We came. We saw. We Spoke.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Deus ex machina.

by Steve Mockensturm

Editor’s Note: Spoke friend and multimedia virtuoso (think modern Renaissance man, truly) Steve Mockensturm sidesteps the usual “shop talk” in lieu of existentialist thoughts on the machines that use us, er… we use. These ideas resonate and compel us to ask deeper questions about the often perverse marriage between our real and virtual worlds. The answers are hard to come by, let alone (at times) uncomfortable to consider.

When not tending his garden, Steve cultivates wisdom as @boonhogganbeck on Twitter, and digs in the dirt daily at Madhouse.

“When you come to a fork in the road... take it!” — Yogi Berra

At a most fundamental level, our computers are simple and not smart at all. They can only do one, solid thing; make a determination as to whether something is true or false. That’s all a computer has ever been able to do. It’s a binary, boolean world where everything is, at its core, a decision between a one and a zero, on or off, thing or not-thing.

Furthermore, this sophisticated Difference Engine can only make these logical decisions one-at-a-time. Though the speed of decisions is impressive and things may appear to happen at the same time, the basic event stream of any given protocol cannot proceed until a decision — the only decision — is made: Does this request evaluate this way or that way?

The beat, the drummer, the traffic cop that keeps all these decisions organized is a simple clock running at a ridiculous speed. Choices are made between the ticks. For example, this piece is being written on a device that can make roughly 5.6 billion logical decisions per second. That’s how it works.

We can think of life this way sometimes. Though we are not Vulcans and we often hear, “It’s not a black and white world,” it sort of is. You are not here, you are there. Light is not dark, hot is not cold, good is not evil and Marvel is not DC. Our entire planet is quite literally bipolar and as technology marches apace, it is no small coincidence the human condition seems more and more polarized. We don’t appear to get along with each other as we used to. Our differences dictate behavior more than our similarities. Us and them. Binary logic.

Luddites and other critics of technology might argue the economics of dominion that technology facilitates, but the bigger fear may as well be: Are humans losing the capacity to determine shades of gray? Nuance seems dead as we begin to emulate — though at a comparatively sloth-like pace - the devices we cannot seem to live without. You must either be for something or against something, but you cannot be both.

Apparently — even with crazy-fast computing — concepts of kindness, fear, belief, wisdom and love are impossible to discern with simple true or false decisions. But this may not always be so. Though the brain is mysterious and complex, it is — logic would dictate — of limited capacity. There is only so much stuff up there making decisions, and — just like the difference engine — we can really only think of one thing at-a-time.

Enter the world of quantum computing, true asynchronous processing and circuits that communicate with light rather than crude, charged electrons running through a piece of silicon. Someday — sooner than later — logical decisions will be evaluated persistently and at the speed of thought.

It appears the gap is closing from both sides. As computing power increases and creeps toward analogous thought through quantum physics and light speed transactions, human power seems ever nudged toward simple binary transactions. Science Fiction has posited more than once that existence is merely an extremely advanced digital experience.

Maybe that’s why we have a tendency to anthropomorphize everything. We are shocked when hearing that robots have learned to lie. Delighted when a houseplant posts a comment to a blog saying it needs water. We tend to make comments like, “My computer thinks...” when, in fact, all these things are just devices doing what they were programmed to do.

Perhaps binary logic is an ancient part of human nature just now being thrown into the light and we are more like the difference machines — and they like us — than we’d care to admit. Doing what we’re programmed to do. We might do well to re-examine choice and free will and what makes something right or wrong. Life is nothing, if not perpetual observation and processing of data and no decision we can ever make is more fundamental than a yes or a no.


© 2009 Stephen Mockensturm, some rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Smile! You’re on social media.

by W. Gene Powell

Quick hit: Kodak recently posted its own guidelines for navigating the sometimes treacherous waters of social media. Titled “Kodak Social Media Tips — Sharing lessons learned to help your business grow” (PDF, 3.5MB), the 14-pager covers tips submitted by Kodak’s Chief Blogger, Jenny Cisney, as well as helpful information to get you up and running with a solid corporate socmed foundation.

Perhaps most importantly, the piece offers pragmatic advice for establishing a social media policy for employees. This is refreshing compared to the often Machiavellian smack-downs that some other companies have resorted to (we won’t name names).

Looking for examples on which to base your own social media policies? We suggest you start here. And, as always, let us know what you think.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Social Studies: The 2009 Twitter Survey Results

by Mark Pannell

Editor’s Note: Spoke social media wingman and l’enfant terrible, Mark Pannell, returns to the guest blogger perch to report the results of our homegrown Twitter Use Survey. After spending some quality time with our data, skip on over to TechCrunch to parse some enlightening results captured on the ever fickle teen demo. Salut!

Ask and you shall receive. As part of Spoke’s launch, we asked Twitter users to participate in a brief survey about their daily usage habits. The response was solid, with over 100 completed surveys to date. Some of our findings were a little surprising while others were exactly what we expected. See for yourself. Without further delay, the Get Your Twitter On survey results.

The first question we asked was to determine how many hours users spent on Twitter in an average day. Not surprisingly, 67% of our survey-takers said they spent more than an hour per day with the little blue bird. What was surprising was that over half said they post less than five tweets per day. Only 5% reported that they post more than twenty tweets on a daily basis. There’s a Turkish proverb that says, “If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.” It appears that many of those responding subscribe to that same notion.

