Tag Archives: twitter

An open letter to Iain (M) Banks: please give Twitter a try

Dear Iain,

We met this evening at your talk to the Birmingham Science Fiction Group, part of their 40th birthday celebrations. While you were signing my copy of ‘The Spheres’, the limited edition booklet they’ve produced, of your short stories, I asked why you’re not (yet) on Twitter. You said, and I have to paraphrase, that “it’s just like work — I do text entry for a living” and that you “don’t want to be too easily contactable; to be connected all the time” as you like to go walking in the woods.

Well, with the greatest of respect, you’re wrong. Using Twitter is not writing, in the sense of your day-job. It’s more like talking, in that your comments can be instantaneous, requiring no planning or copy-editing, and there’s no plot development or characters to invent. It’s something you do on the fly, in (virtual) company, not to a deadline and locked in a garret. Think of it as being like sending an SMS text message to lots of people at once.

Twitter is all about conversations. And it will let you carry on those conversations as much or as little as you want to, and as often and whenever you want to. There will be no intrusion because you will be in complete control. You can turn off e-mail and mobile phone notifications, and block people who annoy you.

It’s quite clear that you absolutely love talking to your readers. You spent more time on the question and answer part of this evening, than you did giving your talk. You hardly stopped smiling. For each question, your answer was filled with tangential anecdotes and asides. You even ran over time. And the same thing happened on the previous occasion when I saw you speak, as your alter-ego Iain Banks.

John Jarrold‘s article about you in the Novacon 40 programme says you are “garrulous and fast of thought”, “interested in everything” and “love chatting”.

And all that means you’d really, really enjoy Twitter.

Plenty of other authors use Twitter, effectively, and seem to enjoy it. They include Neil Gaiman, Stephen Moffat, Polly Samson, Ben Goldacre, Cory Doctorow and many more. Oh, and me. None of them — apart from me — has anything to prove any more, nor needs to work hard at selling their wares, so they must find some other benefit in tweeting. They all have a mutually-beneficial relationship with their readers, but are not enslaved by them. I’m sure at least one of those is in your address book, so why not call them up, or drop them a line, and ask them what they think?

I make my living by helping people make the best use of online communications, so I’ll make you an offer: I’ll give you an hour or two of my time, on Skype or the phone (or in person the next time you’re in Birmingham), and help you get Twitter set up and running. I’ll find you some good software to use (because Twitter’s own website is pants). I’ll explain the culture (no, not that culture!) of tweeting, and I’ll suggest some accounts to follow, which I think will interest you. You needn’t pay me. If you don’t like it after, say a month or six weeks (I’ll wager that’s not going to be the case), you can say goodbye and kill the account, and tell everyone to mock me. If you do like it, you can mention me in your next book (a credit, or name a character after me). Or you can commission me to do the same job for a charity of your choice.

Why don’t you give it a go?

Poll: To at or not to at?

Today, while other people are out enjoying the warm sunshine, I’ve been sat at my computer, grappling with one of life’s big issues:

at symbol @

When we link to somone’s Twitter profile, should we include the liquorice allsort charcter, the “@” symbol, in the link, or not?

In other words, should my profile be linked to as:

@pigsonthewing

or as:

@pigsonthewing

What do you think? Have your say below (using the WP-Polls plugin for WordPress, which coincidentally I’m trialling); and please ask your friends to do so, too.

[poll=2]

Thank you.

A proposed tag for including Wikipedia links in Twitter posts

I’ve had another idea!

I saw Matthew Somerville () tweet:

Reading about http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clothianidin and bees

and it occurred to me, both that a fantastically high number of Wikipedia links are tweeted, and that Wikipedia URLs are relatively long. This latter fact might have been significant, if Matthew had needed to say a few more words, or was talking about something with a longer name. He could have shortened his link, using, say, Bit.ly, but then he’d have had to repeat the stem:

Reading about Clothianidin http://bit.ly/dE6pUf and bees

which is hardly shorter, and disrupts the flow.

