If you want to understand social media, do it when there’s a big TV event happening

We’re living in a strange world right now. We’re sort of at a tipping point between broadcast and broadcomment, where we can watch what millions of other people are watching, while at the same time see what they’re saying.

This was brought home to me during the Prime Ministerial debates in the UK. I watched them with my laptop showing tweetclouds, sentiment analysis and Twitter search to get a flavour of what people’s reactions were. So it was a deeply flawed experiment in many ways – take a subset of the population who are interested enough in politics to watch the debates, another subset interested enough to comment online, and find the intersection between them – but it was interesting to see the stats shoot up in favour of Clegg. And ok, so, he didn’t win, but then again no one did. I, on the other hand, did find out a lot about social media monitoring.

Social media in action

So it occured to me then that the best way to demonstrate how social media works is during an event like that. Something that people can relate to what they’re seeing on TV, and reading about in the newspapers. Also – and this is really important – being able to tweet, and then see that tweet – their tweet – appear in the results. It’s what got me into blogging in the first place, when I posted to this blog, subscribed to my own RSS feed in Google Reader, and saw myself pop up a few minutes later. It impressed me. But I think people often don’t quite ‘get’ the idea of cause and effect, that what they blog or tweet about can and will be found by other people.

So this weekend, another event: the six nations Rugby. I don’t play rugby but I do like watching a good game, and this weekend there were plenty (not least because England won). And this time I got quite a few interesting insights using some monitoring solutions that are good for real-time monitoring, namely Twitterfall, Twendz, Tweetfeel and Tweetgrid.

Again, it was a really good occasion to demonstrate how you can set up searches (in this case, for mentions of rugby and 6nations), then tweet something with one of those search terms in it, then see your tweet appear a minute or so later.

Pretty Twitterfall

Of all the sites I tried, I preferred Twitterfall‘s look and feel. I can imagine it working wonderfully well projected onto a wall during an event, especially in its presentation mode.

But Twitterfall doesn’t really offer any analysis. Even a tweetcloud would be useful and fairly non-controversial, I’d have thought.

Interesting and idiosyncratic Twendz

I found Twendz a little jerky in its presentation, but I did find its analysis tools fascinating. Not least because they’re wrong.

I tested the Twendz sentiment engine a long, long time ago, on the day Jade Goody died (a contestant in Big Brother in the UK). I searched against her name, and saw some tweets come in saying “So sad Jade Goody died” being classed as negative. Presumably this was due to the proximity of ‘sad’ and ‘Jade Goody’ but to my mind, that’s actually in favour of Goody. I asked about this and was told it was a ‘correct response’. Correct in that it’s classing death as negative, but I wouldn’t really be monitoring to find out what people think about death, to be honest.

So this weekend a tweet saying “My two home nations playing but I can’t watch :(” was classed as negative. Again, this is a tweet by someone who I think really wanted to watch rugby, but couldn’t. The proximity of the sad smiley must have classed it as negative. But this is someone who is sad because they can’t be there. It’s a double negative. So it’s in favour of rugby, right? Not against, imho as a human being.

Twendz also has an idiosyncratic way of picking out the main topics people are commenting on. For example, ‘DONT’ came up a few times. When I looked to see what was causing that, it was just two tweets with the word “don’t” in them. Hmmmmm. Maybe this is why Twitterfall steers clear of analysis.

Or maybe it was just having a bad day. Or perhaps it needed the right kind of event to work properly, much like the people of Summerisle needed the right kind of adult.

Touchy Tweetfeely

Tweetfeel, on the other hand, really goes for sentiment analysis in a big way. It even has a big strapline on the home page saying so: “Real-time Twitter search with feelings using insanely complex sentiment analysis.”

And it did seem to work. I was surprised at how well it would correctly classify tweets. It could be that it only classifies tweets that are definitely one way or the other (eg “France are brilliant” or “Scotland suck” – sorry Scotland, but you did, a bit) so I’d have to look into that more closely to compare an unfiltered search with a sentimented search.

Still, it gave me confidence, so perhaps Tweetfeel is good for the sentiment analysis side of things. You could maybe run Twitterfall on one screen and Tweetfeel on another, or maybe even bring them together into a Netvibes dashboard.

