Tipping Pitches: October 2009

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Technology: Follow the Growth of a Twitter Account

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Please follow ACS_UT and be a part of its growth!

[Update (11/2): See updated stats.]

Watching a Twitter account develop is an interesting phenomena. Figuring out what works and doesn't work. Going through the growing pains of not having any followers. Then not having any productive followers.  Then finally (hopefully) breaking through.

No matter how much you know about Twitter, building an account is fluid. Trial and error. What works for one person may not work for you. Audience and subject matter are key.

My @JonLoomer account is still a baby. I've technically been "on" Twitter since March, but I didn't fully commit until the end of September (as this data from TweetStats shows):

March (18 tweets)
April (five tweets)
May (12 tweets)
June (four tweets)
July (0 tweets)
August (1 tweet)
September (69 tweets)
October (438 tweets)

Based on statistics I've heard, my account was a classic case of one that would die. If you're not engaged within the first three months, the likelihood you will ever engage is extremely low.

Although I've always been up-to-date on Twitter and know as much as a person possibly can without actively managing an account (I've been a hands off Twitter ambassador), there is no better experience than hands-on experience.  It was critical for me to go through the process of growing an account before implementing a strategy for our organization.

But there was a hurdle I needed to get over first. I'm a big Facebook guy, but Twitter and Facebook are very different animals. With Facebook, I can control who my friends are. I even then control which of my friends can see what.  I have privacy.

With Twitter, you are making a choice to reveal yourself -- or as much of yourself as you are willing -- to the world. I had a difficult time with that concept.

But beginning in late September, I took the plunge.  Both with Twitter and the creation of this blog.

Mixed results. Quite painful for a while. But I think I'm finally getting over the hump. Or to the hump.  Not quite at a place where I feel like I have a strong core of followers, but we're getting there.

In the beginning, I really had no clue which accounts I should follow. I took a lot of online advice. Followed a lot of people. Tried to engage. Followed people who really didn't interest me, but tried to act interested.

Trial and error. Now, through the end of October, I am very happy with the information that comes through my Twitter feed. Good, strong base. Mix of sports and technology.

The Birth of ACS_UT

As VP of Strategic Marketing for American Cancer Society Great West Division, I have been determined to implement a potent Twitter strategy. The problem, inevitably, has been resources.

Initially, I created 13 accounts -- one for the Great West Division (ACS_GW) and one for each state within the division. Whether or not we used all of these accounts, I wanted to "squat" on them. I did my part to add to the millions of dead Twitter accounts.

We got off to a decent start, but ultimately none of the states being managed have had the time necessary to properly engage. And it was difficult getting buy-in to use these resources without first running a test to show the benefits. And given these accounts were showing little benefit as new accounts, it has been an uphill battle.

And so, my team and I took over a single account, ACS_UT, for American Cancer Society in Utah. Although it's been around technically since August, we only started committing to it during the past week or so. Total of 81 tweets so far.

Baby's First Steps
Our first goal is to search out people to engage. I find this to be far more useful than tweeting information into space. Find people who may be interested in what we have to offer. Build relationships.

We're doing this in a few ways. First, we're using directories to find people in news and cancer communities in the state of Utah. We are following many of these people.

Second, we're listening. This is the biggest key for brands -- whether non-profit or for-profit -- in the early going. It is the best way, as far as I can tell, to be productive with a new account.

Since we are currently focusing only on Utah, we are using an advanced Twitter search to find everyone using several key words inside the state. This leads us to people we can follow and engage with.

Ultimately, we want to be a resource. We want to provide help and support to those affected by cancer. Whether newly diagnosed, a cancer survivor, or a caregiver, we want to be there for these people.

So it is a little sensitive. We are reaching out to people who may be in need, but not wanting to cross the line of being pushy. We're here for you. If you need any help, please let me know.

Currently, we have 20 followers and we're following 89 people. Still very small. It's a grind for now, but we know it's a marathon and not a sprint.

General Strategy
While we will use Twitter as a platform to push information, educate and inform, the focus now needs to be on engaging and building a community. If you don't have an audience, you're broadcasting to an empty room.

So initially, our focus will tilt heavily towards listening and reaching out. Finding people to help. Eventually, we want to get to the point where people know who we are and will be able to search us out.

Listening will still be important, but it won't take up 90% of our strategy like it does now.

It is also important for brands to have personality, and this is especially important in our industry. So, when we updated our profile recently, we put the spotlight on the person managing the account, Linda. We feel people will better connect with a face than a logo.

We're also testing out the various tools available to determine what works best for us.  I want us to tinker with as many tools as possible to confidently recommend a specific strategy down the road.  OneForty.com has been a great resource.

First, we want to get onto as many directories as possible.  We're using sites like TweetFind, WeFollow and Twellow to get listed where people search.

Second, we want to find people and organizations with similar interests.  We're using some of these same resources above as well as Mr. Tweet, WhoShouldIFollow and others to help track down users to engage.

Third, we're figuring out the best software for our needs.  The group as a whole is now using TweetFunnel, but we don't want to assume this is our best option.  We are considering alternatives like CoTweet, PeopleBrowsr and others to manage multiple accounts and access analytics.

Software also includes desktop applications like TweetDeck, Twhirl and Seesmic.  I personally prefer Seesmic, but we like some of the options that TweetDeck provides for our purposes.  Ultimately, we want an interface that provides geo-targeted tweets by people we aren't following mentioning specific keywords.

The problem has been getting a geo-targeted search within a desktop application.  I have not been able to find this.  We want to limit our search to Utah, which is something we can do with the Twitter Advanced Search.  Anyone know of a desktop application that provides something similar?

Of course, we are also using a link shortener, bit.ly.  Ideal for keeping our character count down as well as tracking clicks.

A lot has been said about frequency.  I have heard some statistics indicating the ideal number of daily tweets is 23.  Currently, we're tweeting around eight times per day, but that doesn't include direct messages.  We'd like to get that number up, but it comes down to both resources and audience.  Right now, we're still struggling to find our audience.

There will also come a time when we will manage a blog.  However, I feel it's important to first generate a strong, engaged audience before creating the blog.  Since we do have access to many different content streams with ACS, we do have content.  Once we have a solid base, we'll begin directing people to an ACS Utah blog.

That may be backwards of the way some do it, but it's something of a chicken-and-the-egg dilemma.  Do you create a Twitter account before a blog?  Do you create a blog before a Twitter account?  Do you do both at the same time?  I feel like our situation is rather unique in that 1) our organization provides us with plenty of content already, and 2) the value of our account comes largely from reaching out and helping, rather than broadcasting information (though that is an aspect of our strategy).

End Game
This test is meant to help us put together a robust strategy going forward.  Do we use 13 accounts or focus only on one account for the division (likely)?  How long does it take before our hard work pays off?  How many resources are needed?  How many hours are required from them?  How should their time be spent?  What is our voice?  What tools and software should we use? How will we measure success?

I will continue to track the progress of this test here on my blog.  But I'd love to get your feedback.  What has worked for you?  Given our needs and resources, what do you think we should do differently?

It will be a struggle.  But as I tell Linda, we battle through the pain.  Focus on progress, even if it's slow progress.  Give it three months.  That, I think, will be a major landmark.  If we see major progress after three months, this strategy has life.  If we don't, we need to reassess.

Please follow ACS_UT and be a part of its growth!

Technology: Twitter Lists and the Possibilities

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Like many (or most) Twitter users, I was left in the dark when the initial Beta push of Lists was made. Until you actually have access, it's tough to firmly grasp the impact (see latest Facebook road map announcement).  Or maybe I'm just not smart enough to grasp it.


Luckily for me, I was granted access to lists yesterday. Proudly, I announced it to the world. Moments later, I no longer had lists.

