Monthly Archives: May 2010

Know Your Clients: looking at some web-based Twitter clients…

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been increasingly irritated with Twitter and, more specifically, the various Twitter-clients that I use.

I use Twitter clients because Twitter.com itself doesn’t do much: to interact with Twitter in ways that work for me, I have to use a client. I am trying to work out what I like and dislike about the various clients I have tried. A lot of this comes down to personal preference, and this is probably something people who like Twitter may get quite worked up about… These are just my views, and what I like you might not (and vice versa!).

The first client I used was Tweetdeck, the most popular Twitter client by a long way (though confusingly, Tweetdeck appears in those stats twice: I can guess why, but…). Tweetdeck used a lot of processing power and when I moved last year and had relatively poor connectivity, I stopped using it. Once I moved again and had better connectivity, I haven’t picked it up again.

Because by then I had found alternatives. There are three I generally use – DABR, Brizzly and Seesmic. These all have one thing in common: they can all be accessed from the web, meaning that one can have a uniform Twitter experience wherever you are. If only!

(Seesmic also has a desktop app, which I haven’t used and can’t comment on, and an Android phone app, which I have used a bit, and also talk about below.)

Generally, I used DABR on my phone, and Seesmic or Brizzly on my netbook, desktop or laptop. Seesmic also has an Android app which I sometimes use on my phone, and I have used (and deleted promptly) Twidroid on my phone as well. (Seesmic also has a desktop app, which I haven’t used and can’t comment on.)

Each of these (except Twidroid, which I really didn’t like – it ate up memory and kept interfering with the browser in ways that annoyed me) has good points; but they also have weak points, too. Not one does all the things that I want my Twitter client to do.

DABR on my phone works really well – when it works. Recently, though, it has been really slow – this may be down to the Twitter API or my version of the Android OS or something (I’m not that techy), but the way I experience it is through DABR. It has been producing a blank screen when refreshing, forcing me to go to another client. What I really like about DABR is that

  • it has a simple, clean design: it is very clear on my phone, easy to use
  • the conversation-view (it strings replies together so that you can view the whole thread – sometimes!)
  • the search is easy
  • the “reply all” option (apparently @edent was responsible for this – thank you!)

What I don’t like is that

  • it has recently been jammed up: I tweaked what I could (making sure I was going to their main server rather than the test server that I was apparently using) but it has still been really slow
  • I have to type the full name when writing a tweet to someone or a direct message (and of course always manage to misspell it)
  • it doesn’t tell you if you have new @ replies or DMs
  • the lack of built-in automatic link shortening – you have to use another service (and copying-and-pasting URLs can be fiddly on the phone!)

Brizzly is pretty good, and has more or less become the default on my desktop, laptop and netbook. What I like about Brizzly is that

  • it gives you a list of people to choose from as you write their name in a tweet (and from the “create DM” option)
  • the list of trending topics in the side bar
  • the way it tells you that you’ve new replies or DMs
  • the easily accessible saved searches
  • automatic URL shortening

What I don’t like is that

  • I can’t work out how to send an update when I’m looking at my @ replies (I have to go back to my tweet stream – the home page)
  • it is often very clunky – whatever code it is written in sometimes doesn’t seem to run properly (this could easily be down to connectivity or something else…)
  • it opens the link to original tweets when someone replies in Twitter – taking you away from the Brizzly environment

Seesmic has a clean, professional look. What I like about the Seesmic web app is that

  • it uses multiple columns, a bit like Tweetdeck; this is very useful: you can see everything in one window, without having to click links to see different views or searches
  • it automatically shortens URLs

What I don’t like about Seesmic is that

  • it doesn’t provide you a list of names to chose from as you start to write their Twitter handle – you have to type out the full name

(and I can’t think of anything else!)

I can’t make my mind up against the Seesmic Android phone app. What I like is

  • it downloads Tweets so I can read them offline (on the tube, say)

What I don’t like is that

  • it eats memory – it slows everything on the phone down
  • to reply to tweets or to open links, you have to actually open the original tweet by clicking on it – links aren’t live in the tweet stream – why? Why? Just seems dumb to me
  • it often hangs up – it tells me it’s loading, but nothing ever shows…
  • I can’t compose a tweet from the tweet stream – I have to click on the menu button and then select compose, an extra step
  • I have to tell it to refresh – it doesn’t update the tweet stream automatically

Reading through these lists of like and dislikes, I seem very picky. But I find it frustrating that all these clients have some great functions, but they all also have shortcomings. It is interesting that the Seesmic web app seems to have the least things I dislike, because it is probably the one I use least: there must be something else I don’t like about it, otherwise it would have overtaken the others. I also can’t work out why I like DABR so much on my phone, but no on my PC, laptop or netbook: it is my default client on my phone, but it just doesn’t look right on. On the other hand, I have never tried the Seesmic web app on my phone – until just now, when the page didn’t load properly.

