Webometric Thoughts

June 13, 2009

Brief Thoughts on Twitter and the Turing Test

Filed under: Turing,Twitter — admin @ 2:48 pm

Before heading off the allotment to pull weeds this morning I downloaded some podcasts from a Berkeley course on Foundations of American Cyber-Culture. One of the things discussed was the Turing test [summary by Saygin]:

The interrogator is connected to one person and one machine via a terminal, therefore can’t see her counterparts. Her task is to find out which of the two candidates is the machine, and which is the human only by asking them questions. If the machine can “fool” the interrogator, it is intelligent.

Whilst I don’t generally give a lot of thought to the Turing test, the idea of creating an automatic Twitter account in an attempt to pass the test was immediately appealing:
- Twitter offers a massive/current conversational database to draw on.
- The 140 character limit means people are more likely to be forgiving of answers that are not totally explicit.
- The API means that programming knowledge required to create such a bot (albeit not necessarily a good one) would be relatively simple.

I was not surprised to find therefore, that other people have had the same idea. However, how much of the human created Twitter data could the bot use and still be considered a bot? If the bot merely relayed the questions asked of it to someone else, and responded with their answer it would be considered cheating, but if it just found the answer of someone else who had answered a similar question would it be acceptable?

There are just not enough hours in the day to do all the things I want to in this always-on world.

May 30, 2009

Mixed Messages: Please comment on my blog!

Filed under: Twitter,blogging — admin @ 4:50 pm

Something I find increasingly annoying is the tendency to have discussions across different media. Most noticeable in people responding to everything with twitter comments. If I post a blog post people comment on twitter. If I set up a wiki people comment on twitter. As such, discussions are scattered all over the web. However useful and interesting these comments are, they are invisible to most people.

Last week Jon Bounds asked whether the solution was technical or social:
To which my answer is ‘social’.

Although technical solutions have worked in the past for distributed conversations, e.g., trackbacks, when the conversation is distributed across different media there is a greater chance of inappropriate comments being tracked automatically as people use the different media differently. There is more chance that a blog post linking to a post is making a useful relevant contribution than a Twitter comment responding to a blog post.

A specific example: two comments from a Finnish colleague regarding my previous blog post:
One comment represents the ephemeral conversational nature of Twitter, whilst the other is more akin to the sort of comment that could be considered a contribution to the blog post. Whilst a technical solution may have been able to identify both comments, it couldn’t determine which was a contribution.

There is also an ethical dimension to take into consideration. When someone comments on your blog they are consenting to the contributions being seen on the site. When someone chats with you on Twitter, they don’t necessarily expect it to be permanently visible somewhere else.

Unfortunately, I fear the actual solution will have to be technical. This blog post will do little to hold back the tide of Twitter’s real-time conversation at the expense of useful long-term contributions. But maybe for this one post people will comment on here rather than on Twitter.

May 28, 2009

Many a slip twixt the phone and TwitPic?

Filed under: TwitPic,Twitter,beta,reliability — admin @ 9:50 am

Yesterday evening I was having a game of chess in the Posada pub in Wolverhampton. As it was the first game I had played in years, I couldn’t let the occasion pass without telling the world. I sent this photo to TwitPic using PockeTwit:

However I have just discovered that was not the picture that was published:

Ignoring for the moment my inability to spell, where did this car come from? It is not a picture I have taken or even seen before! Admittedly I was having a pint with the game of chess, but I’m sure I would remember nipping out to take a photo of a rally car. No such picture exists on my phone.

On this occasion it didn’t matter; no one even questioned the disparity between the photo and the text. However it could have been a less appropriate photo in a more professional context.

In attempting to keep up in the social media game many of us are relying on technologies that have not yet been robustly tested, and generally recommending these technologies to everyone else as well. Maybe we should make a bit more effort emphasising the fact these technologies should be treated as being in beta…even if they don’t say they are.

May 19, 2009

Why has the BNP failed on Twitter?

Filed under: BNP,Twitter — admin @ 3:06 pm

As I have mentioned before, the BNP tend to get a far higher proportion of political traffic than they deserve. Whilst this can be attributed to the web providing a forum for the discussion of vile ideas that are unacceptable amongst the general public, it is interesting to note that their success has not carried over to Twitter.