Son of a...

Twitter does tell its users to be quiet about your new powers. Was I being punished for breaking the Twitter Lists Secret?

About 30 minutes later, I had lists again. Was quiet about it this time. Learned my lesson.

I heard a lot of horror stories about the difficulty of creating lists. If you only use the search (which, according to the interface, seems to be the case), it would royally suck.

But once you create the list, all you need to do is go to your "following" page and select the proper list from a toggle next to each user's name. Really not that bad. But if you are following a lot of people, sure. It will still royally suck.

The Ego Factor

I won't lie. It's pretty damn cool when I go to Twitter.com and discover that someone's created a list that includes me. Makes me feel kinda special. Like I'm not talking to myself after all (feels that way most of the time).

Of course, these are the lists I'm on:

People You Should SPAM
Don't Follow These Idiots
Most Likely to Want to Follow Profiles with the name "Britney" or Something Similar in It
Poop Heads

So, not all bad, I guess. I am kind of a "poop head."

[It should be noted here that if you are put on a list that you find offensive ("Yankees Fans"), all you need to do is block the person who created the list. Well, that's the passive aggressive thing to do. Or you could just ask them to remove you. Then block them.]

So those aren't really the lists I'm in, but I grace five lists so far. I know. Not that many. But I'm proud of those five.


Of course, I put myself in one of those lists. Is that legal? Does it break some sort of lame Twitter etiquette that I should know about? I know it seems somewhat desperate and all, but seriously. If I go to the trouble of creating the "Most Powerful People on Twitter" list, I need to be on it. I deserve that much.

But this goes back to the "Ego Factor." It feels real good to be on lists that someone else created (or I created). It's also quickly becoming the new way to judge how interesting someone is, and whether they are "follow worthy."

Number of followers has always been somewhat deceiving. When I started using Twitter, I was quite flattered when someone with 50,000 followers would follow me. I followed back. I must be one interesting dude.

Then I realized that these people also often follow 50,000 users. They do it for reciprocation. They follow in hopes that you'll follow back.  I was suckered.

That's why the "Twitter ratio" has become so important. If you follow more people than follow you, you're probably not all that interesting. I can say this since I unfollowed a bunch of people last week to give me an acceptable ratio.

So now if you're on 20,000 lists, we'll know that people think you're pretty interesting. Of course, you can also put yourself on those lists (as I did), but you're limited to 20 lists. So unless you create 1,000 accounts to put yourself on 20,000 lists (wouldn't put it past anyone), it's tough to manipulate.

Ease of Use
I refuse to follow more than 150 people. As soon as the number goes over that threshold, I go through my "following" and start unfollowing people. I'm kind of a jerk like that.

It may inevitably slow my growth of followers.  I don't care that much about number of followers. I care, don't get me wrong. But I'm not going to randomly follow people to get those followers.

And I'm not going to negatively impact my stream (that sounds terrible -- we need a new word for this) to get there.

Now, technically, you can follow 1,000,000 people but focus only on the people you want to hear from. 

I guess this is good and bad.  It's good as a nice organizational tool.  It's bad since you can now follow a large group of people with no intention of reading their stuff.  You can bet that someone -- Twitter or a third party -- will provide the ability to make a list your default view.

In other words, you could follow 50,000 people but only pay attention to 100 of them.  Once again, lessens the value of "number of followers" since following inflates your numbers.

Actually, there are many applications for this. I've created lists for "Sports People" and "Funny People." In a bad mood? Focus only on the funny people.

But I could further cut that "Sports People" list down to "Baseball People." And that would have been especially cool last night while watching Game 2 of the World Series.

I don't care about the nerdy, techy stuff while I'm watching the World Series. I want to talk and hear about baseball. About the game.

Getting Noticed
This is huge for people starting fresh on Twitter. It's always about who you know in the business world (knowing how to do stuff helps, too), and having an influential person put you on a list would be key.

Getting started on Twitter sucks, I won't lie. You talk to yourself a lot. Eventually, you even talk to spammers to convince yourself that you have an audience (or is that just me?). If you can quickly get on an influential list, you don't have to go through these growing pains.

Sites are already emerging that aggregate these lists.  I put my "Sports People" list on Listorious.com yesterday.  I also used that site to follow the Onion Editorial Staff.

So this is huge for everyone -- brands and individuals. One influential list and you're likely to see a sudden spike in your audience. Game changer.

Brand Value
I work for American Cancer Society Great West Division, and I immediately see some applications of lists for our use. I can create a list of all ACS Twitter accounts (national, state, division -- there are a lot). This would make it very easy for a volunteer to quickly follow what's going on in our world.

Additionally, lists can help brands in a growing competitor community. Using ACS as an example, someone affected by cancer may create a list of all of the non-profit cancer research organizations. Or simply a list of those who are helpful to individuals affected by cancer. Or a list of cancer survivors.

The last, I think, could be where this thing is headed. Lists of people with similar interests. If I'm a cancer survivor, I may want to join a Twitter community of other cancer survivors for support and discussion. Same with sports fans. Or fans of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Lists are to Twitter what the new Live Feed is to Facebook. Different things, but I think both tools will significantly improve their site's community. New Twitter users are more likely to hang around. Less active users are more likely to become more engaged.

It's good stuff.

One Complaint
This List thing could be big. Real big. But I don't like how if you follow a new list you don't follow the people on that list.

Ok, this is purely from a selfish standpoint. If someone follows a list that I'm on, I want it to automatically improve my "Followers" count. It doesn't. They aren't really following me. If they click on the list, they can read what I have to say and then follow me. But it's not a one-step process.

So, for my ego, I'd appreciate this one change. Or at least the option to easily follow everyone in a list. Or a new statistic on your profile indicating number of people who follow you through lists.

Or maybe I'm getting too wrapped up in silly stats.

I mean, I see why it may be a bad idea to automatically follow users on lists. People are creating lists with 500 users (or more) in them. Personally, I think that's kinda lame. But you wouldn't want to automatically follow all 500 of those people.

Why? It would kill your Twitter ratio!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sports: Bottom Feeding on Parity (Data)

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The following data is a companion to the Researching MLB Economics and Competitive Balance blog entry.

Most Bottom 10 Finishes, Last 10 Years
League Team # Next Team #
NBA Atlanta Hawks 8 Vancouver/Memphis 7
NFL SF, HOU, DET, ARI 7 CLE, OAK 6
MLB Baltimore 9 PIT, TB 8

Most Bottom 5 Finishes, Last 10 Years
League Team # Next Team #
NFL CLE, HOU, OAK 5 ARI, CIN, DET 4
MLB Kansas City 7 PIT, TB 6
NBA Vancouver/Memphis 5 Chicago 4

Most Bottom 3 Finishes, Last 10 Years
League Team # Next Team #
NFL HOU, CLE 5 Detroit 4
NBA Chicago 4 GSW, LAC 2
MLB Tampa 5 KC, PIT, WAS 3

Most Bottom Finishes, Last 10 Years
League Team # Next Team #
NBA Chicago 2 ATL, CLE, DEN, GSW, LAC, MIA, ORL, POR, SAC, VAN 1
NFL Houston 4 Oakland 2
MLB Tampa 4 DET, WAS 2

Most Bottom 10 Finishes, Last 5 Years
League Team # Next Team #
NBA New York Knicks 5 CHA, MIN, SEA/OKC 4
NFL OAK, SF 5 Detroit 4
MLB BAL/PIT 5 WAS, SF, KC 4

Most Bottom 5 Finishes, Last 5 Years
League Team # Next Team #
NBA ATL, SEA/OKC 3 CHA, POR, VAN/MEM 2
NFL Oakland 4 Cleveland 3
MLB Pittsburgh 5 BAL, KC 4

Most Bottom 3 Finishes, Last 5 Years
League Team # Next Team #
NBA 13 Teams 1 All Other Teams 0
NFL Cleveland 3 Det, Mia, STL 2
MLB WAS, PIT, KC, TB 2 BAL, CHW, SD, SEA 1

Most Bottom Finishes, Last 5 Years
League Team # Next Team #
NBA ATL, MIA, POR, SAC, VAN/MEM 1 All Other Teams 0
NFL DET, HOU, MIA, OAK, SF 1 All Other Teams 0
MLB TB, WAS 2 Kansas City 1

Sports: League Dynasties (Data)

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The following data is a companion to the Researching MLB Economics and Competitive Balance blog entry.

