The internet is not a numbers game. It’s about dialog, persuasion, and influence.
You don’t want a million people reading your HTML5 blog. You want members of the HTML5 working groups and key influencers from Google, Apple, and Microsoft reading your HTML5 blog. Likewise, it’s better to have twenty meaningful comments than a thousand +1s.
Ditto with Twitter follower counts. What it would gain you to acquire all the followers in the world? Bragging rights? Mysterious leverage? The ability to convince a not-very-bright business person that what you have to say matters, because n millions follow you?
Following doesn’t mean paying attention. You don’t want numbers on Twitter, not really. What you want is to follow and be followed by human beings who care about issues you care about.
This thing we make together. This thing is about hearts and minds, not eyeballs. Especially not eyeballs that aren’t even watching. Eyeballs is so 90s. And it was never the right metric.
This thing. If numbers are your strategy to win at this thing, you’ve already lost. This thing is not a game. There is no winning. There is only mattering. If you don’t understand that, you aren’t making a difference.
CONTRARY to popular belief and Twitter’s terms of service, you cannot copyright a Tweet. Under US law, copyright is granted on publication to “original works of authorship” finalized in “fixed forms of expression” but this does not extend to names, titles, or short phrases (PDF).
As messages sent via Twitter cannot be longer than 140 characters, they cannot be copyrighted. However original, witty, or profound they may be, nothing more than good manners protects your original expression of authorship. If you wish to let other people quote or use your Tweets, you need not “license” them; indeed, technically, you cannot license them, since they are in the public domain the instant you publish them.
If you write a clever Tweet and wish to assert ownership (and if money is no object), you may apply for a trademark. Good luck with that.
Otherwise, your Tweets are like the air. Anyone can do anything like to them, including quoting them with or without your permission. If an enterprising company wants to take something you said on Twitter and slap it on a tee shirt, they may do so. If a gent of the disturbed persuasion wants to engrave your tweet into a 600-foot swastika, he may do so.
If this disturbs you, suck it up, or stop using Twitter—or mark your Twitter feed as private. This will not copyright your Twitter mutterings but it will keep many people from seeing them.
If it deeply disturbs you (and money is no object), mount a case to change the law.
Me, I plan to use Twitter forever. And any party so inclined may make a whistle of my Tweets. But my saying so here is irrelevant because you cannot copyright a Tweet.
Update: Comments are now closed, but you may read what others had to say. Thanks to all for a lively and illuminating discussion.
Armed with nothing more than a keen eye, a good seat, a fine camera, and the ability to use it, An Event Apart Seattle attendee Warren Parsons captured the entire two-day show in crisp and loving detail. Presenting, for your viewing pleasure, An Event Apart Seattle 2009 – a set on Flickr.
When you’ve paged your way through those, have a gander at Think Brownstone’s extraordinary sketches of AEA Seattle.
Joshua Schachter explains how URL shorteners like TinyURL, bit.ly, etc., originally created to prevent long URLs from breaking in 1990s e-mail clients, and now used primarily as a means of monetizing someone else’s content, are bad:
They “add another layer of indirection to an already creaky system, [making what] used to be transparent … opaque,” slowing down web use by adding needless lookups, and potentially disguising spam.
Shorteners “steal search juice” from the original publishers. (For example, with the Digg bar and Digg short URL, your content makes Digg more valuable and your site less valuable; the more content you create, the richer you make Digg.)
“A new and potentially unreliable middleman now sits between the link and its destination. And the long-term archivability of the hyperlink now depends on the health of a third party.”
Anyone who creates web content should read Joshua’s post. I’m sold and will dial way back on my use of the zeldman.com short URL. The question remains, what to do when you need to paste a long, cumbersome link into a 140-character service like Twitter. (If you do nothing, Twitter itself will shorten the link via TinyURL.)
You can look at Twitter as text messaging or as micro-blogging.
If it’s text-messaging, of concern only to your closest friends, then content such as “Dude, where are you? We’re in the mezzanine” is perfectly appropriate, and “Fish tacos FTW nom nom nom” is practically overachievement.
If it’s micro-blogging, then you may be obliged, like any writer, to consider your reader’s need for value.
Writers inform and enlighten. They create worlds, ideologies, and brochure copy.
In 140 characters, a good writer can make you laugh and a great one can make you march.
You thought I was going to say “cry.” That, too.
Not everyone who blogs is Dostoevsky, and with ten Twitterers for every blogger, the literary riches are spread thin.
