Democracy in Canada 2.0 – Twitter

I my first article in my series Canada 2.0 I introduced the idea that social media technologies, Internet 2.0 or social media, are beginning to reach a critical mass in Canada that can enable a transformation of our democracy and society as a whole. Those who want to take part and shape this future need to understand what is happening and how to take part. Twitter gets a lot of coverage in the media as the current ‘in’ thing. And its impact in the Iran elections and Barack Obama’s victory in the US cannot be dismissed. But there is one thing that pundits and commentators often miss when applying this to Canada. No one in Canada is on Twitter. Well, statistically almost no one.

Unlike FaceBook, which has around 14 million Canadian users, thats about 42% of the total Canadian population, twitter has a measly 1% pop covereage. This means that everything Canadians say on twitter is bound to be drowned out by their American and even British peers. Canadian Twitter accounts make up about 5% of Twitter. When something shows up as a trend on twitter (which means its one of the top 10 most popular phrases showing up in all current 140 character messages on Twitter) it pretty much means a lot of Americans are talking about that topic.

But if you look at stats at politwitter.ca, which aggregates Canadian political discussion on Twitter, you’ll see that there are tens of thousands of active Canadians tweeting about politics and following national leaders. That’s not nothing.

A Canadian Voice

So what about little ‘ol us? Last week there were huge national protests and everyone I know was tweeting about it with common tags #noprorogue #CAPP and #cdnpoli.
Some part of me hoped, that just for an hour one of those words would show up on the venerated trending topics list. But it was not to be. Then I looked into it a bit and found the stunning 1%. Add to that the fact that many people register for twitter, don’t get it, and never use it again, so 1% is probably high. Twitter is not as easy to ‘get’ as FaceBook. It doesn’t seem useful to jabber on in short bytes with people you don’t know. But sometimes it can be really powerful. FaceBook is much easier for everyone to udnerstand, you link up with freinds from the real world, chat, play games and generally just keep up to date with their life.

So why is this knowledge important for activities in Canada trying to gain awareness for their cause and rally people and media attention? Its important because the media doesn’t know this, or is too enamored of simple stories to use this information properly. If the reporters and pundits see something trending on Twitter, they’ll see a big thing, Twitter is big right? That’s a story. So how does that help? Well…

Twitter just recently, this week, added a new feature to their website that lets you view trending topics by region. Now, if people can choose to view trends from several countries or large cities. Canada is one of the countries although no Canadian cities are present yet. Right now the trends look pretty much the same as the Worldwide trends except for the presence of the word ‘Canadian’ and ‘Tim Hortons’. Since Canada is such a small group of users (hundreds of thousands rather than millions) that means that getting topics to trend in the Canada view should be much easier than in the default Worldwide view. But for this to happen, Canadians need to add location information so that Twitter knows they are in Canada. I suspect the trends are the same now because most Canadians haven’t put their location down, this may even explain the 1% being so low. Well it turns out now that it really is useful to tell Twitter that you at least live in Canada, even if you don’t want to give more info. This way we can all use the Canada trending topics view to find out what Canadians are really talking about rather than continuing to listen in to our neighours to the south. We’ve listend to them long enough, I think we know what they’re talking about by now.

Instructions on Setting your location in Twitter:

  1. go to Twitter.com and sign in
  2. Click Settings at the top right
  3. You will be on the Account tab, go down to Location and enter Canada
  4. Go the bottom of the page and click save

That’s it. Now if you click “Change” under the trending header on the right hand side you can pick the country or city you want to view and your tweets should be included.

Can’t wait to see what we’re talkin aboot.


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Google WaveBots – Enough Smiley Bots Already, Can We Have Something Useful?

Join the Conversation about this post on google wave or buzz.

I’m a programmer and a certified tech geek, so of course I’m playing with Google Wave. I say playing, because there isn’t much you can do at this point on wave except play. This is partly because there aren’t enough people with access to wave yet that communication is useful. But more importantly, there simply isn’t a rich enough feature set yet to commit to using it for anything important. Much has been said elsewhere about what essential features wave needs to have be ready for primetime, including :

  • administrative access control – This is needed  over waves so that people can leave, be removed, have their write access restricted or monitored. Essential, showstopper, I assume google is working hard on it right now.
  • integration with email – Wave may want to be an email-killer but that won’t be possible without connecting fully with email and showing wave is better, which it may or may not be. So complete back and forth integration with non-wavers via email is essential. If google isn’t working on this, well, they are miscalculating.
  • speed and stability – annoying, but wave is still in preview so this will get fixed.

All these things can’t really be fixed until Google decides to do it. But there are a number of other things wave could have right now if developers put their minds to it and made some useful robots, well ok, maybe next week.

Robots in wave in simply little applications that get a user address and can be added to waves to alter the content. This may sound strange but its actually a very powerful idea. Some robots that already have been created add results from twitter to a wave, pass blips (atomic portions of a wave) back and forth to some email address or blog, add smiley faces and convert urls in the text to http links.