Tweetgurn

Finally, Tweetgrid sounds great and does a decent enough job of presenting tweets in, as the name suggests, a grid, but I found it difficult to get started until I realised the big brown pictures in front of me were clickable icons, and then, well, its presentation leaves a lot to be desired. Given the choice, I’d go for Twitterfall or Twendz any time.

Cause and effect

So there you have it. If you really want to show someone how social media works then speed things up, so that they can see cause and effect, and give them a context. In other words, do it during a live, national event, and show them how this all works with some monitoring tools. They’ll get to see what’s good and what’s not so good about monitoring and social media today.

One day…

I’ve already mentioned Netvibes, and I’ve considered building dashboards before big events that bring together live video streams with social media feedback shown alongside. Maybe I’ll do that next time around.

I await the day when broadcasters realise they can integrate this stuff too. I did find it very interesting seeing what people were thinking, but frustrating that I had to look at the laptop, then at the game, and found I couldn’t really concentrate on either.

So maybe, one day, someone will have the bright idea of running a Twitterfall-like column alongside the picture, or running below it like a newswire, together with a cloud. If so, I’ve got copyright on that one.

Aggregated predictions: what really will happen with social media in 2011

Around Christmas-time I was foolish enough to list my social media predictions. They were a combination of ‘more of this, less of that, same of the other’, and you can still read it if you’re foolish enough to base an entire year that hasn’t happened on the ramblings of one poor gangrel creature.

Fortunately I wasn’t the only one. There are plenty of other gangrel creatures out there, with their own predictions, so I thought it would be interesting to see what other people have said, aggregate them all, and see if we have any agreements. While there are plenty of one-offs (for example I think I’m the only person who predicts the rise and rise of digital agencies at the cost of PR agencies) there are, amazingly, congruencies between people.

Here’s what I’ve found below, but you can see the Google doc I used to compile this, together with the links to the bloggers I read. I got as far as halfway through page 4 of the Google results before I started to lose the will to live, and I might even pick this one up again, but for now, this is where we’re at.

Mobile

There were various takes on this, ranging from the increased importance of check-in sites such as Foursquare, through to the influence of technologies such as the iPad. I bunched them all under mobile, and this is the most important popular prediction, with 11 mentions from Socialnomics, ReadWriteWeb, Fred Meek, 4TM Guide, Lockergnome, Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Trevanian Legg, Ron Medlin, Social Media B2B, and Concepts Marketing.

Alignment with business goals

The gurus are being expunged, dormanted, deleted. Next most popular was the prediction that 2011 will see people really tying social media to business results, with 8 mentions from Conversational Currency, Socialnomics, OneForty, ReadWriteWeb, KnowledgeBlog, Social Media Examiner, Infusionblog, Trevanian Legg, and me. I went on to say that these would yield disappointing results, and I’m happy (or sad, or despondent, or maybe a little morose) to say that KnowledgeBlog and Social Media B2B think so too.

The rise of Facebook

I said that I don’t see Facebook declining any time soon – unlike, say, Google, and who’d have thought that eh? – and I’ve been joined by Fred Meek, Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Hausman Marketing Research Letter, Ron Medlin, Likeable Media and Contently Managed – that is, 7 other thinkers who also think Facebook will continue to dominate, whether through expansion, flotation, collaboration, monetisation, or something else ending in ion.

Amusingly enough, 4 commentators think Facebook will decline in influence, mainly through the rise of niche networks. They are Forrester, ReadWriteWeb, Trevanian Legg and MSL Group. They are, of course, wrong.

More group buying, particularly Groupon

In total 5 commentators think that social or group buying, particularly that exemplified by Groupon (or, in fact, actually Groupon since its valuation last year north of one billion dollars) will be significant over the coming year. They are Socialnomics, KnowledgeBlog, The Next Web, Social Media B2B, and MSL Group.

More content-driven programmes

All social media should be driven by content, but Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Infusionblog, Social Media B2B and Contently Managed think this will happen more in 2011, with tools to help marketeers do this, or to enable their audiences to do it for them.

More consolidation among the large networks

This is something I didn’t mention but I do agree with. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn are irresistible and I don’t think the likes of Diaspora (the open-source so-called Facebook killer) et al are going to make a single dent. So I agree with Socialnomics, KnowledgeBlog, 4TM Guide, Social Media Examiner and Contently Managed on this one.

Again however, there are dissenters. Social Media B2B and GigaOm think there will be a rise of importance from niche sites at the ‘big’ systems’ expense. Silly sausages.