The good writers are easier to discover thanks to tools like Favrd. (The best thing about Twitter is its unfulfilled potential. Some developers reach their highest level of attainment creating some of the many features Twitter didn’t come with.) Tools like Favrd also change the discourse: writers write differently when they think someone is reading, and self-consciously clever Twitterers have responded to Favrd by posting stuff that’s more likely to get favored—like directors playing to critics.
But nobody just follows on Twitter. Sure, you follow, but you also create. And you might consider that an obligation to occasionally create meaning, color, and richness.
I don’t view http as a medium for phone chatter. I don’t mean you can’t place phone calls over the internet—of course you can. I mean I’m old-fashioned enough (or have been doing this long enough) to view the web mostly as a publishing medium, with all the obligations that implies. So while I sometimes use Twitter as a homing device, I mainly try to think of it as the world’s smallest magazine, published by me.
To summarize: Twitter’s Terms of Service (TOS), modeled on Flickr’s, forbid one Twitter user to harass another. If you harass, you lose your account, according to the TOS. Yet Twitter user Ariel Waldman experienced painfully offensive harassment from another Twitter user for months. Unable to make him stop or to get help through normal Twitter channels, she escalated the issue to Twitter’s CEO and asked him to fulfill Twitter’s Terms of Service, i.e. to warn or ban the harasser. Instead of dealing with the harassment, the CEO decided to alter Twitter’s TOS. (Alter them to what, one wonders.)
One expects corporations to behave in cowardly and callowly self-interested ways, but one expects more from one’s heroes and friends.
Comments have now been turned off, although you’re welcome to read what the first 77 people had to say.
OUR PERSONAL SITES, once our primary points of online presence, are becoming sock drawers for displaced first-person content. We are witnessing the disappearance of the all-in-one, carefully designed personal site containing professional information, links, and brief bursts of frequently updated content to which others respond via comments. Did I say we are witnessing the traditional personal site’s disappearance? That is inaccurate. We are the ones making our own sites disappear.
Obliterating our own readership and page views may not be a bad thing, but let’s be sure we are making conscious choices.
Interactive art director Jody Ferry’s site is a perfect example of the deeply decentralized personal page. I use the term “page” advisedly, as Jody’s site consists of a single page. It’s a fun, punchy page, bursting with personality, as intriguing for what it hides as what it reveals. Its clarity, simplicity, and liquidity demonstrate that Jody Ferry does indeed practice what the site’s title element claims: Interactive Art Direction and User Experience Design. All very good.
It could almost be the freshened-up splash page of a late 1990s personal site, except that the navigation, instead of pointing inward to a contact page, resume, blog, link list, and photos, points outward to external web services containing those same things. Mentally insert interactive diagram here: at left is a 1990s site whose splash page links to sub-pages. Structurally, its site map is indistinguishable from an org chart, with the CEO at the top, and everyone else below. At right, to re-use the org chart analogy, a site like Jody’s is akin to a single-owner company with only virtual (freelance) employees. There is nothing below the CEO. All arrows point outward.
Most personal sites are not yet as radically personal-content-outsourced as Jody’s, and certainly not every personal site will go this way. (Jody’s site might not even be this way tomorrow, and, lest it be misunderstood, I think Jody’s site is great.) But many personal sites are leaning this way. Many so inclined are currently in an interim state not unlike what’s going on here at zeldman.com:
There are blog posts here, but I post Tweets far more frequently than I write posts. (For obvious reasons: when you’re stuck in an airport, it’s easier to send a 140-character post via mobile phone and Twitter than it is to write an essay from that same airport. Or really from anywhere. Writing is hard, like design.) To connect the dots, I insert my latest Tweet in my sidebar. I have more readers here than followers at Twitter, but that could change. Are they the same readers? Increasingly, to the best of my knowledge, there are people who follow me on Twitter but do not read zeldman.com (and vice-versa). This is good (I’m getting new readers) and arguably maybe not so good (my site, no longer the core of my brand, is becoming just another piece of it).
Like nearly everyone, I outsource discoverable, commentable photography to Flickr.com instead of designing my own photo gallery like my gifted colleagues Douglas Bowman and Todd Dominey. Many bloggers now embed mini-bits of their Flickr feeds in their site’s sidebars. I may get around to that. (One reason I haven’t rushed to do it is that most of my Flickr photos are hidden behind a “friends and family” gateway, as I mainly take pictures of our kid.) Photography was never what this site was about, so for me, using Flickr is not the same as outsourcing the publication of some of my content.
