Five cool ways to find people on Twitter

This post is probably going to get lost in the Twitter noise – and, judging by my declining stats, hardly anyone reads this blog anyway – but I still find it useful to share knowledge occasionally, not least because every day I don’t post I suffer guilt.

I’ve recently been looking around Twitter a lot, trying to find influencers. Now, there are many, many, many, many, many definitions of what influence is, and having been through most of them I’ve come to the conclusion that you can throw away your twitter rankings and your twinfluences and your twitter indices and just count the number of followers someone has. It’s quick, it’s simple, and it tells you straight away how many people you’ll reach. And, as a rule of thumb, someone with 10,000 followers is going to be more influential than someone with 1,000.

So, with that out of the way – and no, I’m not going to enter into yet another debate about it – how do you actually find these people? Well, being someone who likes to package everything he does so that other people can do them too, I’ve come across five nice ways to do this. Go through each of these and you’ll more than likely end up with a good list.

Let’s assume we’re searching for, oh I don’t know, data quality (that really is a random choice btw). So:

1. WeFollow

Go to and type in your search term, without spaces. In this case we’d go to Look, robot, a nice list of people that talk about data quality, complete with follower numbers. Nice. But not exhaustive because WeFollow doesn’t have everyone, although it is a very good first port of call to get a quick list together.

2. Replies or retweets (especially for people)

Search on Twitter for replies or retweets, especially if you’re searching for influencers associated with a person who, in turn, is associated with a issue or topic. So, from our WeFollow data quality search, we found that ocdqblog is pretty well thought of, so do a search on Twitter for replies and retweets involving ocdqblog – in this case, search for This shows you people who have replied to or endorsed what that person has to say in some way – and, by implication, people who have been influenced by, or talk to, that person. So it’s a fair bet that they’re in some way associated with that person. So, add ’em to your list.

3. Hashtags (especially for issues)

A hashtag is small identifier that people use to make it easier to bring tweets together for a specific topic that they’re pretty keen on. So, if someone has used #dataquality as a hashtag, it’s a fair bet that they’re involved enough in data quality as a subject to use it as a hashtag. In this case, you’d search on Twitter for (you have to use the URL code %23 instead of typing in a hash symbol for a direct link – don’t ask why, you just do). This method actually works really well, I’m finding. You do land some big fish this way.

4. #FollowFriday or #FF Hashtag

Search, again on Twitter, but with the #followfriday or #ff hashtag. FollowFriday is a neat little meme that people use to say “Hey, this person is worth following for this issue” – on a Friday. So if someone is doing some good work in the data quality field, it’s likely someone else somewhere has said at some point “Person X is good at data quality #ff” or suchlike.  So by searching for”data quality” %23ff OR %23followfriday, you can find people who have been endorsed by other people as being authorities on, in this case, data quality.

5. Topic search

Finally, just search for people who have mentioned your search term – that is,”data quality”. This is probably what you first thought of doing and while it works, it doesn’t have any of the nice nuances of whether they’ve been endorsed on WeFollow, or replied/retweeted, or used a hashtag, especially the FollowFriday hashtag. So you might get a lot of hits this way, but not as many quality hits, that is, people who are really involved, or recognised or endorsed by people involved in this area.

So there you go. If you’re canny you’ll figure out ways of creating all these URLs on the fly, generated from just specifying your search term, so you can just copy and paste them into a browser and off you go (or just click them in Google Docs, which has a lovely new auto-click URL feature now). And you save enough time to blog about it afterwards.  Not that anyone will read about it.


Who are: @frosty_snow, @geoff_bronson, @gavin_henderson, @peter_bently?

The UK Election Social Media Dashboard. What are people saying? What are YOU saying? Click to find out.

This morning I took a quick look at what people were saying on the UK Election Social Media Dashboard.

I noticed a few spikes on Twitter for George Osborne. This was strange. Osborne hasn’t figured particularly highly so far, and when he has, it’s been associated with spikes for his contemporaries Darling and Cable.

So I took a look. And, even though I’m fairly apolitical – believe me, I’m more interested in the geekery than the politics here – I’m quite dismayed by what I think I’ve found.