What if we agreed a special tag, say W# or w:, used like this:

Reading about w:Clothianidin and bees

and Twitter clients automatically swapped that for a Wikipedia link:

Reading about Clothianidin and bees

Update

Twitter clients could allow users to set their preferred language-version of Wikipedia, and perhaps find the relevant translations of articles (which Wikipedia could better facilitate, using rel=alternate headers), authors could also specify a language, such as w:fr:brie or w:de:München

Proposal: generate KML from postcodes in Twitter messages

Here’s an idea I’ve just had, and mentioned on Twitter:

It would be cool if someone with the necessary skills and bandwidth could provide a service which takes a Twitter search (say, for a hashtag), extracts from it , or postcode districts (the first half of a postcode, such as “B44”), and returns a corresponding KML file, which can then be passed to other services, like Google Maps.

It would enable anybody to create a service like Ben Marsh‘s excellent #UKSnow map, but on the fly, and for any term or hash-tag; and especially for one-off or short term issues. Imagine, for instance, the . I could post on Twitter, say:

I just saw a #ShootingStar in B6!

(I did, too!) and others might reply:

I saw #ShootingStar from Waverley Station, EH1 1BB

Good view of #ShootingStar in S9, too!

and we’d very quickly have a map of places from which it had been seen — in the event, such information was posted to Twitter, but there was no easy way to collate it.

A similar service, returning KML for geo-coded tweets, would also be useful, and internationally too, and something combining both might also work.

A task for an upcoming hackday, perhaps? Or one you might like to tackle…

Don’t confuse your social media channels

Earlier today, Birmingham‘s O2 Academy (a large popular music concert venue, m’lud) posted this to Twitter:

Tuesday’s giveaway….Black Rebel Motorcycle club CD’s to give away! Just head over to the competitions tab for more information!

Unfortunately Twitter doesn’t have a “competitions tab”, and neither do the various Twitter clients that people use.

As you can see from the suffix I’ve highlighted in the screenshot, “via Facebook”, the tweet they posted was actually a Facebook status update. It turns out that their Facebook page has such a tab, and the Academy have simply piped their Facebook statuses into Twitter, without thinking about, or remembering, what they’ve done.

A salutary lesson to be careful about feeding content from one forum to another; and about writing for a specific context. Failure to do so can give confusing messages, and is not helpful to your audience

More police forces should publish web pages about wildlife crime officers

I maintain the West Midland Bird Club website. The club serves the four English counties of Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and the Metropolitan West Midlands, and so I wanted to write a little bit about the work of the relevant police services’ Wildlife Liaison Officers (WLOs), and to link to web pages about each of them.

I was surprised to find that none of their websites have a page about their WLOs, or their approach to wildlife crime in general. So I started to look at other forces’ sites, and found very few of them did.

What I Wanted

I decided it would be a good idea to collate a list of the few good examples that exist and conversely the forces which don’t have such a page, not least to encourage them to provide one.

A quick Google search showed that no such list is already in place, so my next step was to check — on Twitter, of course — whether anyone else was working on one. The answer was no, but two projects have more generic lists of police websites and related details in hand: OpenlyLocal and Podnosh.

I decided that I would have to make the list happen for myself, but I wasn’t going to do all the work. of OpenlyLocal kindly offered use of his data on police forces and their home pages and other contact details — it’s open data, under a CC license. That was in XML, though, and I lack the skills to manipulate it, so Chris kindly and quickly provided a dump into CSV format, suitable for use in a spreadsheet. A salutary lesson, there, to anyone publishing open data. While RDF and linked data is the way to go, so that it can be parsed and processed by machines in an sophisticated way, making a format like CSV available as well opens that data up to less technically-gifted users.

How I Did It

I copied the relevant columns from Chris’ document into my own, and made the editable spreadsheet available in Google Docs, for anyone to edit. I then blogged about it, inviting people to help me to full the missing column of wildlife crime pages. I was quickly retweeted by several people and organisations (thank you for that) and, significantly, the initiative was mentioned on the Guardian website by . This resulted in spate if activity, with most of the rows completed within a day or so after the mention. Interestingly, the spreadsheet filled up from the top, so it seems that unknown volunteers were helping with the first gap they came to, rather than that for their local force, which is what I had expected.