As I’ve recently mentioned, links, once a primary source of content (and page views) here, got offloaded to Ma.gnolia a while back. From 1995 until a few years ago, every time I found a good link, an angel got his wings and I got page views. My page views weren’t, brace yourself for an ugly word, monetized, so all I got out of them was a warm feeling—and that was enough. Now my site is, brace yourself again, monetized, but I send my readers to Ma.gnolia every time I find a link. Go figure.
I’m not trying to get rid of my readers, nor are you trying to shake off yours. In the short term, including Flickr, Twitter, and Ma.gnolia or De.licio.us feeds sends traffic both ways—out to those services, but also back to your site. (Remember when some of us were afraid RSS would cost us our readers? It did and it didn’t. With RSS, good writers gain readers while often losing traditional page views. But that’s another story.) I’ve certainly found new websites by going to the Twitter profile pages of people who write funny or poignant Tweets. Behind a great Flickr photo may be a great designer whose site you might not have found if not for first seeing that photo.
But outsourcing the publication of our own content has long-term implications that point to more traffic for the web services we rely on, and less traffic and fewer readers for ourselves.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Not every person who designs websites needs to run a personal magazine on top of all their other responsibilities. If your goal in creating a personal site way back when was to establish an online presence, meet other people who create websites, have fun chatting with virtual friends, and maybe get a better job, well, you don’t need a deep personal site to achieve those goals any more.
But if world domination is your goal, think twice before offloading every scrap of you.
An authorized Belorussian translation of this article, ???? ??????????? ????, appears on designcontest.com.
If “Our Broken Borders” should someday turn into a ratings loser for CNN’s Lou Dobbs, perhaps he can switch to “The Dwindling Productivity of the American Worker: Is Facebook Sapping Our National Vigor?”
Like comic books, rock and roll, heavy metal, gangsta rap, gaming, and MySpace, the web is no longer an easy card for parent-scaring pundits and politicians to play. But social networking sites AKA community-focused web applications AKA “web 2.0” can still be blamed for a variety of social ills. That they are actually blameless doesn’t matter. The truth never matters in this game.
And since it’s easier to say “Facebook” than “the aggregate of new social networking sites and applications such as Flickr and Twitter,” there’s every chance that Facebook will take the whipping for the entire category.
That this will actually increase Facebook’s market value is known but won’t matter to the people who pretend to be outraged about “the Facebook generation” or “social not-working” or whatever the pundits end up calling the “crisis.”
The same thing happened when religious authorities tried to ban “Carnal Knowledge,” “The Exorcist,” “Hail Mary,” and “The Last Temptation of Christ.” In every case, people who otherwise wouldn’t have bought tickets for these films, showed up, lined up, and even bought popcorn.
At least “The Exorcist” was entertaining.
And of course, parental outrage and the PMRC have sold plenty of rap and metal.
If Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking apps get boosted by fake outrage, they’ll acquire more investors. And they’ll need them, since all these applications run at a loss, and all of them suffer from terrible scaling problems.
The scaling problems will grow worse as the apps become more popular; investors will buy smaller and smaller pieces of a less and less viable business concern; and when it pops, we’ll be back to the bird flu movie of the week.
So the planet warms and the Kenyans kill their neighbors and we tweet about nothing and hope the servers hold out.
Everyone a writer, everyone a publisher, everyone a citizen journalist.
Everything that could be digital would be. Content wanted to be free. Then we had to get paid. But animated smack-the-monkey ads were so declassé. Ch-ching, Google AdSense, ch-ching, The Deck advertising network, ch-ching your ad network here.
Everyone a writer, everyone a publisher, everyone a citizen journalist, ch-ching.
First the writers and designers did the writing. Then the non-writers who had something to say did it. Then the people with nothing to say got a MySpace page and the classy ones switched to Facebook.
And ch-ching was heard in the land. And the (not citizen) journalists heard it, and it got them pecking into their Blackberries and laptops.
And then the writers and designers, ashamed at rubbing shoulders with common humanity, discovered the 140-character Tweet and the Tumblr post. No stink of commerce, no business model, nothing that could even charitably be called content, and best of all, no effort. Peck, peck, send.
When you’ve flown that far from Gutenberg, the only place to travel is back.
Enter Lulu, all slinky hips and clodhoppers. Self-publishing is the new blogging. No more compromises. No more external deadlines. No more heavy-handed editors and ham-fisted copyeditors. No more teachers, lots more books.
You don’t need distribution, you’ve got PayPal. You don’t need stores: there’s only two left, and nobody buys books there, anyway. You don’t need traditional marketing. Didn’t we already prove that?