Anonymity and vetting

This is something I really hadn’t considered but does make sense. One of the primary concerns I noted while training at the Social Media Academy last year was that of privacy, that is, how much should I let people know, and how can I tell if people are genuine online? Four commentators mention privacy/vetting issues, and they are Conversational Currency, Socialnomics, ReadWriteWeb and GigaOm.

Video

This one surprises me, I have to say. ReadWriteWeb, Tim Ferriss, Concepts Marketing and Contently Managed all mention the ascendancy of video to some degree. I guess this ties in with the ascendancy of mobile in that we’ll all be glued to our displays watching video while we accidentally fall into water features.

That’ll do pig

I don’t want to give the impression I’m being a bit hasty here but I really need to crack on. Take a look at the Google Docs spreadsheet for the full picture. I might add to it as I go along, but really, go and take a look to see what else people comment on. Of the remaining topics that are mentioned by at least three sources we have metrics (which I guess ties into business goals), advertising, more social search (and less social search!), more workplace acceptance, continued importance placed on social media, the culling of so-called social media gurus (using a blunt instrument I presume), the intriguing and some would say tautological concept of Social Google, more Quora (of quorse – sorry), and more Twitter - again, counterbalanced by some who say less Twitter. Nothing more thrilling than when people disagree.

2011 social media predictions

So while I have my blogging head on – hot off the news that Delicious is disappearing and Facebook has undergone yet another redesign – I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on the state of the social media nation for the coming year. It’s not all good. Here we go…

Confidence will go down

Social media lives in the cloud (or ‘online’ as we used to say). This is good, in that the cloud is a wonderful thing where you can pool computing resources and readily share information. But its fluidity is a problem. I’ve already written about my dislike of the state of ‘permanent beta’ of such services, and with the recent make-over of Facebook, I remain annoyed. The bigger a site gets, the more we depend on it. The more it changes, the less we like it – not just because we have to relearn it, but strategists have to go back to the blueprints, trainers have to re-do all their materials, and so on. And that’s nothing compared to what happens when sites like Delicious just disappear. How can you invest time and effort, how can you plan, when you don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few months, let alone the next year?

Monetisation will continue to be a problem

Yahoo owns the biggest bookmarking service around, and it cannot make money off it. Twitter, as far as I’m aware, still doesn’t have a monetisation strategy. I don’t quite understand how Mark Zuckerberg can be so rich off the back of Facebook. Anyone remember the dotcom boom and bust? Social media feels horribly similar, in that I believe the people who make money off social media right now are the ones who get paid to assess its value. It’s very like the old gold rushes – the ones who got rich were the ones who sold the spades to dig for the gold, not the poor fools actually looking for it.

PR still won’t ‘get it’

I still feel my temples throb when I meet up with digital colleagues at PR agencies, who recount phrases they continue to come across such as “Let’s do some blogging stuff” or “Maybe we should send some tweets out.” Social media is still new, but it’s gone from burbling helplessly in the cot to at least toddling. Four-plus years is enough for PR people to have understood the basics, but my anecdotal evidence suggests that PR people, while they are completely brilliant at issues, are unrivalled organisers and demon communicators, are completely at sea when it comes to the high-level strategy and the low-level nuts and bolts of getting through to people online. I don’t see this changing any time soon.

Freelancers will find it an increasingly tough gig

I admit I haven’t found the past year easy by any means. People rightly want the confidence of an agency behind their programmes in case I get run over by a bus. And if/when you do finally get a client who’s prepared to work with you in the longer term, again they quite rightly want to know your ‘secret sauce’ – and then do it for themselves.

Digital agencies will rise

While I find PR people don’t ‘get’ digital, I do find digital ‘gets’ PR. My prediction here is that, far from PR subsuming digital, it will eventually be the other way around. Digital agencies have the heft of a professional outfit, with a proper team structure and a wealth of expertise that, I think, will be the umbrella model for the future.