Most Top 10 Finishes, Last 10 Years
League Team # Next Team #
NBA San Antonio 10 Dallas 9
NFL Indianapolis 9 BAL, NE, PHI, PIT, SEA, TEN 6
MLB New York Yankees 10 BOS, LAA, OAK 7

Most Top 5 Finishes, Last 10 Years
League Team # Next Team #
NFL Indianapolis 7 Tennessee 5
MLB New York Yankees 8 Boston 6
NBA San Antonio 10 LA Lakers 7

Most Top 3 Finishes, Last 10 Years
League Team # Next Team #
NFL Indianapolis 5 Tennessee 4
NBA San Antonio 7 LA Lakers 5
MLB New York Yankees 8 BOS, LAA 4

Most #1 Finishes, Last 10 Years
League Team # Next Team #
NBA SAS, DAL 2 BOS, CLE, DET, IND, LAL, PHX, SAC 1
NFL TEN, NE 2 GB, IND, JAX, PHI, PIT, SD, STL, TB 1
MLB New York Yankees 4 St. Louis 2

Most Top 10 Finishes, Last 5 Years
League Team # Next Team #
NBA DAL, SAS 5 PHX, HOU, DET 4
NFL Indianapolis 5 SEA, PIT, NE 4
MLB LAA, NYY 5 BOS 4

Most Top 5 Finishes, Last 5 Years
League Team # Next Team #
NBA San Antonio 5 Detroit 4
NFL Indianapolis 5 NE, PIT, SD 3
MLB BOS, NYY, LAA 4 PHI 2

Most Top 3 Finishes, Last 5 Years
League Team # Next Team #
NBA San Antonio 3 BOS, DAL, DET, LAL, PHX 2
NFL Indianapolis 3 NE, PIT 2
MLB NYY, LAA 4 Boston 3

Most #1 Finishes, Last 5 Years
League Team # Next Team #
NBA BOS, CLE, DAL, DET, PHX 1 All Other Teams 0
NFL IND, NE, PIT, SD, TEN 1 All Other Teams 0
MLB New York Yankees 2 CLE, LAA, NYM, STL 1

Sports: Lifting the Dead Weight (Data)

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The following data is a companion to the Researching MLB Economics and Competitive Balance blog entry.

Number of Teams in the Bottom 10, Past 10 Years
League Teams Spots Total Teams %
NFL 32 93 32 100.0%
NBA 27 91 30 90.0%
MLB 25 97 30 83.3%

Number of Teams in the Bottom 5, Past 10 Years
League Teams Spots Total Teams %
NFL 26 55 32 81.3%
NBA 21 42 30 70.0%
MLB 15 43 30 50.0%

Number of Teams in the Bottom 3, Past 10 Years
League Teams Spots Total Teams %
NBA 18 23 30 60.0%
NFL 18 35 32 56.3%
MLB 12 27 30 40.0%

Number of Teams Finishing Worst, Past 10 Years
League Teams Spots Total Teams %
NFL 9 12 32 28.1%
MLB 8 13 30 26.7%
NBA 11 12 30 36.7%

Number of Teams in the Bottom 10, Past 5 Years
League Teams Spots Total Teams %
NFL 25 48 32 78.1%
NBA 21 49 30 70.0%
MLB 21 48 30 70.0%

Number of Teams in the Bottom 5, Past 5 Years
League Teams Spots Total Teams %
NFL 19 30 32 59.4%
NBA 16 23 30 53.3%
MLB 10 24 30 33.3%

Number of Teams in the Bottom 3, Past 5 Years
League Teams Spots Total Teams %
NBA 13 13 30 43.3%
NFL 11 16 32 34.4%
MLB 8 12 30 26.7%

Number of Teams Finishing Worst, Past 5 Years
League Teams Spots Total Teams %
NBA 5 5 30 16.7%
NFL 5 5 32 15.6%
MLB 3 5 30 10.0%

Sports: Accessibility of Success in Sports (Data)

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The following data is a companion to the Researching MLB Economics and Competitive Balance blog entry.

Number of Teams in the Top 10, Past 10 Years
League
Teams
Spots
Total Teams
%
NFL
29
110
32
90.6%
NBA
26
100
30
86.7%
MLB
25
102
30
83.3%
Number of Teams in the Top 5, Past 10 Years
League
Teams
Spots
Total Teams
%
NFL
24
61
32
75.0%
MLB
20
51
30
66.7%
NBA
19
56
30
63.3%
Number of Teams in the Top 3, Past 10 Years
League
Teams
Spots
Total Teams
%
NFL
19
38
32
59.4%
MLB
15
35
30
50.0%
NBA
13
30
30
43.3%
Number of Teams Finishing #1, Past 10 Years
League
Teams
Spots
Total Teams
%
NFL
10
12
32
31.3%
NBA
9
11
30
30.0%
MLB
9
13
30
30.0%
Number of Teams in the Top 10, Past 5 Years
League
Teams
Spots
Total Teams
%
MLB
25
52
30
83.3%
NFL
25
54
32
78.1%
NBA
21
50
30
70.0%
Number of Teams in the Top 5, Past 5 Years
League
Teams
Spots
Total Teams
%
MLB
16
26
30
53.3%
NFL
17
31
32
53.1%
NBA
13
27
30
43.3%
Number of Teams in the Top 3, Past 5 Years
League
Teams
Spots
Total Teams
%
NFL
14
18
32
43.8%
MLB
11
19
30
36.7%
NBA
8
15
30
26.7%
Number of Teams Finishing #1, Past 5 Years
League
Teams
Spots
Total Teams
%
NBA
5
5
30
16.7%
MLB
5
6
30
16.7%
NFL
5
5
32
15.6%

Technology: Facebook Dislike Button is a Bad Idea

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If you ever want to get a feeling for sentiment on Facebook, simply run a search for a key word in the Groups and Pages sections.

Thanks partly to the "new" Live Feed, I've noticed several of my friends joining a group to get Facebook to create a "dislike" button. Several of these groups and pages have been created. A basic search found that about 6 Million people have joined groups or pages in support of such development.

Personally, I think it's a terrible idea. It's not what Facebook is all about.

For the most part, Facebook is one big love fest. We're given tools to easily communicate with people we care about. "Like" things they are sharing. Comment on pictures of their kids. Share in their triumphs and provide support during their sorrows. Wish a happy birthday. Brag about Mob Wars conquests.

Facebook is successful because it promotes positive relationships. While it may not always represent our actual lives accurately, it's the warmth of Facebook that allows it to thrive. It's why Myspace is sputtering.

The Facebook experience takes a dive when you have disruptive relationships on the network. It's why starting ill-conceived debates, picking fights, or discussing sensitive topics tends to be a bad idea. It pokes a hole in the "love balloon" that is Facebook, and it's these things that eventually drive people away.

That said, a "dislike" button is worse than responding with a negative comment. It's the epitome of passive aggressive behavior.