Next up: using Twitter at work. These numbers speak for themselves:


Wow. We can only assume that a good chunk of these surveys were completed at work too. But we’re not here to judge. No, no. We’re merely sharing the data. You can almost hear the echoes of TGIFF: Thank God it’s #FollowFriday. Speaking of which...

Ringing in the weekend, 62% said that they’ve posted a #FollowFriday list at least once, but only 8% responded that they participate in the meme weekly. But Micah Baldwin’s efforts were not in vain. A substantial 68% claim that they’ve followed another user because of a #FollowFriday recommendation.

So, we’ve established how often you tweet and where you do it, but how do you do it? A hefty 78% use a method other than the Twitter website. The big winners were third-party applications like TweetDeck, Seesmic Desktop, and HootSuite, accounting for 60% of the responses. Taking the party on the road, 15% rely on a mobile app as their primary means of giving us the bird.

Speaking of third-party apps, picture sharing has clearly made its way into the mainstream. Two-thirds of our tweeps use a service to share photos on Twitter, with 17% of the total users also contributing some video love. This question brought to light an interesting trend: While some users post photos, but not videos, none of those surveyed share videos without also sharing pics. It seems as though picture sharing is a gateway drug to video sharing.

A staggering 89% of those surveyed use a URL-shortening service to share links. That’s a lot of characters banished to the Island of Misfit URL’s. And characters weren’t the only ones banished. Over 90% of our tweeps have unfollowed another user at least once. Auf Wiedersehen! And don’t expect our survey-takers to follow you just because you follow them. Eight out of ten said that they don’t follow back all of their followers.

Next, we moved into the science of followers vs. following. Surprisingly, the results were pretty even across the board. Take a look:


The majority of users either follow more people than they have following them or their ratio is nearly equivalent. With that in mind, it’s understandable that 65% of those surveyed said that the number of followers they have is not at all important to them. Only 6% acknowledged that it was very important. I think this shows how differently people use Twitter. Some like to share content; others like to peruse it. To each their own.

How important are looks? 72% of respondents occasionally change the aesthetics of their profile page. While this could be a holdover from their MySpace days, it’s more likely that folks just like to have a presence on Twitter that’s as unique as they are. But how unique are they? 46% of those responding have used a Twitter grading service on themselves to find out. Ironically, only 33% have used one on another user. I can’t think of a funny word that combines narcissism and Twitter. Insert your own here.

To wrap up the survey, we wanted to discover the other ways that Twitter users utilize the social web. While its popularity is not in question, an incredible 95% of those responding also have a Facebook account. Maybe even more remarkable is the fact that 78% also use LinkedIn. The network (which is more geared toward professional use) outpaced MySpace by more than double. Social sites outside of the “Big Three” also topped the one-time juggernaut, further signaling the sharp decline of MySpace’s popularity.


That “Other” category likely includes social bookmarking sites like Delicious, StumpleUpon, and reddit. Six out of ten tweeps use those services at least occasionally, with over a quarter indicating that they contribute linkage frequently. Last, but not least: blogs. Three-quarters of those surveyed maintain a personal blog or website. Of those responding, 49% update their blogs frequently. Feedburner has its hands full.

To close things out, we asked, “Is there anything else you’d like to share?” Many of the comments were kudos on the launch of the Spoke website. But beyond the much-appreciated kind words, there was some delightful commentary. One user wanted to learn more about Twitter grading services. Personally, I use Twitter Grader frequently, but their methodology in determining a “score” is a little hazy. For more detailed analytics, Twitter Analyzer and Twitalyzer (two different services) offer more stats than you can shake a stick at. To get a better look at how frequently a user tweets, who they’re tweeting, and when, take a peek at TweetStats.

Another friend of Spoke asked which Blackberry application we would recommend for updating both Twitter and Facebook. As none of us are Blackberry users (the others at Spoke frequently remind me of their iPhones’ superiority to my Windows Mobile device), I redirected the question to the most Blackberry-usin’, tweetin’ Facebooker I know: Mashable’s Events Director, Brett Petersel. Presently, Mr. Petersel is using SocialScope for all of his mobile updating needs, so I’d say it’s worth a look.

While the survey was intended to educate us, it looks like we weren’t the only ones learning from it. One user said, “Yikes – just realized that I’m not at all using Twitter to its max potential. Thanks for quantifying that!” I think that’s true of most of us. If the survey brought that to light, we’re glad we could help!

If there’s one thing we know about the social web, it’s that everyone perceives things differently. One person remarked, “Isn’t this survey skewed by defaulting each question to the first choice?” Another offered, “You really know your Twitter user. I almost didn’t have to change anything.” While I’d love to take credit for having a deep understanding of the average Twitter user, the truth is much less glamorous. The service we use to generate these surveys requires that one radio button be selected by default (in compliance with W3C specifications, although all rules have exceptions). But it is a good example of how differently we view things.

Finally, Spoke would like to thank everyone who participated in the survey. You’ve given us a peek inside the minds of a Twitter user, which is much akin to opening Pandora’s Box. Thank you also for your interest in our findings. If you’re reading this at work, we apologize for interrupting your Twitter time.

Feel free to download all results in graph form: Spoke_TwitterSurvey09.doc (1.3Mb)

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