier than thou attitude about user experience they obviously feel free to totally discard their own failures with user experience. Maybe Apple should remove their application from the store because it doesn’t provide a consistent user experience.

How about the user experience of Twitter’s iPhone client? Recently they introduced a feature to expose trending tweets which became affectionately known as the #dickbar. While the most recent update makes it tolerable it’s still something that most users hate and want off their screen. Most of the reviews for the more tolerable version still lament the terrible feature. I suppose a great fix for putting out crappy features that users hate is to just eliminate the competition, then we’re stuck with your crappy features.

Now let’s look at the Windows client, wait they don’t have one. Just like they didn’t have a Mac or iPhone client till recently. Also remember that those applications came through the purchase of a 3rd party developer not through Twitter’s own efforts. So what Windows users are supposed to, be limited to the crappy website?

Privacy

So what about privacy? Twitter indicates that they will now be holding developers to a high standard when it comes to user privacy. Seems to me that Twitter had a massive security break because of bad password policy. Twitter is the one that just got slapped with a huge fine for that security lapse, not any of the 3rd party developers. They’ve had the biggest breach to user privacy. Maybe the third party developers should be in charge of security not Twitter themselves.

It’s also always going to be a problem. If they keep a public API they’ll always have to police it and shut off some for abuse. Any time you get a large crowd together there will be people with nefarious motives in the mix. To me this argument just rings a bit hollow in the face of the evidence. Sure it sounds all nice and pretty to want people to be careful with user privacy but it also begs the question, did they not care before? Why were the privacy standards lower before?

Making Money

I believe that this all comes down to Twitter making money. Sure they’ve been given lots of money be investors but they’re not profitable. While looking at the issues with the Twitter applications we’ve already seen a few spots Twitter could make some money with their native applications. Take the #dickbar as an example. I’d gladly pay $4.99 to have it removed (or get the option to remove it). Many Twitter clients have a paid and ad supported version, this would just be Twitter’s version of that. Why not extend it to the OS X application too? Include the #dickbar (ad supported) for non-paying people and allow people that purchase the app to turn it off. Again I wouldn’t even think about spending $4.99 on the app, I’d just do click purchase.

Outside of the items I’ve mentioned others have come up with ways Twitter could make some money.

3rd Party Developers

So what about the developers? I’ve got to admit that basing a business model on a service like Twitter (as your only source of revenue) was probably not the best option. There has always been the danger that they would change something and you’d be screwed. In many ways it was a risk you took when you built the software. I looked a few times at filling a whole I saw in the application landscape but every time I got to the part where I questioned my idea against what Twitter might change and I decided it was too risky.

The Shark

At the end of the day Twitter was built with the 3rd party developers. It wouldn’t have had the success it does (as admitted by Twitter in the announcement of the change) without the application ecosystem that has allowed you to access the service anywhere. A service that they were happy to take advantage of and now want to screw.

Twitter for Business

twitter for business
twitter for business

Where ever you look today you see that everyone is using social media and not just in their personal lives. Look around many of the big companies are using social media as well. Some do it well some do it poorly.

What is twitter for big business? It’s more than just a place to tweet about your accomplishments. People want to see the people inside the organization. They don’t want to be advertised at they want to create and nurture relationships with people inside the organization. They want to know someone on ‘the inside.’

The hard part for business is how do they utilize Twitter (and other social networks) while still maintaining their overall marketing plan? I recently talked with a religious ministry that acknowledges some of their constituents don’t approve of drinking so it would be inappropriate to tweet “Beer and burgers on the weekend yum yum.” So how do they let employees have a presence on Twitter to communicate while making sure that they are furthering the mission and goals of the organization?

The Separation

First off let’s separate personal and business twitter accounts. Yeah I know that the purpose of Twitter is to be personal but note the example above. There are lots of personal things that you may choose to share on Twitter that are not really appropriate to share as an employee tweeting with a business and really do you want your personal Twitter account to align with the companies marketing plan?

Second get some more generic business twitter accounts. What do you do when your lead developer leaves the business and lots of your clients were interacting with them? Do you loose all of the clients? If you didn’t part on good terms will they use it to damage your reputation? A more generic business Twitter account means you can switch who runs it if employee’s change.

The Plan

Third you need to have an established written plan or code of conduct for use of social media for work purposes. As with the example above some things just aren’t good to be discussing over work channels. To help avoid unfortunate slips write a clearly define do and don’t list for social media interaction. Yes you will probably have some times when things won’t go as planned but a well written clear plan will help mitigate those times.