Social media curves will continue to go up, but results will continue to disappoint

I still find it astonishing that, for example, in 2010 there was more social media traffic than all years combined (trust me, it’s a valid statistic, but I cannot find the source for that right now). At the same time, broadcast and mainstream media just has those huge exposure figures that social media simply cannot compete with. Dan Sabbagh of The Guardian recently showed us this (and this time I do have a link): of the recent Alan Partridge Fosters YouTube videos he says: “The first episode has racked up 492,000 plays on YouTube at the time of writing, and while the latest episode, 5, has dropped to 135,000, [Henry Normal, the man who "minds the shop" at Partridge actor Steve Coogan's production company Baby Cow] claims the results are a success, even though a new comedy on Channel 4 would expect to be seen by 1.5m to 2m viewers.” OK, so 15-minute YouTube clips are cheaper to disseminate but 135,000 views is NOTHING compared to 2 million viewers – regardless of trendy notions of ‘engagement’, ‘dialogue’ or ‘the network effect’.

Facebook will continue to dominate

Facebook is a juggernaut and it’s not going to slow down any time soon. This is a pity because the web was never meant to be a single-application platform. It was supposed to be a resilient, open resource through which information could freely – which also means anonymously – pass. One day Facebook will break and then we’ll all be sorry.

Dashboarding and curating will grow

I truly believe that every company should be monitoring what people are saying about it, its issues and its competitors, on a daily basis. Even if they don’t then engage, there is simply no excuse for not listening, especially when marvellous sites such as Netvibes make dashboarding easy as cake, a piece of pie. Set up an internal dashboard monitoring your competitors and what people are saying about them. That’s research. And have an external one showcasing what you say and the areas you want to ‘own’. That’s marketing. Where’s the harm in that?

Social media will only provably work for big companies that have stuff to sell

This is possibly the most controversial point here. Social media only works when it scales up. If you don’t have enough followers/members/contacts, it won’t work. People are the fuel that drives the social media engine. So smaller companies that genuinely want to engage will not see the benefit. However, larger companies that can command a large amount of interest online will see the benefit – and that will primarily be through selling. Take Dell, for example. It has sales that have grown, year on year, from 1 million dollars, to 3, to 6, to 18 million. That’s a steep curve, and whereas it’s peanuts for a company that size, I can see that they can totally point to an ROI that means they will continue to invest in it. Meanwhile your smaller enterprises will give up. This is a real pity because, in the same way the web isn’t meant to be one big application (see my Facebook point above), social media was supposed to give the little man a voice. Again, terms like ‘engagement’ and ‘dialogue’ are nice, but only if you can afford to invest in them without necessarily pointing to an ROI. ‘Selling’, on the other hand, is what the CEO is interested in, and will shell out money for, and you can only do this effectively if you’re big.

So, there you go. What will I do next year? Don’t know really. Maybe I’ll continue ploughing my furrow and see what transpires. Maybe I’ll close shop and go and work for a digital agency. Maybe I’ll set my own up. Maybe I’ll get out of social media altogether (again) and focus on something nice and comfortable, like copywriting.

And you? What will you do? Here’s my advice if you’re thinking about using social media next year:

  • Make sure you’re doing other forms of marketing too. Social media on its own will not cut it.
  • Make sure whoever you work with in social media knows what a strategy is. If they say “We’re all about tactics”, walk away.
  • Really think about monitoring. It doesn’t take long to set up and you will be amazed at what you find out.
  • Be prepared to work in the dark to an extent – you may never really know how much money you make off the back of your investment.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open for changes and closures. No social media site/channel/platform is too big to go under.

That about wraps it up for 2010. I’m going to finish my cup of tea and then work on thawing my toes out, then I’m going to sit by the log fire and stare into the distance for the next two weeks. Toodle pip.

HP Blogs – What makes a tweet influential? New HP Labs social… – The HP Blog Hub

How is it that certain topics manage to get more attention than others, thus “bubbling to the top” and changing the agenda of an online community?

 

Today, Dr. Bernardo A. Huberman, the director of HP Labs’ Social Computing Lab, released research on the nature of user influence on social media networks such as Twitter. After analyzing 22 million tweets, Dr. Huberman and his co-authors calculated a novel measure of influence for individual users and developed a corresponding algorithm that automatically identifies particularly influential users.

Research, research, research. You can’t get enough of it. OK, well, maybe you can, but this is important research. It does tell us things we already know, that popularity is not necessarily influence, but when someone’s analysed 22 million tweets rather than speaking from experience or gut feeling, you should listen to what they have to say.