I noticed that there were quite a few tweets referencing old news about Osborne – his inheritance, his expenses, and so on. So I looked at who was tweeting this. And there are four Twitter accounts that have been very recently set up, that have no weblinks, that all seem to be essentially spreading muck about him online.

I’m not one for conspiracy theories but this looks pretty dodgy to me. If I didn’t know better I’d say that someone, somewhere, is coordinating an attempt to discredit Osborne by setting up Twitter accounts to try and spread negative messaging.

Of course, I could be wrong. In which case maybe we should give @frosty_snow, @geoff_bronson, @gavin_henderson and @peter_bently the benefit of the doubt. Here’s an idea: why don’t you go and check them out and see what you think?

It’s never been easier to engage, so if people don’t…

A hand cart, yesterday. Click image for source.

A hand cart, yesterday. Click image for source.

… then we’re all going to hell in a hand cart. Probably. A bit.

Sounds a bit alarmist I know, but here’s my take on this.

In the past, I’ve been fairly lackadaisical about politics. I thought I had left-wing leanings when I was younger but then who doesn’t/didn’t? At least I wasn’t a hippy like my father and I don’t think I’ll end up a neo-Nazi like my late Nan. Praise the Lord for small mercies.

However, this year, things are different. I can feel it. I’m not saying I’m running down the high street with a sandwich board haranguing passers-by and stuffing bits of paper into their pockets. Not yet anyhow. But I am thinking that there’s a lot at stake this year and that we have the first opportunity to track all of this. I should probably be more excited about the former but being a fairly shallow and narrow-minded chap, I’m actually more interested in the latter.

Fortunately for me – and the good people of Buckinghamshire who probably don’t want to be attacked by sandwich-board-clad fanatics – I can address both of these issues by setting up a dashboard.

So that’s what I’ve done. It started as a genuine attempt to find out what was going on for myself. It was just one tab and threw everything together in something that put the ‘mash’ into ‘mash-up’. Then I realised it might be of interest to other people too, so it’s expanded, been knocked through, had some new carpeting put in, been given a lick of paint and some safety rails and now it’s the UK Election Social Media Dashboard, covering what people are saying about Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, and everything in between.

It’s worked. For me, at any rate. I actually found myself watching Nick Clegg be interviewed by Jeremy Paxman. I actually had a sort of background in what Nick Clegg was representing. And I actually read the election coverage in the papers. Imagine!

But one thing I keep finding: apathy. Today I heard on the radio the traditional moaning from the traditional moan-mongers: “Politicians all say one thing and then do the something else”; “I don’t know one from the other”; “I don’t see the point in voting”.

I don’t blame them. I’ve been thinking much the same thing for the past ten years or so – however long it’s been in fact since I found out the crowds welcoming Tony Blair to Number Ten weren’t just spontaneously enraptured constituents, but carefully chosen, arranged, and strikingly telegenic activists.

But that’s because all I’ve been able to see of politicians has been on TV (“In that case it’ll be Enigma Variations, minister”), or hear on the radio, or read about in the papers. Today politics is EVERYWHERE. It’s on YouTube and Facebook. It’s being tweeted on Twitter and downloaded from websites. It’s EVERYWHERE, being expressed in each, any and every channel in every possible way.

So, if people really do still feel apathetic – if they have access to this information in easily digested chunks of 140 characters, fed to them by their family, friends and colleagues, or as a great big ScrumdiddlyUmptious Wonka-bar of a manifesto download to secret themselves in a corner and inwardly digest, or as magic lantern images projected to the back of their retinas as they sit drooling in front of YouTube at 3am each morning, or on their smartphones as they absent-mindedly forget to Mind the Gap and step onto the live rails – then we’re probably in trouble.

OK, so this is our first ‘social media election’, and maybe it’ll be better next time around. But politics is happening, here, now, and it’s everywhere. So if people still don’t see it – or watch it, or hear it, or discuss it, or share it, or bookmark it or tag it – then it’s because they don’t want to. And that means we’ll probably have to think of something better to replace politics. Benign dictatorship, anyone?

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.

Can the cloud protect us?

A button for everything. Click image for source.

A button for everything. Click image for source.

I just received an email from a friend of mine who’s lost all his iPhone data. That’s over 2,000 contacts he’s built up over the past few years in PR.