The Summary

Yes business should be using social media. There are tonnes of benefits from client interaction, support, and relationship building. Don’t just jump into the social media realm. Create a clear concise plan, separate the work and personal social media chanels for employee’s, and create business related accounts. If you start out on the right foot above you are way farther down the path to success.

Staying in the Zone by Killing Distraction

The zone is that place where things flow. Birds fly music plays. It’s cheesy, cliche and sometimes hard to come by. Really the zone is where we need to be regularly to get things done. For many of us the zone only sometimes shows its head. We struggle to find it. Love it when it happens and lament when we can’t find it.

It’s kind of like the ‘killing zone’ in the movie Wanted. You start off with it just happening and you have no control. Over time you learn how it works for you and grab the shuttle from the loom. Then you become a master.

The Distractions

Whether you work at home or in an office distractions come at us fast and furious. In the office co-workers visit your desk to chat. At home dogs bark, kids cry, neighbours stop by to say ‘hi’. In either place the phone rings while you are focused. Email comes in and audibly notifies you. You keep your twitter client open and it notifies you (my hands up on that one for sure).

The Weapons of Distraction Death

My primary weapon to kill office distraction is headphones or at the least music. Even if I’m not actually listening to music I have my headphones on. The headphones create a visual barrier for people when they come up to my desk. It makes them think twice when I don’t immediately react to their entry into the office (even though I see it at the edge of my vision). A number of times, when I stay focused for a few seconds extra they leave and shoot me a quick email which I can answer during my email times.

Second you need to turn off your email. Don’t leave it open all day. Don’t respond instantly to every message that comes in. Don’t open your email first thing in the morning. My daily routine goes something like this. I arrive at the office and login to my computer. Open Google reader and triage the items I’m never going to read. Fire up mail.app and triage my secondary email (99% of the time just filing and marking items as spam). Then I open my normal work email and deal with what needs to be dealt with. Once I have dealt with my email I close the window.

I personally have my email set to provide no notification of any fashion when new email comes in. This lets me Tab to Entourage if needed and create a new email from the keyboard without opening the app and seeing what might be there. I only open my email if I am between items of work and have a few minutes that I am not focused on a project. I also open it directly after lunch and just before I leave for the day. It takes a bit for co-workers to realize that you don’t answer email instantly but in the long term they learn and it makes you way more productive.

Finally, stop the social networking. Don’t have Tweetdeck open. At the very least turn off the notifications. For a while I used Seesmic and it lets you turn off all notifications but a small tone if someone DM’s you or replies to you. While I love this feature in Seesmic I went back to Tweetdeck cause it’s way faster. Unfortunately Tweetdeck notifications are on or off. So turn them off or close the application.

While multitasking is all the rage constant interruptions are unproductive. So let’s decide to kill the distractions and get more done. Have any other ideas to kill distractions love to hear them.

photo credit: el patojo via photopin cc

Wasting Time with Social Networking

wasting time with social media?
wasting time with social media?

Unless you have had your head in the sand you have heard of social networking. Social networking is the big craze right now. Many people would tell you that if you’re not using social networks with your business your missing out on customers. There are people that make their entire living teaching you how to maximize your social network. I’m not entirely sure that you need to be on social networks to have a successful business though.

The Success

The evangelists for social networking are always the people for which the medium has worked (which should be obvious). Of course you get referrals from your 4000 twitter followers. You have 4000, I would hope that one in there knows someone who needs your services.

The problem for most people is that they don’t have 4000 followers or a few hundred linkedin connections so they draw from a smaller pool of possible referrals. This represents the vast majority of people on these social networks.

The Time

Next we often here that it just takes time to build up big numbers of followers and connections. Of course this is true it takes some amount of time to do anything. More of something often means more work put in at some point.

I have been on twitter since January 2008 and have done lots of posts, send lots of interesting links and don’t just advertise myself. I try to just be me which is what everyone says you should do. I have 752 followers. I have watched people put up the same links I do (after me sometimes) and get more return in followers and interaction from that small amount of time.

I have watched people that started on social services after me that have far surpassed me. They will tell you how many refferals they get, which is great for them. For some reason it just doesn’t seem to happen for me despite all of my time input and the fact that I follow all of the best ‘advice’ of the ‘pros’.