Learning social media from school-aged users | Social media agency London | FreshNetworks blog

As part of work we are doing at FreshNetworks in the education sector, I recently ran a brainstorming session with a group of 11-15 year old students and their teachers. We were exploring and testing some ideas we have been working on, but also looking at their use of social media and social networks. These kind of sessions are critical when planning any use of social media as a brand. You need to think not as yourselves but through the eyes of the people we are trying to engage in social media otherwise there is a danger that you will develop a solution for the people planning it and not the people you want to use it.

With these 11-15 year olds this is particularly important. We cannot, and must not, translate our own use of social media and the ways we would like to be engaged online to the young people we are trying to target. They use social media very differently and will react very differently to brands online. The same is, of course, true of any consumer base – it is most likely the case that your target audience is not fairly reflected by the people you have working for you. So thinking about your audience and considering your social media strategy through their eyes is critical. You can, of course, also always learn a lot by spending time with users.

I certainly learned a lot from my time with these 11-15 year olds and thought I’d share some of these observations here. I should make a huge caveat that these observations are certainly not representative of all students of that age, and shouldn’t be taken as such. But they shine a light on how this age range is using social media and prompts further questions and reflections for us all about these social media tools and how we all use them.

1. Facebook is a personal organiser and a bragging tool

For the group we talked to, Facebook was the ultimate personal organiser. It is here that they collected the friends they met at school, at clubs outside school, on holiday or people from their family. They used Facebook as a way to keep in touch with these people, to find out what they were doing and, for many, as the main way they communicated with them. Facebook chat was used by them much more than the likes of MSN or text messages, and Facebook messages were used much more than email. Facebook was described as the place where they kept their friends and a means of talking to them.

But once they had these groups of friends, they liked to use Facebook as a bragging tool and a way of showing the affinity they had with these friends. They talked about creating groups for something they were interested in and then aiming to get all their friends to join – not to interact with each other in the group, but so that their group would get more ‘Likes’ than similar ones. They were using Facebook to amass and to showcase their social status. And their was a symbiotic nature to this – the friends who were Liking these groups were doing so with the aim of getting more pages and groups on their profile than their friends. This social status (or ‘bragging’) works both ways for these young people – those who create groups want lots of people to ‘Like’ them, and those who ‘Like’ groups want to get more things they like as badges on their profile.

These observations offer important learnings for brands looking to engage young people in Facebook. They may have lots of friends but they may not be ‘Liking’ your brand page because they want to interact with you but because they want to show their friends just how many things they ‘Like’. The key is not jut to create pages they can passively ‘Like’ but to work with their desire to gain more friends and to show their social status online as a way to engage them.

2. YouTube is for music

YouTube is, for many, their second most used search engine after Google. They use it to find content and to share content with people they know, and people they don’t know but with whom they share interests. It is a vibrant social media tool and a growing community.

There are a lot of video creators and video bloggers out there, and a lot of them are young, as a quick search of videos will show you, but for the 11-15 year olds we had in a room, YouTube was for one thing. Music. And particularly to view, and to share music videos with their friends at a time that suited them, rather than waiting for the video to be shown on MTV or another music channel. They used it as a way for them to control their own access to professional content, rather than as a way to find and connect with others online though user-generated content.

For brands the message here is clear – these young people are looking for quality content on YouTube and using as a way for them to control and manage their own viewing of it. They will share this content with all their friends on Facebook in a way that will benefit your own brand but are less likely to create content themselves or to use the videos themselves as a mechanism to talk to and to interact with peers.

3. They are not looking for reward

The final observation came when we talked about motivation and reward for engaging online. We were looking particularly at ways in which we could motivate them to take part in ongoing engagement with an issue we were working on. And one finding came through very clearly. These young people were not looking to be rewarded. At least not in the way some brands thought they might be. They didn’t want prizes, they didn’t want ‘goodie bags’ and in many cases they would not be interested in product from the brand themselves. Their needs were simple, and at the same time complex. They wanted reward that played to their existing networks and use of social media.

They were interested in recognition and things that they could use to increase their social status on sites such as Facebook. They wanted things to take away their – badges, content and other things that they could post to their wall to show what they were involved in. They wanted activities that encouraged them to create content or groups that could be ‘Liked’ on Facebook, or they wanted points that they could use to compare themselves against other people and show their friends.

For social media agency support get in touch or follow us on Twitter.