Let's think about when it would be used. Sure, someone may use it as a joke, and I can conceive of times when its application could be quite funny. But why else would someone use it?

Ultimately, someone will give a "thumbs down" to your sensitive status or link. Something you're passionate about. Instead of simply ignoring the post or responding to what you posted and (hopefully) having a productive discussion, they will give a drive-by "thumbs down."

Fights would result. The bubbly love fest would leak out. And users would leave.

It's not only why I think it's a bad idea, but I'd bet good money that Facebook agrees.

A "dislike" button is fine to gauge user sentiment on ads and potential development.  Anything that is beyond arm's length.  But encouraging people to "dislike" what their friends are sharing opposes the core strategy of Facebook.

What do you think?  Are you a member of one of these groups in favor of a "dislike" button?  Would you actually use it, and why would you want it?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Technology: Facebook's News and Live Feeds

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While I'm quick to make fun of Facebook's users for their incessant and irrational whining over every change that the social network makes, I do admit that there could be better communication when changes are made.

There is a Facebook Blog that will explain changes as they're rolled out, but unless you are subscribed to that blog or a "Fan" of Facebook, you will remain in the dark.

Yet, even their overview of the recent changes didn't do a particularly great job of explaining the differences between the News and Live feeds.  Even if it had, the site needs to highlight these differences when they roll out their changes.

Don't get me wrong, I still think you're a loser if you can't eventually figure it out yourself through use of the site.  It's really not that complicated.  But let me help you.  If it means one less ignorant Facebook user, I have done my job.

Live Feed
It's what the Live Feed is meant to be -- live.  Now, apparently there are still some bugs in it (or were), and the feed doesn't always update in real time for everyone.  Could be a browser compatibility issue, but it seems to always work for me.  If I don't think it's updating, I simply click on the "News Feed" button on the left like I did before this change was made to refresh the feed.  In other words, if you hate change, you should like it when it's not updating in real time.

Other than actually making the feed live again, they've added content back into the feed that was previously there in other iterations but taken away.  You'll notice that you'll now see the following types of "news" in your Live Feed:

"[Person X] and [Person Y] are now friends."
"[Person X] is attending [Event X]."
"[Person X] became a fan of [Page X]."

This change has drawn some criticism from people who say that it litters their feed with stuff they don't care about.  I like it, and I'm glad it's back.

It's also a smart strategy.  Before, you only saw this stuff if you clicked on the "People You May Know" or "Connections" area on the right (to be honest, I don't remember what it was labeled now).  I've got to think that a high percentage of people never used this.  I did, but it was a chore since I'd have to X out hundreds of people and pages before I'd actually find something or someone I wanted to connect with.

My bet is that this little change will significantly improve "friending" and "fanning."  So to assure growth of the site, this change (though it's a feature that was previously taken away) makes a whole lot of sense.

That said, Facebook would be smart to provide a drop-down option to "Hide Similar Updates."  Currently, with regards to these types of updates, you can only hide everything from that individual.  Facebook should allow you to hide friend updates the way that you can hide application updates.  Of course, they may not allow this intentionally, at least in the early going, so that people learn to accept those items in their feed.

Eventually, it would be smart to allow removal of these items, if a person chooses, because the live feed becomes difficult to use for people with a lot of friends.  I have about 500 (not real life friends, but digital ones), and it's not too bad.  But I can see how it could be a big mess for someone with 1,000 or more friends.  It's not just that there is so much info to sort through, but that it's also constantly updating in real time.

Others have pointed this out (you've likely seen a status update with this information), but if all you want to see is friends' status updates, you can alter your Live Feed.  Simply click "More" on the right and drag "Status Updates" to the top.  Then click on Status Updates.  This then becomes your default view.

There's not much else to say about the Live Feed.  It's a little different than it was before, but if you've used Facebook long enough you've likely seen a very similar format in the past.

News Feed
Yes, Facebook could explain the differences better between News Feed and Live Feed.  It's confusing, especially when the tab on the left reads "News Feed" and it actually includes both feeds.

Since Facebook doesn't explain it and people don't want to figure it out for themselves, let me break it down for you.

News Feed is a highlight section of the popular things that have happened during the past 24 hours or so.  Not sure on the time period, but the cutoff appears to be some time during the past day.

Unlike the Live Feed, the News Feed does not update in real time.  In fact, it doesn't even display items in chronological order.  This is particularly confusing to people at first.  Users hate it until they realize the application of the feed.

If you are on Facebook 24/7, the News Feed has little use to you.  It isn't completely useless (I'll provide an example shortly), but it's intended for the more casual user who checks in once per day or every couple of days.

News Feed is a "What Did I Miss" feed.  If you were away for a day, you probably don't want to scroll through every single item in your Live Feed.  You want the highlights.  That's what this is.

Some users are offended (yes, they are easily offended) by the attempt by Facebook to highlight things you will find interesting.  "How do they know what I find interesting?!"  Yes, yes, let's overreact.  But it's really not that complicated.

Take a look at the top items in your News Feed.  If you won't, I will.  Here are some basic characteristics of what is there for me now:

Item 1:  eight comments, posted three hours ago
Item 2:  10 comments, five thumbs up, posted about 20 hours ago
Item 3:  seven comments, one thumbs up, posted about 20 hours ago
Item 4:  two comments, one thumbs up, posted about 12 hours ago
Item 5:  two comments, two thumbs up, posted about 18 hours ago

So, the algorithm favors lots of comments and thumbs up.  And it appears that if you have two items with about the same number of comments, the most recent one is first.  Timeliness is a factor.

Facebook is saying that they believe you are likely to find something interesting if the friends you choose to associate with, having similar interests, also find it interesting.  Is that such a bad assumption?  Seems pretty reasonable to me.

Maybe I accept change easily, but I think this change makes a whole lot of sense.  I was on vacation recently and put it to use.  Also, I read an update today that I did not comment on, but I wanted to follow it.  Even though it fell off of the first screen of my Live Feed, I was able to easily follow it by going to my News Feed since it was getting a lot of responses.

Operation Engagement
These latest changes appear aimed at engaging the less active users and reingaging the inactive users.  The revamped "Suggestions" area certainly follows this strategy as well.

Therefore, it only makes sense that those most perplexed by the latest release are users who use the site religiously.  They don't understand the application of the News Feed or Suggestions since it really isn't targeted for them.

Eventually, I firmly believe that the Facebook community as a whole will come to understand, accept, and embrace these changes.  It may take some time, but it will happen.

Tweaks that could be made
I understand that with any roll-out, what we see isn't the final edition. Obviously, this is the case with Facebook. There are always going to be bugs (hopefully small) and some tweaks that should be made to improve user experience.

So many of the complaints people had about bugs (Live Feed not being live) will likely be addressed soon, if they haven't been already.

I'd also like to see the News Feed renamed to be "Highlights." That's essentially what it is anyway, which makes the feature much more intuitive. It's currently confusing that the "News Feed" section contains a News Feed and Live Feed. Improvements can be made there.

Once Facebook gives their users time to either accept or further reject the changes, they should also allow people the opportunity to hide certain "friending" and "fanning" info from their Live Feed. I understand giving it time, though, because people are prone to make quick, emotional decisions otherwise without understanding the value.

Finally, Facebook needs to provide more information within the site when changes are made. Highlight what was done. Define what things are. Give the user the ability to then hide these explanations. I've seen them do this before, so not sure why they went away from it.

What do you think? Do you like the recent changes? What other tweaks do you think should be made?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sports: Yankees rebound, BUY a trip to the World Series

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Warning: The following is written by a bitter small market fan. It is not intended to be especially rational or insightful. It simply reflects what many fans like him of teams that have little chance at postseason success think about the New York Yankees.