The Punch Line

Of course I sound jaded and jealous, I wouldn’t disagree many days, but I wonder more how much time we waste on social networking that could be spent with our families. If we spent the time tweeting and communicating on facebook with our significant others instead I’m sure those people would feel much more valued than they do.

Really at the end of the day social networking needs to have some form of ROI. The ROI for you can be business or social, it really doesn’t matter. As long as you get some value for the time you invest it paid off.

I personally enjoy twitter so for me that is enough. It’s nice to chat with people and some business connections may happen but really it’s just fun.

So for the future I won’t participate in networks that I get nothing from (Facebook I’m looking your way) and will spend time on the ones I do get something from.

Heck if I sound mildly interesting you can even follow me Twitter Plug.

Anyone else have thoughts on the social networking phenom? Is it worth all the time we sink into it?

Build Some Social Capital First

build social capital
build social capital

Over the last few years social media has become a huge item for both personal users and business alike. Most people have a facebook profile. Many people and businesses now even have a twitter accout. But not everyone yet.

I was recently asked to do some social media consulting for a business. They wanted to know all of the normal stuff like what ages and target markets are on social networks. Which networks they should focus on. Should they let employees use social networks during work to talk to clients?

What they failed to grasp though was that they needed to invest in the networks before there was anything to get back out of them.

They have an event in 3 weeks and wanted to advertise it on Twitter and Facebook. Of course advertising over those sites is great, the problem is they don’t even have accounts on them. No account means you have no followers. No followers means you have no one to market too.

What they failed to grasp was that in many ways social media is like a bank account. You don’t just open an account and start taking money out (and if you know of pre-filled bank account leave it in the comments). Before you can get anything out you have to put something in.

So if you want to use social media as an extra way to advertise your service or event remember it’s not magic. You have to cultivate you followers, fans and friends before social media has anything to return to you.

Take your Website to the Dentist

This post was inspired by my recent dentist visit and the start of my silver grill as stated if you follow me on twitter. Having a long term website is a lot of work. You have to update the content, keep the Content Management System up to date so it’s not vulnerable to attack and make sure you check the logs for errors. All of that stuff seems kind of like going to the doctor to me, at least the general practitioner.

On some sort of regular basis you should take your site to the dentist though. In this instance I would equate the dentist with an outside consultant hired for a site evaluation.

As you continue to work with the same content it becomes harder to bring fresh eyes to the site. It’s harder to see the problems on a site because there is a reason, at least as far as your concerned, that it is laid out that way. In many ways having the same people always looking at the site to evaluate it is kind of like everyone patting each other’s back to tell them how good a job they are doing.

Back to the teeth comparison. I have always thought my teeth were healthy. They’re straight, and clean and don’t hurt. Then I went to the dentist and my teeth that looked good to me ended up being in need of a overhaul. It took a specialist to look at my teeth and see the bad parts. It takes a specialist to fix the problems.

There are problems on any long term site. New information gets added to the site that wasn’t originally planned for. The site become a little inbred and has poor elements scattered throughout. It’s hard to notice this when you work with it everyday though.

Specialist

Like going to a doctor that specializes in teeth your website will benefit from getting specialists to do a site evaluation on a regular basis. Maybe with the new wave of social media you decide that you should be more open to your users so you hire a social media consultant to give that aspect of your marketing an overhaul.

If your users indicate that it’s hard to find things on your site you should hire a user interface specialist or accessibility specialist to do a site audit. They can help you become more user friendly thus increasing the interaction on your site.

Git er Done

It’s all well and good to hire these specialists and get the recommendations from them but it does you no good to do nothing with the recommendations. Just as it would have done me no good to go for a check up and then not go back to face the drill. It may be painful, we are invested in our work, and it may cost a fair chunk of change but the important thing is that at the end of the day we have a healthy site that serves our users better.

The Daily News: WordPress 2.7 and pricing your projects

How about we start the day with some twitter inspiration. Use the link to check out some creative twitter backgrounds and get some inspiration for designing your own. I know mine could sure use a refresh.

Next up today is some feature previews for WordPress 2.7, which I am really excited about. Overall the interface is cleaned up and the publish features have seen a huge revamp. You can also now mass edit posts or pages which would make any categories you need to change a snap. There is a huge list of things that will make your WordPress install easier to manage so go check the post out.

If you have hung around any design related forums one question you will hear is “What do I charge for …” It comes up over and over again. Freelancer Magazine has a great post on how to price yourself. Whether your just starting out or have been at it for a while have a read and check out how you price projects.