I like this because it’s real research – although admittedly I don’t know how many people they spoke to – and shows awareness of how “You need to think not as yourselves but through the eyes of the people we are trying to engage in social media otherwise there is a danger that you will develop a solution for the people planning it and not the people you want to use it.”.

I keep saying this to people. I’ve lost count of the number of time I’ve heard comms professionals saying “I don’t know why people would do this” or “I wouldn’t use X to do Y” or “No one will be talking about Z.”

I find these attitudes astonishing. It’s akin to saying “I don’t read the Sun, therefore it’s irrelevant.” People who work in comms and marketing should never, ever make assumptions about what people want, or how they’re behaving. You just don’t know until you develop tools that help, or find research, or conduct your own.

So that’s why I like this post. I like it enough to share it in fact. I’m still a bit uncomfortable with the way Posterous is encouraging me to share *the entire post*, but I guess I’m endorsing freshnetworks and giving them link love etc etc

Still, I’m learning. That’s got to count for something.

Journeys in monitoring and measurement

Ear trumpets around the world. Click image for source.

Ear trumpets around the world. Click image for source.

Over the past few weeks – months, even – I’ve been looking into ways to monitor what’s being said ‘out there’, and then measure it in a meaningful way. My conclusion? There are plenty of tools out there that can almost do the job, but most of them fail in some significant way.

Yahoo Pipes is kaput

For people like me who sort of know how to program but don’t want to bend their brains around it any more, Yahoo Pipes is a godsend. It’s a nice visual way of doing funky things with RSS, and I’ve spent quite some time creating a modular monitoring system with it: that is, change keywords for a client in one place and it reflects through all the searches, or change one search and it reflects through all clients.

Now, the system works. I know it works because I’ve tested it with my recent ‘What are people saying about…?’ series of posts. It’s a nice, elegant system that anyone can use, adapt and extend.

But even while writing those posts I noticed that Pipes was going from idiosyncratic (occasional crashes, strange error messages) to downright insolent. Today it’s a rarity that I can save a pipe successfully, or preview the results, or even run one. To my mind it’s a system that is actually falling apart as I type and whereas the pipes development team have responded telling me they’re working on this, they’ve been working on it for a good few months now and I’m not holding my breath.

Google Docs is good, but limited

Next up: Google Docs. You can actually create a  dashboard system with Google Docs with the imporfeed function, and this is quite cool because you can also generate charts of these feeds on the fly. More to the point, you can share these charts as straight images, so they can be built into any web page or dashboard widget, such as Netvibes.

Everything about this is really nice. For example, you can format the text output and bring it into something like Netvibes to have a beautiful, consistent interface, with all sorts of charts showing what’s happening when it happens.

The only problems are: importfeed seems to work one day and not the other, which immediately makes it completely unsuitable for presenting to a client; you have to keep the document open for it to generate any results, so if someone accidentally closes the doc or shuts off the PC, all your clients are looking a blank screens; and, critically again, importfeed only brings in 20 entries.

So, if you’re monitoring for what people are tweeting about, for example, Eurostar, you’ll find the importfeed has already hit its limit within the first few minutes. I’ve tried ways around this, such as creating a separate feed per day, but it still fills up. There doesn’t seem to be a way to append to the importfeed results so when they’re gone, they’re gone.

Excel works, but is clunky

So, on we go. Excel does import web data but doesn’t do it very well. My Excel crashes when I plug web data into it. It does recover, staggering and coughing, to its knees, but then it’s just very clunky. If you update a web query you can make it append rather than overwrite, but then you need to add fancypants equations to dynamically tell you when you’ve brought in duplicates, which is highly likely if you’re refreshing every day for something that doesn’t update often. This is almost the opposite of the importfeed problem: too many duplicated results rather than too few unique ones. The connections management seems a bit weird too, and I still don’t think I’ve quite figured it out. Then again, while you can draw beeeeeeyootiful charts from the data, and store it for future analysis, you cannot share these charts online. So, fail overall I think.

So where are we up to?

I’ve given up on Yahoo Pipes. It’s unworkable. So I’m looking at ways to use Google Docs to help with very quickly assembling web queries – that is, a wizard-like interface that guides you through includes and excludes and then previews the results across platforms – and then using those queries to import into Excel, display in Netvibes, and bring into Google Reader so I can store/analyse results, display them, and get insights into how I’m using them in Google Reader.

