#Hashtags #goneWild!

You know hashtag-mania has gotten out of hand when an organization hashtags everything in their message. But when they do it on a printed poster, the hashtags have gone completely wild!

Printed poster with many hashtags
Printed poster

Let me say first that I’ve never attended this church and I am not affiliated with it in any way, so this is not a criticism of the church. It’s just a random poster I saw at the local mall that is exemplary of hashtags gone wild and I’m only criticizing the way they were used.

There are two reasons for using hashtags in a promotional message:

  1. To help a tweet appear in a Twitter search on the tagged topic
  2. To uniquely identify a tweet as relating to the specific organization (or campaign, event, etc.)

How well do the hashtags in this photo achieve those objectives? Let’s forget the fact that they’re on a printed poster to start out and consider it as if it were an online tweet.

Do a search in Twitter for #riskitandcome (the last hashtag in the photo) and you get “No results.” If the organization is not using the hashtag in their own tweets, what’s the point of publicizing the hashtag? Furthermore, it’s doubtful that a Twitter user is using #riskitandcome in any search anyway. On the other hand, it’s very likely there are many users searching for #god on Twitter. But when you search Twitter for #god, you’ll find that it results in millions of tweets and it would be a miracle to find one by this particular organization in the proverbial haystack of tweets. So neither of those hashtags help the organization accomplish the first purpose for a hashtag. The only hashtag in this photo that might be good for appearing in a search is #tustinchurch (Tustin being the name of the city the church is in).

The most effective way to uniquely identify a tweet as relating to the specific organization is to use its username. This organization failed to do it in the first hashtag in the photo. They should have printed their username, @ConvergenceOC, rather than using a hashtag. If you search Twitter for @ConvergenceOC, it displays all tweets by or about the organization. However, a hashtag could be a good way to uniquely identify a specific event. The organization should first search Twitter for a prospective hashtag to see how many tweets it appears in. Then they should choose a hashtag that is tweeted infrequently and is easy to remember, such as #theaterChurch, to uniquely identify an event.

Finally, let’s consider using hashtags in a printed medium. This photo was taken outside at a mall, so they should use a hashtag that is easy to remember because the person seeing the poster might not search Twitter for the hashtag until they get home. They should also minimize the number of hashtags in the poster to make the most important hashtag stand out. People will not want to search a dozen different hashtags on their cell phone while standing in front of the poster. For this poster, the only Twitter-related content it should have is the username @ConvergenceOC and just one hashtag like #tustinChurch or #theaterChurch.

Facebook now also supports hashtags. But the same principles apply as do for Twitter. Use hashtags that are meaningful and will help accomplish one of the two reasons for using them. Be especially judicious about which hashtag to use in print. Don’t let your hashtags go wild!

Unfollow

I unfollowed quite a few profiles in Twitter today. I know a few profiles that consistently make tweets I consider interesting or entertaining but my tweet stream has been full of tweets I don’t care about lately. I took a closer look at some of the profiles I followed and found that most of their tweets didn’t get my attention. Those are the profiles I unfollowed.

Now I’m left following only 116 profiles and my tweet stream is much more interesting. Sometimes less actually is more. What really surprises me are the users that follow thousands of profiles. That means any individual profile that tweets content of interest to one of those users will almost never be seen in their tweet stream because their tweets will get drowned out by the thousands of other profiles tweeting. Overall, the tweet stream of a user who follows thousands of profiles could not possibly have much interest to the user.

To overcome this effect, some Twitter profiles tweet every few minutes. Many times, they simply tweet the same exact tweet over and over again. This does not help matters. The more prolific the tweets, the lower the quality of the tweets by that profile because they’re grasping at straws to continually come up with interesting content. And repetitive tweets might be more likely to be seen by followers but they’ll just dominate the tweet stream of all the followers who find it uninteresting, drowning out the tweets the follower would find interesting.

I recommend everyone cull the profiles they follow. The only reason to follow a profile is so it will show up in the tweet stream but there’s no point in viewing the tweet stream if it’s not interesting or entertaining. After unfollowing the profiles, their tweet stream will be much more interesting. And with fewer tweets in their followers’ stream, users can stop repeatedly tweeting the same tweet every few minutes just to try to be seen.

On equating blogs to the news

Let’s get this straight: blogs do not publish news and bloggers are not journalists.

CNN has a couple of shows, On the Story and Reliable Sources, that are not news shows themselves. Instead, they report on the news and on journalists. In the process of doing so, they both feature a spot on blogs and bloggers, reporting on the news coming from blogs. However, this does a disservice to CNN, a respectable news network, and to journalists at large.

CNN is not alone in this. Many other mainstream news sources regularly refer to “news” from blogs. Some have even gone so far as to write TV news’ obituary because of the influence of blogs. It’s unclear why professional journalism participates in this self-destructive behavior but it’s time to set the record straight.

Blogs do not report the news. Blogs analyze it. When was the last time you read an original news story on a blog? It doesn’t happen. Instead, a respectable blog will cite other sources of news in its posts by hyperlinking to them and, if they’re worth their salt, the links will be to credible news sources.