A few people shoe-horned prose comments into the URL column, so I added a “notes” column and moved their comments there.

After a few days, only a couple of gaps remained, so I filled these myself, and locked the spreadsheet prevent vandalism (any amendments may be posted below, as comments).

Findings

So, whet did we find? Of 51 forces, only 29 have a wildlife crime page — and some of those are patchy. Other forces don’t have one, but mentioned the work of their WLOs in press releases, progress reports and policy or strategy documents — sometimes in PDF files.

In some cases, a search of the force’s website for “wildlife” returns no result at all — a disappointing state of affairs.

PC Duncan Thomas, Wildlife Liaison Officer with Lancashire Constabulary

On the other hand, there were some great examples of best practice, including Lancashire Constabulary, Merseyside Police and North Yorkshire Police, from which other forces can learn. Note that they variously make use of video, and have links to wildlife conservation bodies.

Also of interest is this article about the work of WLOs in Sussex, reproduced on Coldean Residents Association’s hyperlocal site.

What next

This is what I hope will happen now:

  • Each police force should set up a locally-relevant web page about wildlife crime and their response to it, with relevant contact details, modelled on the best practice we found.
  • These pages should have short, permanent URLs so that links to them will not decay when forces change their technology
  • A central police website could ask an enquirer their postcode or address (or simply geo-locate their browser), and type of concern, then return the relevant page (whether it’s about wildlife crime, drug dealing or lost property) using the model adopted by LocalDirectGov
  • Websites listing details of all UK police forces’ details — like OpenlyLocal and Podnosh — could include their wildlife crime URLs
  • Wildlife websites with pages for each county (for example, Fatbirder, BirdGuides etc) could include the relevant forces’ wildlife links.
  • Local wildlife organisations (Wildlife Trusts, county bird clubs, RSPB Local Groups) should link to their local forces’ wildlife page

How you can help

  • Publicise this blog post and the open data that’s been genreated
  • Make use of that data
  • Write to your local force, if they don’t already have a page, and ask them to provide one — feel free to send them the URL of this post
  • Ask your councillor to encourage the local force to do so
  • Ask your local Wildlife Trust, bird club or related organisation to do the same
  • Let everyone know about the results, in the comments below, or with a pingback from your own blog post

I’ll notify national organisations like the RSPB, RSPCA and British Trust for Ornithology.

Meanwhile, if you wish to report wildlife crime in progress, call 999, or otherwise report it to Crimestoppers (who will treat the report as anonymous if you wish) on 0800 555 111.

Thank you

Finally, thank you to everyone who’s contributed to this project, to date.

Updates

20 August 2010: Warwickshire Police’s wildlife crime page was missed, because it was on a separate site, where their site’s search didn’t find it. It’s now been moved to the main site, as a result of this post.

3 September 2010: Northumbria Police pages created in response to this campaign.

June 2011: Staffordshire Police page created in response to this campaign (per their e-mail).

Twitter: A microformat in lieu of a protocol

In May of this year I wrote about the problems of URLs for a given Twitter user’s profile, or for an individual post or “status” being different, depending the Twitter client in use. I suggested a new protocol for Twitter links. [You might want to read that, before the rest of this post]. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this simpler solution sooner!

The answer (in the short term) is to use a microformat (or a microformat-like “poshsformat”, if you prefer to call it that) for each case. Let’s say we use the classes twitter-user & twitter-status.

User-agents (that’s jargon for browsers) could then employ a script (such as those used by GreaseMonkey, or a Firefox extension) to ignore the encoded URL and substitute the equivalent for the user’s preferred Twitter client instead.