I just received an e-mail from MLB.com with the following subject line:

"Celebrate the Yanks 40th AL Pennant"

Unsubscribe.

It's a tired subject by now, not just from me but from other fans of small to medium market baseball teams. But, this time of the year, it bears repeating. While you can have some short-term success as a small to medium budget team, you have to be a big budget team to sustain that success. And only a big budget team can buy a trip to the World Series.

The Yankees did the latter.

The Bronx Bombers finished the 2008 season with 89 wins and no playoff appearance. Though they won more games than they lost, it was a colossal failure given their $222 Million-plus payroll. Not making the playoffs was inexcusable.

Meanwhile, my Milwaukee Brewers made the playoffs for the first time in 26 years. They did it on home grown talent (Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, JJ Hardy, Ben Sheets) and a shrewd midseason acquisition (CC Sabathia) that required having additional talent waiting on the farm.

After the season was over, the Brewers offered Sabathia a five year, $100 Million contract. The offer was modest considering what he was likely to command, and was possibly no more than a token gesture by the Brewers. After all, even a "low-ball" offer such as this was likely too risky long-term for the no-room-for-error Brewers.

Of course, the Yankees then swooped in and made Sabathia an offer he could not refuse of seven years and $161 Million. How could he refuse it? Rumor was that CC did not want to be a Yankee, but you can't fault him for taking the money.

The Yankees didn't stop there. They then "bought" first baseman Mark Teixeira at eight years and $180 Million. Not enough? Also went out and inked AJ Burnett for good measure at a price of $82.5 Million over five years.

Several levels of disgust here for the small to medium sized market baseball fan. Our team couldn't afford to sign one of those players without taking a major risk. The Yankees signed all three. Not to mention, any one of them could go down with a career ending injury, and the Yankees could still find a way back into the playoffs. Money wins.

So the Yankees bought three superstars and gained 14 wins and a spot in this season's World Series. The Brewers lost their ace (along with Ben Sheets, who they couldn't have afforded had he been healthy) and won 12 fewer games and didn't make the playoffs.

Again.

For a team like the Yankees, how many more wins is Sabathia worth over the alternative? They have the best offense money can buy. If they don't have Sabathia, they have another high priced arm. So how many more wins did he buy them this season? Six? Keeping in mind the Yanks also added the other two big named stars, you'd need to spread the 14 wins among three players (though the process is admittedly far from scientific).

Meanwhile, the Brewers were plugging in career minor leaguers and has-beens in place of Sabathia. How many wins did they lose as a result of not being able to sign him? At least 10, right? That's being generous. Pretty good argument can be made that they are a playoff team with him.

But signing Sabathia was never really an option for the Brewers. It never will be, barring a major change to the current collective bargaining agreement. And you can bet the house that they will never sign the equivalent of the Sabathia/Teixeira/Burnett trifecta during any offseason.

And why?  Did the Yankees earn the right to do what other teams cannot?  In good conscience, can you honestly say this is the case?  What did the other teams do to be punished and have to work with grossly different financials?

Gotta be honest. It takes a lot of fun out of being a baseball fan. I know that even if the Brewers win big next year by some miracle, they will not be able to keep their nucleus around. Prince Fielder is on the verge of his big payday soon, and he'll be on his way out. The team is currently built around a seven year contract (buying out only one year of free agency) for Ryan Braun. Even Braun will eventually be out of the Brew City.

According to ESPN.com, the Yankees had a payroll of $208,097,414 in 2009. The Mets, of course, were a rare example of money not being able to buy success, paying $145,367,987 for their roster failure (they finished with 70 wins). However, no team finished within $63 Million of the Yankees (to put that figure into perspective, six teams had total payrolls under $63 Million). All but seven teams had payrolls that were $100 Million or more below the Yanks.

The argument for the Yankees tends to be, "Yeah, but we have home grown talent, too!" Those players are as follows (salary in parentheses):

Derek Jeter ($21,600,000)
Mariano Rivera ($15,000,000)
Jorge Posada ($13,100,000)
Robinson Cano ($6,000,000)
Andy Pettitte ($5,500,000) - Although he left and came back
Melky Cabrera ($1,400,000)
Joba Chamberlain ($432,575)
Brett Gardner ($414,000)
Phil Hughs ($407,650)
David Robertson ($406,825)
Alfredo Aceves ($406,750)
Phil Coke ($403,300)
Francisco Cervelli ($400,000)

Were these guys home grown? Sure. But they could only retain Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and Pettitte because they have the money. My Brewers, who have an "average" payroll at 16th overall, could not have signed those players to keep them on the roster at the same time -- completely ignoring generously paid All-Stars like Alex Rodriguez, Sabathia, Teixeira, Burnett, and Johnny Damon who complement them.

Take away all players who have been free agents (those players making $10 Million-plus who most teams would not be able to retain -- or at least not be able to retain more than one or two of those guys), and you have:

Robinson Cano ($6,000,000)
Melky Cabrera ($1,400,000)
Joba Chamberlain ($432,575)
Brett Gardner ($414,000)
Phil Hughs ($407,650)
David Robertson ($406,825)
Alfredo Aceves ($406,750)
Phil Coke ($403,300)
Francisco Cervelli ($400,000)

Now create a roster around those players and another $90 Million.  Do the Yankees go to the playoffs?  Of course not.

So the Yankees still spent about $200 Million to "buy" their playoff roster. Their "home grown" guys who were never a threat to leave via free agency make up a small minority, and are not considered in the top-10 stars of the team.

How can it be allowed that one team has the capacity to buy $100 Million (at least) worth of players that others never could? Don't want to be the whiny kid with a wooden bat, but how is that fair?

It's sickening to me to think that one team can always fix problems by buying more players. One team can always recover from financial disasters by buying more players. One team can sustain success by buying more players.

A small group, to a much lesser degree, can buy a few players and patch holes. The others rely almost entirely on home grown, pre-free agency talent and mid-level free agents.

Being a Yankees fan must be sweet. Your team brings up a superstar. You love him. Favorite player. Buy his jersey. Put it on your kids. That player is there for life.

Me? I constantly battle with whether I should get myself or my kids too attached to any one player. Ryan Braun is the closest thing we have to a mainstay, but he'll leave one day as well.

Or does the fact that the Yankees can buy whatever they want set expectations so high that their fans can never appreciate success the way I can (not that I can ever expect to experience a World Series victory)? The Yankees are in the World Series? Of course they are. Anything less would be a failure. They win the World Series? Great! But you still gotta be ticked if they lose to a team with half the payroll, even if they are the defending champs.

Which begs the question: How good would the Phillies be with another $100 Million?

Technology: Users furious over new changes to Facebook from old changes that they previously hated but now love

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First, I know the above title doesn't fit on one line and looks like crap. I don't care. The fact that it doesn't fit almost makes more sense.

As I'm sure you know, Facebook rolled out some more (pretty minor) changes to their layout this week. Not surprisingly, users immediately freaked out.

I don't envy the position that Facebook is in.  When they make changes, they know there will be backlash.  When the "New" Facebook is "New" everyone hates it.  When that version is replaced and becomes the "Old" Facebook, everyone wants it back. 

Ultimately, people hate change.  Hate it.  They hate something when it's new.  Eventually, they will forget that they hated it.  It becomes a part of their daily ritual.  They then accept it without knowing it.  Then it's taken away, and they now love what they formerly hated, thus starting the cycle over again with something new to hate.

And they hate it more when you change something they are obsessed with.  So the fact that people freak out about the changes (no matter how minor) is simply a reflection of the general population's obsession with the website.