Whilst the Twitter logo is proudly displayed on the BNP homepage, the official BNP Twitter account has only been used to highlight blog posts on their web site, and even this has not happened for a over a month. The result of their Twitter experiments: a more motley bunch of 58 Twitterers it would be difficult to find.

So why has the BNP failed on Twitter? After all, my own criticism of Twitter is the lack of room for reasoned arguments…something the BNP has no time for.

Their failure is mainly because people can see who you follow on Twitter. As I have mentioned before, as someone interested in politics I often follow opinions which are the opposite of mine. The shame of being mistaken for a BNP supporter, however, would be too much even for me (and I follow @MayorOfLondon!!).

There is also an argument that Twitter is just too open. As the BNP constantly strive to promote a professional image they know that their own members are their biggest handicap. If the BNP truly embraced Twitter the facade of respectability that they constantly strive for would soon disappear under the weight of their own members’ ignorance.

The BNP thrive in those online places where their members are in the majority; their lack of presence on an open site like Twitter shows what a minority they are.

April 16, 2009

Twitter Bathos: When 140 characters are just too many!

Filed under: Clement Freud,Twitter — admin @ 9:37 am

At the moment all my blog posts seem to be about Twitter and take quotations from the OED…nonetheless…bathos:

2. Rhet. Ludicrous descent from the elevated to the commonplace in writing or speech; anticlimax.

Twitter is the darling of the liberal media these days, and when liberal Clement Freud died yesterday it wasn’t surprising that the Guardian chose to inlude a Twitter comment from Stephen Fry. Whilst turning to a Twitter comment may seem a “ludicrous descent”, there are those who manage to contain the whole descent within the 140 character limit:
Maybe there should be a campaign to shorten then length of twitterings.

April 12, 2009

Twittering: A sign of mental illness?

Filed under: Twitter — admin @ 2:41 pm

It is difficult not to think of narcissism when thinking about Twitter, after all, it is filled with people answering the question: “What are you doing?”. It almost forces us to look at ourselves. According to the OED, one meaning of narcissism is:

2. Psychol. The condition of gaining emotional or erotic gratification from self-contemplation, sometimes regarded as a stage in the normal psychological development of children which may be reverted to in adulthood during mental illness.

Such a definition would seem to equally apply to Twitter. Whilst I’m not aware of anyone who gets ‘erotic gratification’ from Twitter, I’d think that there are plenty of them joining the majority who gain the emotional gratification. Why else are people there if they are not getting some sort of emotional gratification?

Shouldn’t most of the people on Twitter have outgrown the emotional gratification of self-contemplation by now? If we continue to consider narcissism a mental illness shouldn’t the government be shutting Twitter down before it sucks more people in? Or is it just too late as Gordon and Obama join us in enjoying picking fluff from our respective navels?

…off to ‘Tweet’ this…mmmm….emotional gratification of self-contemplation….

April 3, 2009

Twitter: The Strength of Ephemeral Ties?

Filed under: Twitter,ephemeral ties — admin @ 7:03 am

Whilst shaving this morning I was listening to the Oxford Internet Institute podcast Facebook: The Strength of Weak Ties, this got me thinking about the nature of Twitter ties. The title, The Strength of Weak Ties, comes from Granovetter’s seminal paper of the same name, emphasising the importance of acquaintances as well of friends: close friends often have access to the same networks of people and information, whilst acquaintances have access to a different set of people and information. Although Twitter includes strong and weak ties, it also includes a new sort of relationship: the ‘ephemeral’ ties.

People are regularly contacted on Twitter by strangers in response to comments they have posted. If I mention that I am doing some programming in Python a stranger may ask what I am programming; if I say I am off to a conference, a stranger may point out that they are going to; if I ask a question, a stranger may answer.

Such connections are weaker than ‘weak ties’ as there is no permanence to the connection, they are transitory or ‘ephemeral’. Whilst such connections are not new on the Internet, has any other technology emphasised the importance of ephemeral ties to such an extent as Twitter?