For links to user profiles:

<a
href="http://twitter.com/pigsonthewing">
Andy Mabbett
</a>

would become:

<a
class="twitter-user"
href= "http://twitter.com/pigsonthewing">
Andy Mabbett
</a>

and:

<a
href="http://accessibletwitter.com/app/user.php?uid=pigsonthewing">
Andy Mabbett</a>

would become:

<a
class="twitter-user"
href=" http://accessibletwitter.com/app/user.php?uid=pigsonthewing">
Andy Mabbett</a>

Likewise, for individual statuses:

<a
href="twitter.com/pigsonthewing/status/1828036334">
something witty</a>

would become:

<a
class="twitter-status"
href="twitter.com/pigsonthewing/status/1828036334">
something wittyg<a>

and:

<a
href="accessibletwitter.com/app/status.php?1828036334">
something witty<a>

would become:

<a
class="twitter-status"
href="accessibletwitter.com/app/status.php?1828036334">
something witty<a>

and:

<a
href="m.slandr.net/single.php?id=1828036334"
something witty</a>

would become:

<a
class="twitter-status"
href="m.slandr.net/single.php?id=1828036334">
something witty</a>

To simplify matters, the rules for extracting the user ID or the status update could be the same in both cases:

  1. Parse the value of the href attribute of the element to which the class applies.
  2. If there is a question mark, use everything after that.
  3. Otherwise, if there is an equals sign, use everything after that.
  4. Otherwise, use everything after the last slash.

That would deal with all the examples in my earlier post.

So, if you’re using a user-agent which is aware of this microformat, and find on a page:

<a
class="twitter-user"
href="http://twitter.com/pigsonthewing">
Andy Mabbett<a>
said
<a
class="twitter-status"
href="m.slandr.net/single.php?id=1828036334">
something witty<a>

but your preferred Twitter client is Dabr (one I recommend, BTW!) then your browser would treat (and possibly render) that as:

<a
href="dabr.co.uk/user/pigsonthewing">
Andy Mabbett<a>
said
<a
class="twitter-status"
href="dabr.co.uk/status/1828036334">
something witty<a>

Simples!

Triple-tag references to Twitter posts

Further to my post about a protocol for Twitter posts, you can also triple-tag blog posts, Flickr images and similar web utterances, which refer to a specific twitter post (or status) like this: twitter:status=1975532392 – and this post is tagged with that!

[Update: See also my Flickr screenshot of a Twitter post, triple tagged with #twitter:status=1828036334 to reference the same post.]

Twitter: canonical URLs and Protocols

On Twitter, I’m twitter.com/pigsonthewing, but in my preferred twitter client, Dabr, I’m dabr.co.uk/user/pigsonthewing. We might refer to the former as the “canonical” URL.

There are a number of other web-based Twitter clients, too, and people using them can find my twitter stream, variously, at:

Likewise each of my Twitter posts, or “tweets”, has a URL on each of some of those domains (though not on all, it seems). For example:

Twitter

Dabr

are all the same tweet. We can again regard the first of them, on twitter.com, as canonical.

Anyone using one of those services, and who wants to link to my profile or one of my tweets will either post the URL as it appears in their service, which isn’t much use to people not using that service, or expend time and effort translating the URL into the generic, canonical, Twitter format — which even then may not be of much use to someone using something else.

In the short term, we could do with some recognition of this fact from the above services, which might provide a link to the “standard” or canonical URL for that tweet; and when doing so on an individual page, should link to it using rel="alternate" and/ or rel="canonical".

Better still, there could be browser tools (such as FireFox plug-in or Greasemonkey script) to do that task, automagically.

Ultimately, though, as Twitter becomes ever more widespread, perhaps we need a pair of protocols for linking to Twitter profiles and posts. Using this, authors would be able to mark up links to me and my comments on Twitter as, say:

<a href="twitter:pigsonthewing">Andy Mabbett</a> said <a href="twitterpost:1827840116">something witty</a>.

Then, each reader could set their computer to open those links their choice of browser-based or desk-top/ mobile phone client. The setting to do could even be changed in the installation package for such tools, to aid non-technical users.

Footnote: if you know of another URL for my Twitter stream, please let me know!