Of course, this isn't the first time Facebook changed from "old" to "new."  We've heard people complaining about wanting their "old Facebook" back through about five or six changes during the past couple of years now.  While you can't expect every detail from every change to be a success, there comes a point when you have to accept that people are going to freak no matter what Facebook does -- no matter how obviously positive the change.

What's particularly fun to observe is the lengths to which people will go (or methods they will use) to express their outrage.  Stop using Facebook?  In most cases, nuh uh.  Instead, they create or join a Facebook group or page in "protest."

Below is a list of some of the more popular of these groups I found simply by searching "old Facebook" and "new Facebook" in the Facebook search:

MILLIONS AGAINST FACEBOOK's NEW LAYOUT & TERMS OF SERVICE (2,476,721 members)
We Hate The New Facebook, so STOP CHANGING IT!!! (1,623,624 members)
MEMBERS WANT THE OLD FACEBOOK BACK & OUR VOICES MATTER! (821,347 members)
1,000,000 AGAINST THE NEW FACEBOOK LOOK!!! (653,920 members)
People Against The New Facebook System (237,894 members)
Save the old version of facebook! (197,595 members)
NECEMO NOVI FACEBOOK !!! WE DON'T WANT NEW FACEBOOK !!! (151,573 members)
i HATE THE NEW FACEBOOK! (138,725 members)
WE, THE MEMBERS, WANT THE OLD FACEBOOK BACK! (124,326 members)
we hate the new facebook !!! (101,843 members)
WE HATE THE NEW FACEBOOK UPDATE!!!!! FIX IT. (105,044 members)
HIJRAH KE 'FACEBOOK NEW LAYOUT' NOW! (97,746 members)
WE WANT THE OLD FACEBOOK BACK! Chceme zpátky starej facebook! (95,864 members)
I Hate The New Facebook (95,355 members)
Go Back to OLD Facebook/ Keep OLD Facebook INVITE ALL (82,934 members)
GET YOUR OLD FACEBOOK BACK! JOIN NOW! (73,742 members)
1 MILLION AGAINST THE NEW FACEBOOK LOOK!!! (70,535 members)
I hate the new facebook (69,287 members)
We Hate The New Facebook Design!!! (64,771 members)
Petition against the new Facebook Homepage (64,211 members)
2,000,000 AGAINST THE NEW FACEBOOK LAYOUT! (62,803 members)
The New Facebook Layout Sucks! (52,025 members)
Petition to Keep Old Facebook an Option (50,585 members)
Get rid of this stupid new facebook!!!!!!!!!!! (50,411 members)
WE WANT THE OLD FACEBOOK TO STAY (46,103 members)
KEEP THE OLD FACEBOOK LAY OUT!!!!!!!! (40,347 members)
---WE WANT BACK THE OLD FACEBOOK--- (35,737 members)
We Want The Old Facebook Back (35,700 members)
We dont like the new Facebook, CHANGE IT BACK ! (33,843 members)
WE WANT THE OLD FACEBOOK BACK (28,353 members)
We were used to use the old facebook (16,448 members)

So assuming no overlap (not a good assumption, I know), there are roughly 8,000,000 people (captured in the group above, at least) who have joined a group protesting changes to Facebook at some time or another.

Am I the only one who thinks this is absurd? If you don't like Facebook so much that you're inspired to "protest," simply stop using Facebook. If the changes are that terrible, affect use of the site that negatively, membership will suddenly stall and people will find an alternative.

Of course, Facebook growth continues to skyrocket (latest numbers point to over 300,000,000 global users). And it's highly unlikely that the latest changes will do much to curb the upward momentum.

The irony, of course, is that many (or possibly all) of these groups were created in protest of prior changes. For example, "They took birthdays and who my friends became friends of out of my feed!" was a common complaint in an earlier change this year. It was a change noted in complaint groups. That, of course, has been reversed in the latest change.

But people want their "old" Facebook back. And yet, you complained about the last "new" Facebook that was an "old" Facebook, too.  Which was also a prior beloved "old" Facebook, and so on.  Facebook has been changed many times over now. And each time you complain about it. Yet, you're still here.  Complaining.

To me, joining or creating a Facebook group to protest Facebook is akin to joining the army to protest war.  Probably a bad analogy, but I'm open to better ones.

Granted, Facebook will be made aware of your complaints this way.  I get it.  But still.  If you are as passionate about the changes being made as you say you are, why keep using the site?  Joining or creating a group in protest is somewhat counterproductive.  You're clearly still using the site, so the changes haven't disrupted your activity.

If you are a Facebook user, subscribing to the Facebook Blog is a must. Become a fan. When changes are made, explanations go into your feed -- of course, unless you hide those messages. Good to be educated and informed.

The blog provides an overview of the recent changes.

Here's what they have to say about the "new" News and Live feeds:
News Feed
When you log into Facebook, you'll see the most interesting things that happened in the last day in the "News Feed" view. News Feed picks stories that we think you'll enjoy based on a variety of factors including how many friends have liked and commented on it and how likely you are to interact with that story.

Live Feed
Once you've caught up on what you missed, you can click through to "Live Feed" to see what's happening right now. As long as you remain logged into Facebook, you'll continue to see posts and activity from your friends in real-time. You can edit what appears in this view by clicking "Edit Options" at the bottom of the home page.
Nothing out of the ordinary to me.  To be honest, there were some things that were lost in recent iterations that I wanted back (though I didn't protest).  More than anything, this latest change seems to revert back to much of what the "old" Facebook (that everyone loved, at least when it was replaced) offered.

Do the changes make Facebook more useful?  Ultimately, that's the question that needs to be asked to determine if they were worthwhile.  Personally, I think they were.  I can provide an example of the changes' usefulness from this past week.  My family went on vacation, and I could not be as active on Facebook as I have been previously.  I could not read every update.  But I found some very interesting stuff that I commented on in my News Feed that I otherwise would not have read.

Could their algorithm be altered to better capture what will be interesting to me?  Possibly.  But I see it as an improvement.

Anyway, here is an excerpt explaining why they made the changes:
Why We Made Changes
This past March, we introduced a real-time feed in the central column of your home page so you could see everything your friends were sharing as soon as they shared it. We also included a Highlights section on the right-hand side so you could see the most interesting activity going on in your network.

While seeing real-time activities is extremely valuable, we also want to be sure you don't miss other interesting content. After hearing feedback from many of you and exploring some new designs, we decided with today's changes to move what you used to see in Highlights from the right-hand side to the News Feed view in the main column so you can more easily engage with both views.

We also added information back to News Feed that many of you have asked for, including when your friends have been tagged in photos or have become fans of Pages, in addition to when they RSVP for events or join groups and make new friends. We also made birthdays and events more visible in the right column of the home page.
The one change they don't note here is that they limit the number of friends that appear in your feed to 250.  Not sure why, but assume it has something to do with load on their servers or belief that people don't like being overwhelmed by too much info in their feeds.  You can actually edit this by going to the bottom of the page, clicking "Edit Options," and editing the "Maximum number of friends shown in Live Feed."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Technology: Real Time Social Media Count

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Thought this was very cool. Need help providing a visual to company decision makers, convincing them of the power of social networking? Check this out...



This widget was created by Gary Hayes, and you can snag the code and add it to your own site. Do it for fun, do it for presentation purposes.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Technology: So how many people really use Twitter?

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Like many marketing executives, I am forced to provide proof that dedicating resources to Twitter is worthwhile without noticeable ROI. It's a struggle many of us lose or by which we've at least been bloodied.

So in the process of putting together my argument for Twitter, I've spent a great deal of time researching data about the social networking site's users. This, too, has not been easy.

How many users does Twitter have? The data is not consistent.  And even if you have an agreed upon number, it's not clear really what that number means -- for example, how many of those users are dead accounts and how active are the remaining users?