This is not ideal. There are too many different apps in this system for my liking. What I would like is to have everything monitoring-related in Pipes, and then just pull that into Excel for measurement and Netvibes for display. But no. As I said, everything works, but not quite perfectly. One day Yahoo will make pipes work; or Google will extend the importfeed limit; or Excel will improve web data import. Until then, I just have to blog about them despairingly.

What are people saying about… Bono?

Last week I looked at how Eurostar were faring, by putting together a dashboard in Netvibes which is powered by my social media search engine in the background. The results were interesting: we could see how the anger spread quickly through social media channels – and now, you can see how it’s waned quickly. No longer do we have photos of queues. Now, it’s photos of sleek-looking trains. But I imagine Eurostar still has some way to go to clear its name.

Today, I looked at Twitter and saw that for some reason #bonofacts was trending. “Do what?” I thought, then found out he’s been talking about filesharing. His point is probably quite valid: that, by making everything shareable, new talent is finding it difficult to come through, and he goes even further to say that this model is almost Robin Hood in reverse – we’re taking money from the pockets of artists and giving it to the rich. I’m not sure about the second point, but the first is a well rehearsed criticism of the  activities that virtually brought the music industry to its knees.

Solutions will emerge in time, in parallel to the conundrum of paid-for news content which Rupert Murdoch may – or may not – be about to crack. So perhaps a fantastically wealthy rock star shouldn’t be preaching to the unconverted. Or, basically, maybe Bono shouldn’t be such an irritating twerp.

That last bit was my opinion, but let’s look at what people are saying. Click here to see the Bono dashboard, or click the image below.

Bono monitoring dashboard - click to see the live version

Bono monitoring dashboard - click to see the live version

First off, I decided not to look at social photos or videos. It doesn’t make much sense: people don’t have much access to fantastically wealthy rock stars, whereas they do (or should) to trains. But I thought it would be interesting to look at news coverage, which in the main will (or should) give us the facts behind the story, especially one that is creating such a fuss. Because a fuss it is creating. Twitter is buzzing with it, as are the forums.

So we’ve got a nice four-column layout this time. It means we’re concentrating less on mid-crisis twittering – because really, this isn’t a crisis – and more on the balance between fact and opinion. It makes the charts a bit more scrunched but you can still see what’s going on.

Twitter has leapt to attention. Unsurprising really, as that’s where I noticed #bonofacts first. And I added a separate feed for exactly that – #bonofacts. Frankly, they’re hilarious.

It’s interesting to see how the news is reporting that Bono is getting stick from Twitter. I remember my days at Porter Novelli when we would take guesses at which online news would eventually bleed into the offline world. Now, it seems to be instantaneous.

The forums are telling a slightly different story, so much that I included charts from Omgili and Boardreader and will be following them closely to see which tells the truer tale. I don’t believe Boardreader’s chart – that the volume of posts has gone down. I can understand that there was buzz a while back when they announced they were headlining Glastonbury, and that relatively they may have lessened, but I’m not sure the chart is absolutely right.

I have to say I’m getting concerned at the output from Boardreader and Omgili. The charts don’t seem to reflect the true activity, and the RSS feeds sometimes bear little resemblance to the search results. It’s probably a tough nut to crack given the wide variety of forum formats out there, but they should be able to crack it. I’ve contacted both sites about this so let’s see what transpires.

Post-edit: Omgili got back to me and said yes, the RSS wasn’t working properly, and promptly fixed it to more accurately reflect the search settings! So that’s good. I’m still not sure the RSS output matches the charts however.

Overall, there is a noticeable proportion of foreign-language comments. This shouldn’t come as a surprise bearing in mind U2′s international reach, and in fact most of them are understandable. I just read a German one that, given my limited German, I could understand. But that’s mainly because of my less limited Anglo Saxon, if you know what I mean. In terms of monitoring this should be fairly easy to get around – simply stick an English Language filter into the results. I’ve already done this before to separate out British English from US English results.

So, ask yourself the question: what would Bono do? I suspect he’s aware of the commotion he’s caused. It’ll probably help his record sales, if no one else’s. If he’s not, then could someone tweet him quickly and tell him about this dashboard please?