It’s also important to realize that bloggers are not journalists. Most blogs post very biased analyses of the news. If you read a large number of posts in a given blog, you’ll likely find a conspicuous slant to either the left or the right (or some other specific ideology). Journalists, on the other hand, are expected to be relatively balanced. Furthermore, respectable journalists hold to a professional code of ethics in the process of gathering and reporting the news. This code is crucial to maintaining the integrity of the journalist’s publisher. Bloggers have no code of ethics to which they all adhere (which is not to say that none of them are ethical)—it’s still the “wild, wild west” in the blogosphere.

Even the law does not consider bloggers to be journalists. For example, the California Shield Law addresses the refusal to disclose news sources. However, when you read the following clause identifying all those covered by the law, you’ll see that it does not include bloggers:

A publisher, editor, reporter or other person connected with or employed upon a newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication or by a press association or wire service, or any person who has been so connected or so employed…

That said (and not said), blogs do play a role in the news. The best journalists only provide information but do not give normative meaning to it. That’s left to the consumers of news who, more often than not in the case of mainstream Americans, are prone to putting insufficient effort to the task. Blogs provide those consumers easy access to analysis of the news of the day. Additionally, there are plenty of viewpoints from all points in the societal spectrum represented by blogs—all of which should be supported to ensure a balanced perspective on current events.

Another value of blogs is validating the credibility of the news. By linking to various sources (e.g. The Progressive Zone links to sources from The Washington Post to Aljazeera), blogs ground their analyses with news. The broad spectrum of news available on the World Wide Web permits the reader to extract the facts that are consistently cited by all blogs as the most reliable grounds on which to base the position the reader takes for his or her own. Because of the dynamic nature of the Web, blogs also rapidly direct readers to esoteric sources of news that they would otherwise overlook.

Regardless, the reader needs to be cautious of accepting everything they read in blogs as the “gospel” truth. There are plenty of blow-hard bloggers who spout their opinions without citing any sources. Furthermore, there are many bloggers who use conspiracy theorists and other incredible sources to ground their warrantless claims.

The next time you see a news publisher give credence to a blogger, take it with a grain of salt. And the next time you read a blog, don’t accept it as fact until you verify its grounds as fact through other credible sources. Most importantly, remember that blogs do not report news.

The turning radius of an aircraft carrier

What’s the turning radius of an aircraft carrier? Conventional wisdom says it’s pretty large, but occasionally conventional wisdom gets turned on its ear.

One such case was a decade ago when Netscape was dominating the browser wars while the World Wide Web was still in its infancy. Microsoft was busy developing Windows 95, so it was focused on the desktop. With so much resources working on making users productive on their own PC, Microsoft wasn’t paying much attention to the potential of the Internet. Meanwhile, Netscape capitalized on their first-mover advantage to capture the lion’s share of the browser market.

However, after releasing Windows 95, Bill Gates had a chance to begin serious consideration of the potential of the Web. So he hosted an Internet Strategy Day and announced Microsoft’s commitment to adding Internet capabilities to all its products in what has come to be known as the Internet Tidal Wave memo.

Typically, giant enterprises like Microsoft are not nimble, so they do not respond well—or at least quickly—to new opportunities in their business environment. Like an aircraft carrier, it takes time for them to begin turning their massive inertia in a new direction. Subsequently, no one expected Microsoft to be able to catch up to Netscape with it’s huge lead in browser market share.

But it proved everyone wrong. By 1996, Microsoft had already released version 3.0 of Internet Explorer. It was so superior to the Netscape browser of the time that it quickly began to gobble up market share from Netscape. As history now shows, Microsoft reacted to the browser wars with the agility of a small company, eventually capturing more than 95% of the browser users in the 21st century.

The question is, can Microsoft turn itself on a dime again? It has recently been flanked by another, once small, competitor: Google. Google has been applying emerging technologies like web services and Ajax to quickly release innovative products like Google Earth. It has also been acquiring companies like Blogger to offer exciting new Web-based services the market has been demanding. Of course, Google’s search engine has become so dominant that the term has become synonymous with searching, allowing Google to build up billions of dollars in market capitalization from its advertising revenues. It has rapidly proved to be a serious threat to Microsoft.

Recognizing this, its Chief Technology Officer, Ray Ozzie, wrote to Microsoft executive management that it needed to respond to Google. He said the future of Microsoft was at risk if they did not do so rapidly. Recognizing the seriousness of this, Chairman Bill Gates wrote an email to Microsoft’s top employees akin to his Internet Tidal Wave memo a decade prior. He said, “This coming ‘services wave’ will be very disruptive,” and went on to add that, “We must respond quickly and decisively.”

Will Microsoft be able to? Only time will tell. However, with Bill Gates still at the helm, it’s likely that the Microsoft aircraft carrier will be able to turn at least with the radius of the Octopus—the yacht recently purchased by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Granted, the Octopus can’t turn anywhere nearly as quickly as a Zodiac but, on the other hand, Google is no longer anywhere near what anyone would consider a small company. Therefore, with it’s vast resources available to put to the task, don’t count Microsoft out from being able to mount a seriously competitive response to Google’s recent successes.