Robots seem to be relatively easy to program and are easy to add. Any content a user can see in a wave, the invited robots will see and they can alter it as well. I am interested in making some wavebots of my own but alas it looks like the sands of time will delay that for a while. The problem with the wavebots that exist so far is that most of them are toys and don’t do anything actually useful. I have an idea or two for useful wave robots that I think would be a lot more useful. If you are so inclined and skilled please make these forthwith and let me know.  If you really hadn’t thought it until you read this post, consider it a gift and cite me as your inspiration.  But what I really want is these bots in my contact list, yesterday!

AnnotateBot

We need a robot to highlight and alter keywords in the text so that the document can be used for notetaking and brainstorming. For example:

  • TODO, MOVETO(doc), LOOKUP, address, recipe, call, -> becomes an arrow , ? becomes highlighed to denote an as yet unanwered question
  • “TODO text….” could become a check box with the text following it. Hopefully even checking the box could cause a formatting change?
  • the robot could create a blip at the bottom that shows all the mappings and lets the user alter them or add more
  • can you save an instance of the robot as a separate contact? The emaily robot seems to imply you can. If so, then an instance of keywords mappings could be saved in the contact book and readded to later waves. You could have one annotatebot instance for psych class, another for your journal, another for recipes.

SummaryBot

One major problem with wave right now is you can’t collapse parts of a wave and see the structure or the big picture. Replay is cute but frankly its useless for document editing. Its only useful for introducing someone to the flow of a conversation. I see Wave as much more of a collaborative document editing platform. Like Social-google Docs on steroids (without the access control? sheesh). Replay will play a minor role in this view, since the current best doc is what really matter. The fact that there is no way to collapse all repsonse blips or view a timeline is a huge gap. I don’t know if the API allows it, but it might be possible to create a bot that hides or removes parts of the converation below some level in the tree, or creates a summarized copy of the wave that can be perused to get the idea, with links to the full detail in the original wave. Sort of like a table of contents with hyperlinks. That should be doable.

JournalBot

This one would be great. I am already experimenting with using wave for a research journal. It seems ideal, it automatically timestamps each blip, lets you respond and annotate as you go. Lets you go back and edit. Again, collapsing by date would fantastic here. But a wavebot could help a lot with journalling. For example, a bot could take each new blip added at the bottom as a reply and cut and paste the text in to the first main blip so that their is a final formatted document. Each new day could be automatically titled and all new blips entered that day would be appended under that date. Edits of previous blips would not get moved and the header date wouldn’t change. This gets around the limitation that the timestamp on a blip indicated the last edited time, not the creation date. Which is exactly what you want for geenral document editing. But in a journal you also want to know when it was added since edits are largely minor. Any robot that simply turns some key word into the current date or timestamp, with formatting options would be an even simpler solution to this.

The great thing about these bot ideas is they could be combined easily simply by adding each bot to the same wave. Then you could have a journal that annotes TODO comments to format them differently, keeps track of the creation date and lets you explore the document at an abstract level.

I don’t know, is it just me, or wouldn’t these kinds of bots be a better use of your time than developing another smiley bot or eliza-hack chatbot or voting gadget. These are productivity basics that wave needs so it can crawl as a useful tool before it flies as a social media, 21st century email killer.

Those are my ideas.  If you have already made something similar, let me know. If you haven’t, get working on it, before I do!  If its good, then I won’t have to do it myself.

To Block or Not to Block on Twitter, the Solution is Clear

Update : Here’s another great post about spam on twitter.

Twitter has been around a little while now, perhaps it is even becoming mature, and certain patterns of usage are beginning to make themselves clear. Retweeting, the practice of forwarding on an interesting tweet to one’s followers, has become standard and will soon be added by Twitter on their main site.

Another phenomenon that has entrenched itself is spam messages.  This isn’t surprising, every new communication medium quickly develops its own sort of junk mail.  Luckily in the electronic world it is easier to take action against junk marketers than in the real world.  Email spam filters have advanced tremendously, if you use a webmail service you should very rarely see spam in your inbox anymore.  Twitter, unfortunately, is still in its golden age of spam with no filters instituted by the twitter servers and few third party services that help.  So far I have noticed a few types of spam on twitter and for all of them there is a solution that each and every one of us can help with until Twitter gets its act together and institutes some system to deal with it. (more…)

Harvard Study of Twitter Usage is Flawed

A new Harvard study of Twitter usage has surprised some people with its results, including its authors.  The study indicates that 90% of tweets are generated by 10% of the users on Twitter and that the median number of tweets per user is one.   The researchers and the media seem to be surprised by this, but this is because they have not thought about the usage patterns of Twitters users. In other words, they don’t understand how people use Twitter.  (more…)

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