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Community and Co-operation: talking about #Tuttle

Saturday saw me hunkered down in the bunker that is Centre for Creative Collaboration with a bunch of like-minded folk for what Lloyd called “TuttleCamp”. This was a small, unstructured (in the BarCamp style) gathering to talk about organisation and issues of Tuttle Club.

I’ve written about Tuttle before; essentially it is a Friday morning meetup where interesting people gather together and talk about – well, whatever they want to: what they’re up to, things they’ve seen, ideas they want to kick around. I have been a regular at Tuttle for fifteen months or so, and when Lloyd said he wanted to hold an open discussion about what Tuttle was and where it might be going, it seemed to make sense to help out and contribute to the debate.

Much as it pains me to say it, Tuttle is all about the C-word: community. It is basically just a space – the C4CC, at the moment – and some people to fill it. It is largely self-organising – there is no structure or presentations, just people sharing conversations – and this is one of its strengths; but someone has to make the coffee, someone has to tidy up – and TuttleCamp was about how this very basic level of organisation should be organised.

The housekeeping might not seem much, but it has to be done, every week, and it has been falling to Lloyd to do it. This was easily sorted – we broke up the role that Lloyd plays on Friday mornings into its constituent parts, and from next Friday anyone can sign up to help out in one of these ways whenever they are going to be at Tuttle. (Of course, just because someone’s signed up doesn’t mean that no one else can contribute – feel free to get involved!)

We talked quite a lot about the culture of Tuttle: what it is that makes Tuttle what it is, rather than another networking event. Partly this is down to its consistency – people know that every Friday, they will be able to find Tuttle. But also it is down to its openness and inclusivity; its ease with ambiguity; and the community’s belief and acceptance of distributed power. (Those were the characteristics I noted; there may of course be others!)

Whilst the Friday morning meetup is the bread-and-butter of Tuttle, in the last year there have been a couple of other community-based projects – such as Tuttle2Texas and Tuttle Consulting. There are also TuttleClubs or Tuttle-like activities in over thirty places around the world, which share the kind of culture and values of Tuttle. Much of the day was spent talking through how to support these different ventures – what kind of structures were needed – and where what people did became a Tuttle project rather than just something that they were doing.

This was interesting: we were talking about what structures were needed to best nurture something that many people view as being unstructured, and that as being one of its best characteristics. It felt a bit like we were laying down the rules for a rule-less society. Good, but uncomfortable.

There is an interesting balance between the freedom, ambiguity and unstructured nature of something like Tuttle and the needs to have some sort of governance. If Tuttle is more than Lloyd – and if it is a viable community, it certainly needs to be – then it does need to have some form of governance. Up to now, it has been an ad-hocracy – and Lloyd has picked up much of the work. Creating a more formal structure provides for longevity – but of course risks building something that constrains the freedom and ambiguity rather than facilitates it.

Rather than creating a limited company or partnership, the model that seemed to meet the community’s objectives was some form of co-operative – there are several models. Allowing anyone who comes to Tuttle to be a member of the co-operative (thereby maintaining the inclusive, open culture), this democratic structure could enable both commercial (as someone described it, “not for loss”) activity as well as “not-for-profit” projects supporting community activities, (including the Friday morning gathering.

These are early days – the precise nature of the co-operative and the details of its relationship to it members (its constitution) have yet to be decided; and since it was suggested that anyone who goes to Tuttle could be a member, anyone can get involved, too.

Mindmaps and Me

I like using mindmaps: it is my preferred method for taking notes and playing around with ideas. When sitting in conferences, people often look over my shoulder and start talking – not about the conference speaker, but how pretty my mindmaps are… It was one such conversation that made me think I should post about mindmaps and how and why I use them.