I gave a presentation for our board a little over a week ago and indicated 18 Million monthly users in the U.S.  But how many are there total?  And how many have value?

In all, it's been reported that there are 50 Million registered users. Sounds great. But as a marketer -- and in an attempt to show value -- I need to determine how many of these users are, well, useful.

Several questions come to mind:
    1. How many users are active?  If you aren't active, there's really no reason to count you.  Dead accounts provide no positive impact to the Twitter community.  Those who do not update should not be counted.  Even users who update with fewer than 10 followers provide an extremely limited reach -- therefore, they provide little value as followers.  So, let's define "active users."
    • How many users logged in at least once during the past month?
    • How many users have made at least a total of 10 updates?
    • How many users have at least 10 followers?
    2. So, we've eliminated the inactive users.  Now, of those who are "active," how many users are open to engagement?  If you are looking to build relationships -- either as a brand or as an active user -- you want people willing to engage in a conversation.  People may follow you, but many are bots or spammers who will not respond or retweet.  They are simply interested in spreading their own message.  While some may have "value" in an entertainment or other sense (ie, coupons), they provide marginal value to people looking for engagement.  Additionally, some "ego-centric" Twitterers have value in the information they can provide you (and that you may then pass on to others), but there is no reciprocation.  So for the purpose of furthering your message and interaction, they still provide little value.  In other words...
    • How many users reply to updates?
    • How many users retweet?
    3. Number of followers should now be reassessed since totals are inflated by bots, spammers and others unwilling to engage.  Why eliminate these people?  As a brand, I want to communicate with followers who will spread my message to others willing to perpetuate that message.  If you are not followed by such people, your value to me as a marketer is close to zero.  And, to be honest, you also have no value to me as a personal user.
      4. Now that we have eliminated those who provide us no value, what is left? How many are there, and what are their characteristics?
      • Average followers?
      • Breakdown of percentage of active users with number of followers?
      • Average number of tweets per day?
      • Breakdown of percentage of active users with each number of daily tweets?
    So, these are the questions I inevitably want answered.  In the process of research, I found some very interesting data -- some directly or indirectly related.  Let's plow through it.
    I'm not trying to go out of my way to bash Twitter.  Understand that what I want to do is determine the number of Twitter users of value who we'd have the potential of involving in a conversation.  The data I discovered today doesn't necessarily provide an exact number, but rather a road map to finding a ballpark.

    The problem, of course, is overlap.  How many of the users with fewer than 10 followers made fewer than 10 tweets?  Probably a lot of them, but no way to know just how many.  And these numbers also don't consider what happens when you reassess the follower numbers -- ie, eliminate inactive followers from those totals, thereby increasing the number of users with fewer than 10 "active" followers.

    A safe bet?  Of the 50,000,000 Twitter users, 85% are of little to no value to a marketer or individual looking to engage others in conversation.  This isn't taking into consideration whether the remaining 15% has any interest in your conversation -- these are simply those open to engagement.

    We are now left with about 7.5 Million users.  Still a decent number of people, but the pool is shrinking fast.

    While it is a large number, 7.5 Million is also incredibly modest when compared to Facebook's 300 Million active users.  Even if you want to argue a small percentage of those Facebook users have value to a marketer...  well, it's an uphill battle.

    The Twitter proponents will point to the success stories, regardless of numbers.  There are success stories, no doubt about it.  And there are also valuable ways to use Twitter.  But the question becomes just how valuable, without ROI, and just how significant the impact can be expected for typical users (not Fortune 500 companies and celebrities) who use it properly.

    And since we can't measure success in ROI, the success needs to be measured in interaction -- not followers.  Followers, of course, often reflects a misleading number.

    Twitter is a nice tool, but it is important to peel away the layers of hype to get to the truth of its active user base.  Additionally, if participation truly has plateaued, we may need to wonder if the tool has peaked in its usefulness.

    What do you think?  How many useful accounts actually exist on Twitter, and how do you measure "usefulness?"  Does it matter?

    Friday, October 16, 2009

    Technology: Blog World Opening Day

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    I'm in Vegas. When you write a Vegas blog entry, there is no need for order or purpose. Let's just recap this baby. Today.

    I woke up at 6 am on the couch because my wife may have H1N1. You knew that if you've been reading. Anyway, I threw my crap together, jumped in the car, started backing out of the driveway.

    Wait, I'd better make sure I have everything.

    This is a rule that all men should follow. We're not the brightest. We're less bright at 6:30 in the morning. I nearly left for the airport without my wallet. Luckily, I caught myself. It was probably my wife's voice in my head screaming not to screw up.

    Coffee, water, bags, on to the airport. Something peaceful about driving to the airport at 6:30 in the morning on a toll road against typical traffic.

    Park. In the airport. In the plane. Text some stuff. Felt like I was the only one over the age of 22. Fly to Vegas.

    Arrive.

    Now, I was going to Vegas for the BlogWorld New Media Expo. The night before, I had decided on a schedule of events I would attend. It wasn't until then that I realized that the one I should attend most, about social media and cancer, was happening first.

    My flight arrived on time. That wasn't the problem. Got in around 9:30 am-ish. Sprinted to the shuttles. Bought a ticket. Stood there. Waited. Stood there. Waited. Shuttle arrived. Got into the shuttle. Waited.

    Finally the shuttle leaves.

    Waiting.......

    I missed the entire first panel. Pissed off about it. It wasn't until later that I realized just how much I should have been pissed off about it.

    Anyway, I got there in time to talk to one of the panelists, Natalie Lent. I don't know a whole lot about Natalie, but she seemed nice and I look forward to hearing more about what I missed. There was another panelist whom I should have noticed, but I'll talk about that later.

    Went to a bunch of stuff. Understand that I know no one at this thing. I'm a new kid on the block. I've been to nerd conventions in Vegas in the past, but those were for fantasy sports nerds. These are nerds, too, but a different breed. Slightly cooler, to be honest.

    One thing that bugged me throughout the day was the arrogance of people based on their number of Twitter followers or blog readers. Something needs to be said here, but you won't hear it at this event. I'm not on the inside, but I'm still techie literate. And I don't know who any of you are. Not trying to be a jerk or anything. Just be humble. If you're famous, it's a very small niche of fame.

    If anyone understands this, it's me. I was famous for a while. In a very small niche of nerds. Very small. I wasn't nearly as cool or famous as I thought I was.

    If you truly are famous, you're rich. And paparazzi are parked out front. But that ain't happenin', so get over yourself.

    Regardless, it was a more eventful first day than a typical day at a fantasy sports conference. Even though I went in without knowing anyone, I met a few people. The highlight, though, came in the last panel about making money with Twitter and Facebook.

    It wasn't the content that was so valuable (it was fine). I was texting my wife when the question of number of Twitter followers came up. Who has more than 5,000? One hand went up. How many do you have? 33,0000. What company are you with?

    Alex's Lemonade Stand.

    Stop.

    Rewind.

    Our son Michael was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, a rare form of childhood cancer, in 2003. A couple of years later, we became aware of Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, set up by a young girl with Neuroblastoma and her parents. They would hold lemonade stands to raise money to benefit cancer research. Many would follow suit in her honor.

    It is because of Michael and Alex's Lemonade Stand that I am with American Cancer Society today. So when I heard this, I was excited to speak with the person representing ALSF. Texted my wife. We theorized about whom it may be. Finally, the event ended.

    I immediately headed back two rows to speak with her. Turned out there were two people with Alex's Lemonade, Melissa and Jay. Jay, of course, is Jay Scott. Alex's dad. And he was on the first panel of the day that I had missed.

    This, to me, is celebrity. Jay isn't famous to most of you. But, just as some bloggers may be important to your lives, Jay is that light for me. We have a lot in common. One is obvious. But we'd soon discover much more.