Post Edit: ‘Bono’ is a classic case of a hard keyword. It’s Spanish for ‘bond’, so whereas the first results were good, I’ve been noticing a lot of Spanish coming in. The solution is to filter out items that include Spanish keywords, such as ‘y’ (‘and’), ‘o’ (‘or’) and so on. Fortunately I only have to do this in one place, and all the results should start filtering out those Spanish results. Goes to show the importance of getting the right keywords, both mandatory and exclusions.

Facebook? Facelift more like.

Another Facebook Facelift. Grrr.

Another Facebook Facelift. Grrr.

Why oh why oh why oh why oh why does Facebook keep changing?

I recently had call to get back into Facebook for a new business pitch (post-edit: we won). I knew it had changed and needed to clue up on the differences. It was broadly similar but, well, different. And on looking back at work I’d done in the past, I could see that the changes materially affected those Facebook pages too.

This was an annoyance for me, but I could imagine plenty of people out there trying to do the same thing as me pulling out their hair with frustration. You get a strategy together, you figure it all out, you build a beautiful page – and then it changes. So you have to adapt it all.

So it’s with further annoyance I just came across Techtree’s announcement that Facebook has changed yet again. As it says: “Facebook has tweaked its Live News feed to display only those posts that Facebook thinks would be useful for you and your network of friends.”

I’ve only just read this so I don’t know what implications this will have. But I do wish Facebook would get a grip. It imposes the Beacon advertising system. Then Facebook drops Beacon after howls of protest. Then Facebook says it owns everything on the site. Then Facebook changes its mind again, and takes the exact opposite tack of letting its users decide its terms.

Then decides to hell with that and changes anyway.

My life! When will this stop? The permanent beta’s annoying enough, and human beings don’t work that way. No matter how much we’re told we should embrace change, we find it annoying, stressful even. Just ask Alvin Tofler.

But I see something more fundamentally wrong here. Which is: Facebook don’t have a plan. They don’t know where they’re going or what they’re doing. So they make changes here and there to make the service ‘better’. It’s not ‘better’, it’s just ‘different’, and people don’t like ‘different’. How can we build ‘different’ into our strategies? Put in milestones every month or so entitled “Check whether Facebook has changed again”?

Honestly Mr Zuckerberg. Have a heart. Leave well alone. 300 million active users can’t be wrong can they?

Will I ever be able to update the PR Friendly Index again?

The PR Friendly Index has been good to me. I initially compiled it as an ongoing experiment to see how I could ‘measure’ blogs, especially en masse, especially using forms of automation that would make it as easy as possible. The ultimate goal was something along the lines of the Power150, except I had visions of creating a blog ‘index’ akin to the FTSE-100, so we could see who was rising or falling in real-time.

This never came to be, not least because I had neither the time nor the expertise to make it so. But I got a fair way with canny combinations of Google Docs XML and ImportHTML calls, Technorati APIs, and good old-fashioned Word macros to format everything.

Since then, of course, we all know that this isn’t the right way to ‘measure’ a blog. It’s more qualitative than quantitative. But I still thought there was value in compiling it from time to time, provided I could do this regularly using proven processes and techniques. Not least because, as I said, it’s been good to me. My stats shot through the roof when I started it, and it’s helped me professionally in many ways.

However, the last PR Friendly index I compiled, in March 2009, was a right old pain in the arse. It seemed that the Google Docs calls weren’t reliable, even though they were doing things ‘properly’ using my Technorati API key. As a result I had to copy and paste many results manually, or estimate some results much in the same way scientists inserted frog DNA into dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

I’ve recently been toying with the idea of starting the index again, and took a quick look to see whether things were still intact. The bad news is that they most decidedly are not.

Take a look at the image below. It’s the result of the Technorati calls for the authority of the first few blogs in the PR Friendly Index:

Is it cream-crackered?

See that? Most of them don’t work. There’s nothing wrong with the calls. The blogs exist. If I look them up using the same API calls as in the Google Docs, but typed directly into the browser address bar, they work. Do the same through Google Docs, and they don’t. Mostly.

So I can only imagine there’s something going on with Google Docs calls. I get similar results when using ImportHTML to query Google Blog Searches. Hardly any of them work.

If none of them worked, I could start debugging this. But some of them, working some of the time? Nothing worse for debugging.

This leaves me with a problem. If I want to continue with the PR Friendly Index, I need to figure out yet another workaround because I simply cannot spend the best part of a day compiling these figures manually. Something’s gone wrong, and I need a fix, ideally a nice efficient way using API calls.

Can anyone help?