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Mindmaps are a way of making connections between ideas and thoughts; I use them to take notes, to plan for meetings and to write presentations; whenever, in fact, I need to order my thoughts and ideas. They are more flowing than conventional – linear – notes, and (for me) less detailed: mindmaps work at a high level.

It didn’t come easily. I was first pointed in the direction of mindmapping by a former boss, and I thought I would try it out. So I got hold of Tony Buzan’s book on mindmaps (creatively entitled “Mind Maps”, as far as I recall), and read it, and experimented with mindmapping.

This was far from a success. Buzan, who first came up with the idea of mindmapping (and who has, I believe, trademarked the phrase “Mind Map”), was quite dogmatic about how one should mindmap. You have to use large sheets of paper – A3 or larger; you have to use lots of different coloured pens; and you have to use pictures, not words, to convey your meaning.

None of this worked for me at all. Whilst I have a quite well developed visual sense, I don’t think in terms of pictures. (When in meetings designed to stretch one’s creativity I am instructed to draw a picture to describe how I feel about something, I have two stock pictures to call on: either a tree or a river. I have never come across a corporate issue that cannot be conveyed by one of these images!)

I don’t carry bundles of coloured pens around with me, nor pads of A3 paper.

And I really don’t like being told what to do. Buzan’s prescriptive method seemed to be the opposite of creative and innovative – what he said he was trying to promote.

So I parked mindmapping as an idea that wouldn’t really work for me.

This changed when I was studying for my MBA. I take a lot of notes in lectures – writing helps me remember things, even if I never look at the notes I might have taken. But my linear, well structured notes were hard to revise from; they didn’t facilitate connections. I wanted to summarise whole lecture series on one page, and I wanted to develop essay plans for my exams that I could remember.

I turned again to mindmaps.

This time, though, I was in control. I dumped the rules that Buzan had set up – no pictures, no coloured pens, and whatever paper I wanted – and headed out into the blue.

Very quickly, mindmaps became my prime method of note-taking and planning. Working with them the way I wanted to work made them feel very natural. The free flowing, high level structure allows big thoughts; the tree-like, organic structure allows one to build a picture of related topics. The patterns on the page, the branches of ideas, were easy to remember.

Although I use mindmaps for most of my notetaking, it isn’t without reservations. Sometimes I think that my mindmaps are only a circular representation of linear notes (especially as when I took more conventional, linear notes, I developed complex, nested structures which allowed a similar grouping of ideas); sometime, my mindmaps morph into linear lists as well (as the picture – a mindmap I made at a very interesting discussion on citizen power at the RSA – shows; made, I hasten to point out, on a pocket A5 pad…).

There are lots of pieces of software available to help one make mindmaps on computers – none of which work for me in the slightest. (They might work for you; just search for mind maps and see what you get.) For me, the act of writing – using a pen nestling in my hand, the connection between the paper and my brain – is essential; electronic mindmapping seems no different from writing a list in a word processor.

Mindmaps have become very engrained in the way I work – maybe even the way I think; not perfect (but neither is the way I think!) but very, very useful.

TEDxTuttle2: Son of TEDxTuttle…

With a shock I realise that it is two weeks since TEDxTuttle2 at Cass Business School; and that I meant to write about it after the event. I shall do so now, then; if my thoughts had any currency then, they should still.

I went to the first TEDxTuttle in September and was very enthused by the experience. The second round was equally interesting, although it didn’t have the same feeling of excitement or energy that the first created. This might in part be due to my own expectations – last time I didn’t know what to expect, this time it would have been hard to live up to my inflated expectations; in part it might be down to the venue – a lecture theatre – which carries a lot of baggage with it (sitting in a lecture theatre puts me into lecture mode: a passive sponge of information); and in part that, although there were a lot of people there, we didn’t fill the space, so it felt a little as if we didn’t have critical mass.

One major change for the better was the decision to allow questions after the speakers. I think a lot of the value from this kind of event comes from the debate engendered by questions, and there were some great questions from the floor.

There were five live speakers and a couple of TEDtalks videos, grouped into three sessions: the first centring on youth and education, the second on new developments in social media, the last a single session from Steve and Lobelia Lawson who mixed a discussion of the role of new media in the music industry with some musical illustration.