    Alex was Jay and Liz's only daughter. Alex would eventually pass away. She had three brothers.

    My wife Lisa and I worked with Alex's Lemonade Stand since 2005. We raised more money every year until this past summer, when the economy took a toll on everyone. Lisa worked very closely with ALSF during the past few years. They were on a first name basis.

    We had a good initial conversation and agreed to meet up later.

    In between, I listened to another talk to a room full of people I did not know. Figuring this group out.

    It's about 6:00. I'm hungry. The batteries on my Blackberry and iPod Touch are both about to die. How does this happen? They were both fully charged before leaving this morning.

    Head back to the hotel. Charge up the devices. Talk to my sick wife. And wait for the charging to finish.

    And wait.

    Seriously, my patience on the Blackberry is wearing thin. Not only do their apps suck, but it loses its charge way too fast. Same is true for the iPod Touch, but at least the Touch charges quickly. I would have had to sit in my room for two hours to charge the Blackberry. Eventually I gave up and left for the Bellagio.

    Ah, yes. The trek.

    You see, on a map it looks like the Bellagio is pretty close to the Renaissance. It's not. Something I forgot (or maybe never knew) about Vegas is that nothing off of the strip has a sidewalk. I spent 30 minutes running and speed walking along traffic, trying to find my way to the strip. It was a little crazy. I thought I'd get mugged. I didn't. I'm a hero.

    Eventually, I arrived to the Bellagio in a ball of sweat. Should I be embarrassed? Of course not, I know nobody in this place.

    Walk around. Push through crowds. Start getting flashbacks of college 12 years earlier. Starting to remember that, while I have fond memories of college, it wasn't as great as I remembered.

    Then I spot Jay and Melissa. Thankfully.

    Great time. Love these people. Learned a lot about ALSF that I didn't previously know. Compared some stories. Talked about parenting three boys. Getting older. The non-profit world.

    Eventually, Jay and I realized we were too old for this joint and headed back to our respective hotels.

    Then I remembered that I hadn't eaten since lunch and had a Renaissance burger and fries. Can I tell you that these are the greatest fries ever created? Freaking amazing. They should call this meal "Fries with Burger." The burger is the side.

    I still know only a small handful of people in this world. Still not real sure how I feel about the group as a whole.

    But I'm at home.

    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    Sports: Left Out

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    I live in Denver, but I'm no Rockies fan. I don't dislike the Rockies. But just want to make sure that's understood up front. My opinions aren't wrapped up in emotion.

    The Rockies should have won Game 4 against the Phillies. Problem was that their roster was ill-prepared to close the deal.

    It's not that they have a roster that could not win. They simply did not have a roster that could beat the Phillies. It had nothing to do with their offense. Nothing to do with their defense. Nothing to do with the quality of their pitching.

    It had everything to do with left vs. right.

    The Rockies made a dramatic comeback on Monday night. Down 2-1, they scored three runs in the eighth. The game would seem to be over. Only needed to keep the Phillies from scoring two in the ninth.

    They went to their generally reliable closer, Huston Street. He's pretty great on paper: 3.05 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 35 saves, 70 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings pitched. Not too thrilled about the seven home runs allowed (including one to Jason Freaking Kendall), but still a pretty decent pitcher.

    Dobbs struck out. Rollins reaches on an infield single. Victorino grounds into a fielder's choice.

    Two outs. One on. Up by two.

    Pretty much the dumbest thing you could do at this point, Huston Street walks Chase Utley. Now, Utley is a stud. But make the man beat you -- er, tie you. Ryan Howard is on deck.

    So now Howard is up with two on and a chance to take the lead -- or at least tie the game with a double. My first thoughts?

    "Take him out! Put in a left-handed pitcher!"

    Why? Ryan Howard is two players.

    Against right handed pitchers, he is possibly the scariest offensive threat in all of baseball: 394 at bats, .320 average, 39 home runs, 108 RBI. That is simply disgusting. It's an All-Star season, yet it's versus only right handed pitchers in a little more than half a season's worth of at-bats.

    Against left handed pitchers, Ryan Howard looks like Bill Hall: 222 at bats, .207 average, six home runs, 33 RBI.

    Did the Rockies remove the right-handed Street for a left-handed replacement? Of course not. And my initial reaction was that this was yet another example of playing to fulfill roles instead of win a game. Huston Street is your closer, so you have to pitch him. Simply stupid.

    So I had this long blog entry worked up in my mind. What were they thinking? Why is this thinking so common? This is a fireable offense!

    What I didn't realize at the time is that the Rockies had only one left handed pitcher on their roster. One. Not even a starting pitcher. The only left handed pitcher with a Rockies jersey was Franklin Morales, and he pitched earlier in the game.

    How does this happen? The Rockies chose to go into the playoffs with 10 pitchers, nine of which were right handed. Arguably the three biggest offensive threats on the Phillies are left handed: Howard, Utley and Raul Ibanez. Granted, Utley and Ibanez don't have the negative splits of Ryan Howard, but one left handed pitcher? One?

    How can you not plan for this? You're playing the Phillies. You know that left handed pitching gives Howard fits. I don't care what the pitcher's name is. Put him on the playoff roster.

    Or was it just too important to have Eric Young on the roster? Young, by the way, had one at bat in the series. He didn't get a hit.

    Oh, and of course Howard hit a game-tying double. In all seriousness, I would have instead walked him and put the tying run on second. That's hindsight, but you saw the numbers against right handed pitching. No thanks, I'll take my chances against someone else.

    This loss could have been avoided. It should have gone to five games. The Rockies still probably would have lost, but I'm just saying. They were set up for failure.

    Not that the Phillies didn't try to give it back to them. Let's replay the ninth inning...

    Up 5-4, Eric Young gets his only at bat of the series and grounds out. Nice work, EY. Collect your paycheck.

    Carlos Gonzalez then singles. Dexter Fowler lines out for the second out. Todd Helton singles, putting the tying run at second with Troy Tulowitzki at the plate.

    What should the Phillies do? Scott Eyre was getting knocked around, and it wouldn't make much sense to leave a left handed pitcher in to face the right handed Tulo.

    Ryan Madsen already pitched earlier in the game (great planning). Other righties included Chad Durbin, Kyle Kendrick, and Brett Meyers. And, oh yeah, Brad Lidge.

    Unlike the Rockies with Street, the Phillies had plenty of options. Granted, not great options, but options. Some guys who had ERA's under 5.00. And even under 4.00!

    Or they could go with Lidge. Lidge had a 7.21 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, and allowed 11 home runs in under 60 innings pitched. He blew 11 saves. Eleven! I'm not sure what's crazier, the fact that he blew 11 saves, or that he was put into enough save situations that he blew that many.

    You could make a very good argument that Lidge was the least dependable pitcher in all of baseball. No one was worse. No one. But he was dominant a season ago, so you trust him in pressure situations anyway.

    Just a case of having too much faith in a player. Blind faith. Lidge is a fragile mind. He alternates dominating and self-destructive seasons. This is a self-destructive one. Understand that.

    But no. You have to get an out. Who do you put in? The worst possible option. On the roster. Possibly in all of baseball. Who happens to have a fancy name.

    Now, the turkeys out there will point out that Lidge struck out Tulo. Sure. He did. But, it was one out. That's all he could get. The likelihood of the others getting the out was greater. Just because you chose the least possible scenario and it worked doesn't make you a good problem solver.

    The Phillies got lucky. They got lucky that their professional pitcher was able to get one out in a pressure situation. They were lucky that the Rockies were ill-prepared to face their left handed stud.

    They won. But the Dodgers won't be so gracious.

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