April 1, 2009

The Social Web and a Leicester Hotel Owner

Filed under: Twitter,blogosphere,liberal evangelism — admin @ 2:11 pm

People realise that a static web site is not enough to promote their business, but that doesn’t help them embrace the social web. There are a multitude of different social media technologies available, and the person needs to select the right ones, learn how to use them, and understand the culture of the different communities using the different technologies. Unfortunately the successful adoption of social media takes time; there are no quick fixes.

I have just spent the last two hours on the phone to a friend discussing how he can make the most of social media to promote his hotel.

The Old Approach
His hotel had a web site http://www.campbellshotel.com/, but it didn’t particularly do much for the promotion of the hotel. Whilst there are design issues (don’t even think about looking at it with Mozilla), the primary reason the web site failed was that people didn’t come across it. If you Googled Campbells Hotel the site would be number one, but looking for a hotel in Leicester? No chance.

The New Approach
Engage with the online community, and let the world see more than a brochure. As such I have encouraged him to revolve his new online presence around a blog (http://campbellshotel.blogspot.com/), incorporating other technologies such as Twitter (@Campbellshotel) where appropriate. Whilst such an approach is natural to those involved in social media, it’s a big leap and a big commitment for someone who has little experience of social media.

The Philosophy
Whilst I struggled to explain how the social technologies could help, and that it wasn’t about sending Tweets to everyone you came across; his moment of epiphany came with the comment:

“It’s like liberal evangelism”

Exactly. It’s not about trying to force doctrine down someone’s throat, it’s about demonstrating it in the way you live your life; it’s not about Tweeting adverts at everyone, it’s about demonstrating the way you run your business.

Nb. If you have any advice/suggestions for a small business owner trying to make use of social media I’m sure commenting on his blog would be appreciated. http://campbellshotel.blogspot.com/

March 28, 2009

Twitter Denier or Twitter Realist?

Filed under: Twitter — admin @ 2:04 pm

There is an article over at the Times Higher Education site that discusses, albeit briefly, the potential of Twitter in academia. However, as the article didn’t claim that Twitter should be interpreted as the second coming of Christ, certain elements were displeased:

Oh dear, yet another very poor article situated firmly at the ‘denial’ end of the Twitter press coverage spectrum.

As my contribution to the article helped it gain the ‘denial’ label, I thought I would elaborate on my stance:

For most academics, Twitter will provide a poor return for time invested. There are generally other tools more appropriate for specific tasks.

I don’t argue that Twitter is of no use to any academic, merely that for most academics the Twitter-noise would far outweigh the benefits of Twitter.

One comment points out: “One of our PhD students is, at this moment, meeting an interview subject in London thanks to a relationship built through Twitter.” PhD students have a lot more time than the average academic, and if they are on Twitter I am sure they will come across useful people and information (as I have myself), but such an example in no way provides the start of an argument for a use of Twitter in academia.

One of the problems of using Twitter in academia is that 140 characters gives very little room for establishing any form of argument, but it’s great for detailing what you’ve had lunch. Whilst one comment responds: “Rather than eschewing quality Twitter, does in fact encourage brevity”. Noticeably this is part of a far longer comment, totalling 805 characters.

Whilst Twitter is many things to many people, we should not get carried away into believing that it is a substitute the tools that are currently available.
-News source: If you need to be sure you don’t miss an important story then you should be using an RSS reader instead.
-News distributor: If you have to make sure a group gets a message, email is more appropriate. After all, people don’t read all the updates of all the people they are following.
-Discussion forum: If you want to engage with complex arguements you need more than 140 characters; get a blog.

If such a position makes me a ‘Twitter denier’, then I wear the badge with pride. Personally I think that it just makes me a Twitter-realist.

March 13, 2009

What is the best Twitter Recipe?

Filed under: Recipes,Twitter — admin @ 4:04 pm

One of Boris Johnson’s (@MayorOfLondon) twitterings got me wondering, what is the best recipe that can be created in 140 characters or less?

Creating a tasty meal in 140 characters seems far more difficult a task than poems, jokes, or even stories (not that chutney is a tasty meal). However most people go for the easy option and those twitterings labelled #recipe are actually links to other web pages…where’s the fun in that?

nb. Just to be 100% clear, highlighting one Twittering of Boris in no way an endorsement of the man or the party. Real men vote Labour.

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