Norman Lewis was first up, discussing the role of technology in children’s lives and its impact on innovation. This seemed to be a talk of two halves: in the first half, Lewis built up his targets; in the second, as far as I was concerned, he missed them spectacularly. It seemed like there were some logical steps missing to his arguments – and he failed to take this part of the audience with him. Some of his discussion relied on contention that he didn’t substantiate – for instance, he maintained that young people are not necessarily better with technology than their parents, and that parents who praise their children’s technology skills do them a disservice; but I can think of lots of families in which children have naturally taken to technologies which stump their parents, and where the parents don’t take this as a sign of their children’s genius but simply that they are growing up in a different environment. He also maintained that today’s children are growing up less innovative than previous generations, but I see evidence to the opposite: they may not get to play outside like I did as a child, but they can still roam their imagination, they have more tools to be creative and seem to use them, and they use technology in innovative ways to avoid the watchful eyes of their parents. Lewis seemed to be arguing against his own views at times, and the contradictions failed to convince me. He has recently published a manifesto in praise of greater youth innovation, “Big Potatoes”, in conjunction with others, and perhaps that will fill in some of the gaps I felt were missing from his argument.

Next up was Julia Shalet, who described her digital youth project. Julia – a regular at Tuttle – spoke with passion about her work which has taken her to actively engage with young people around product development and the world of employment. What surprised me was how little of this actually seems to be going on: Julia described video games manufacturers who hadn’t thought to work with their target market – the millions of young people out there – until she suggested it. None of what Julia described seemed radical, just solid common sense; common, perhaps, but clearly rare. Julia’s evangelism for involving young people in what we do on a regular basis shamed me into realising how few young people I know…

This session finished with a precocious young American wowing the audience of a TED conference into giving her a standing ovation. I wasn’t convinced: I would have preferred to see some video of the more normal people Julia has worked with. I was left with thought about generational discord: a foretaste, perhaps, of the greater battles to come when future generations realise what a mess – ecological and economical – the current bearers of power have left them. A topic for a future TEDxTuttle discussion, perhaps.

The next session dealt with recent developments in social media. First up was Caroline Wierte who works at Cass; she spoke about her as yet unpublished research into the impact of social media in word-of-mouth marketing. She focused on Twitter and the role of tweets on the cash take of movies in their first weekend showing – a big indicator of a movies ultimate financial success. She’s developed models to compare current movies (where Twitter might be an influence) against a control of equivalent pre-Twitter movies. She also controlled for the nature of the tweet – positive, neutral or negative. It was an interesting, if as yet inconclusive, talk, and prompted a broad discussion about the nature of influence in social media – who one trusts and why.

Lloyd Davis, Tuttle’s founder and mainstay, followed. Lloyd was talking about his recent Tuttle2Texas adventure – a rail journey from Boston to SxSWi in Austin, Texas, in the company of other Tuttle people, and then onward to Los Angeles. I’ve heard Lloyd talk about Tuttle2Texas before – and, it has to be said, I was in part involved in the planning, so I must confess an interest. As Lloyd discussed the trip and the impact it had on him, as well as what he learned from the people and communities he met on the way, a slide show of the pictures he took a long the (long distance) way rolled on behind him. The combination of the images and Lloyd’s words was interesting: as yet the pictures are unedited, so there was a rough immediacy to them that matched the somewhat alienated feeling that Lloyd’s travels encompassed.

There seemed to be a lot to learn here. Lloyd described how whenever the Tuttle folk needed help, all they had to do was ask – the various communities, in the US and back in the UK, came up with solutions, even if they weren’t quite the solution originally envisaged. There was a real feeling of the power of improvisation in what Lloyd and others accomplished: a whistle stop tour (literally) of the eastern USA, finding help and friends a long the way. His insights into the different cultures – in conversation, for instance, in the UK it is polite to wait to talk, and in the US polite to fill the silence (a cultural conversational death spiral…) – were enlightening and brave, and rewarding.

The second TEDtalk video featuered Jane McGonigal talking about online games and learning; and how to save the world. She reckoned that the solutions to the world’s problems was probably out there, and that the way to access those solutions may well be by utilising the skills, dedication, collaboration and brain-power of the many millions of people who play online games. She makes a convincing case, but it is probably best if you watch the video and take away your own views!

The afternoon finished up with Steve and Lobelia‘s exploration of music and social media, and the opportunities that social media present for a different business model. Although Steve mapped out how he and Lobelia had got to where they are – how they used technology both to create and distribute their art – I couldn’t help but look forward: new technologies create lots of different opportunities; some of which succeed for some people, others maybe won’t for anyone. Time will tell…