Finally today check out a post on embedding fonts for the web. Most web designers I know would love to have typographic freedom with their designs and it currently looks like this dream future is not so far away. For a good review of the situation as it stands check out the article. Don’t forget to see all of the articles that are linked as sources as well.

Bit of a Dog’s Breakfast: News Round up

Today the news seemed to range all over the place, a bit of a dog’s breakfast follows.

All of us freelancers (at least I would hope) do some sort of follow up with our clients at the end of a project. For me it is usually just a ‘thanks keep me in mind’ email but if you could improve your customer service by asking some tough questions I bet you’d be willing to do it. Sitepoint has an article today on just that, asking you customers the hard quesitons. They suggest offering an online survey that asks what customers liked and didn’t like (among other things) so that you stop making the same mistakes with more clients.

Next up (and there seems to be a lot of this lately) is an article on XHTML vs. HTML over at CSS-Tricks. I’ll admit that I currently site where Chris did a year ago. I code XHTML transitional pages and honestly don’t truly know the difference between that and HTML 4.01. Ultimately in my mind if the page works in all of the major browsers I think the code is good. Read this to get a better grasp on the differences and uses of each. I know that now I am going to evaluate my reasons for XHTML.

Now lets flip into some quick marketing. Jacob Cass at Just Creative Design just posted and asked us designers for our twitter names. If you are a design professional (or hoping to be one) add your name to the list and follow someone new to make some more contacts.

Well finish today off with some inspiration. Niki has some connections that let her see cool installation art. Check out this post to see everyday objects used in cool new ways and get some ideas for future design projects.

Using Social Media to Market your Business

Most people out there now have profiles in a number of social media networks. From Facebook to Twitter most of us are familiar with social media and how it can help us connect with people. It is also possible to use the power of social media to find new clients, but how.

It’s in the details

First make sure that your contact details are up to date. I recently came across a wonderful photo on Flickr that I would have happily purchased from the photographer. Unfortunately I could find no way to get in touch with them, even though their profile listed that they were a professional photographer for hire. They lost a potential return customer (I produce newsletters ever month that theirs style would have fit) all for lack of contact data.

Along with the contact details goes the profile information. A potential client should be able to find out who you are and what you do at a quick glance. They will not dig around trying to find out what you do, unless you’re well known, they will just look for someone who lists what they do in an easy to find manner. We have all heard that the competition is only a click away and to a certain extent this is true. The potential client wants you to be the person to help them but if they get frustrated figuring out what you do or how to contact you off they go to the competition.

Network, network, network

Most people would rather work with people they feel they have some relationship with. I recently had some PHP coding work to do that was beyond me. I first went to Twitter and asked if anyone was interested. Unfortunately I didn’t find anyone that could do what I needed so I posted the job on a job board and looked at other avenues for getting someone to do the work. I ended up remembering a friend who might be able to do it and he at least had a name of someone who could do get the work done. Honestly I would have much rather had someone on twitter do the work, though I’m not displeased with the arrangement, just because it would have been easy for me. I have had some interaction with many of the people that I follow on Twitter so I feel like I know them, they’re kinda like pen pals. Helping out a friends is always a nice and you feel safe working with someone that you trust.

I have another friend who participates in forums and Twitter and writes a blog. Niki recently got asked to contribute to a new project by Envato. She is a great designer but already had contacts with the company as they run the one of the forums she participates in. I’m not sure what other contacts she had but I don’t think they were face to face (she lives in the USA they in Australia). This will give her tonnes more exposure in the design industry and move her career forward. I have also been asked to contribute to other blogs via twitter.

Actually Participate

Make sure that you don’t just favourite your own stuff. People don’t mind you tooting your own horn but if that’s all you do they will quickly become irritated and you will be hurting your name/brand. Adding some self promotion now and again is generally fine but participate in the community as well.

I am an avid Stumbleupon user, I love to find new inspiring art and I admit I use it to “like” my blog posts. I see a few hundred visitors a day from Stumbleupon. I have a number of people that are my friends because they love the things I find. Ultimately more traffic to my blog (or your site) translates into a greater chance that a potential customer will come along.

Participation also gives you opportunity to build your brand. I do everything with just my name. All forum usernames, profiles are my name. I am using it as my brand. Yeah very few people are looking for me know but hopefully that will change. I have actually noticed that there are more and more searches for my name (and I asked my mom it’s not her). Eventually this will translate into customers.

Check out my profiles: Twitter | Linkedin | Facebook | Flickr