To say it’s a disaster is an understatement. But I guess it’s a lesson to us all: data has no value unless it’s backed up. I learned that while working in tech environments, since when I’ve become something of a backup fiend.

Nevertheless, it’s still easy to screw things up. I once backed up ‘the wrong way’, that is, copied all my old stuff over all my new. You can’t undo that, because the files are all overwritten. I lost work, but fortunately nothing critical.

I also once deleted my backups to clear some space, only to find I’d deleted the current work instead, and that none of it was in the Recycle bin for some reason. Now that was a real panic – nasty sinking feeling in stomach, raised breathing rate, dry lips. Fortunately I managed to download an undelete utility and get it all back.

But the problem remains with PDAs that while it’s convenient to have everything in one funky little package, it’s a nightmare when you lose it. Because you don’t just lose contacts. You can lose data, music, videos – a large part of your life in fact over the past few years. At Christmas I had a friend who thought he’d lost his camera from the previous night. Not a problem, you’d think, until you realised that he was a quantity surveyor and had a lot of photographs on it that he needed for work.

He was lucky: he found the camera. And again, he should have backed up. And again again, it just occurred to me that he shouldn’t really have been using it at a party anyway!

All this losing of data has made me think. Perhaps cloud computing is the way forward. Instead of storing all your contacts locally on a device that it seems is specifically designed to be mislaid, why not store them remotely? As well as your media? So there are ‘cold spots’ where you can’t access a mobile signal now (including my house in Bucks since Christmas for some reason), but apparently you can get a mobile signal on the top of Everest, so one day you’ll be able to get one pretty much anywhere.

So let’s hear it for cloud computing. One day, we’ll be able to forget about backing up and avoid the terrible implications of forgetting to back up – or, to misquote the BBC, make the unmissable, missable.

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.

What are people saying about… Eurostar?

Eurostar is to rail travel what Terminal 5 was to air travel.

While Terminal 5 was slowly falling apart, I had the opportunity to put together my first ever monitoring dashboard for people who wanted to track what was going on. Since then I’ve played around a-plenty with dashboards and monitoring systems, so while I develop these techniques I thought it would be interesting to do some ‘live’ case studies. And, luckily (for me), Eurostar is a perfect candidate.

So what are people saying about them? I’m sure people at Eurostar would like to know. Fortunately I’ve heard tell that the excellent We Are Social, headed by Robin Grant, are helping Eurostar listen in to the online conversations, so I’d imagine they have a similar setup.

But this one’s mine. Take a look –  click here to see the Eurostar dashboard, or click the image below.

Eurostar monitoring dashboard - click to see the live version

Eurostar monitoring dashboard - click to see the live version

First off, I figure that Twitter is fairly important because people will be tweeting left, right and centre about them. So, I put a Twitter buzz chart at the top, and Twitter updates below that.

As you can see it looks like problems reached a peak on Tuesday, with a daily pattern of people tweeting their annoyance around mid-morning and less so during their lunchbreaks. Today, the volume has lessened which probably coincides with the trains being fixed.

So much for the quantitative. Look at what people are saying. They’re really not happy. Right now I can see the following comments:

  • Some people are still throwing stones at the Eurostar as it passes them
  • Bankers threatening to leave the country over tax rates, but how? Eurostar? Plane?
  • Miles de pasajeros abarrotan estación londinense desde donde parten trenes Eurostar

The first one is fairly astonishing (and I don’t believe it frankly, but who knows?), the second is frightfully witty if you don’t actually work for Eurostar, and the last is, according to my limited Spanish, not entirely positive either – but, bearing in mind Eurostar doesn’t actually go to Spain, shows how the whole of Europe is caught up in this fascinating episode.

Forums are notorious for ill-informed, knee-jerk response (I should know, I used to post regularly to the Computer Music forum, so regularly that I was once in the top five posters by volume). So, I added a Forum section, again with the chart at the top and the threads below.

The forum buzz chart roughly echoes the Twitter chart in that volume seems to be falling. There are actually surprisingly few comments in the forums, telling me that maybe this isn’t the ‘natural’ space for such conversations to take place.

The blog buzz is similar, and again we see negativity abounding. Take this for instance: “Mum’s here – she got a first class ticket which meant Eurostar could get her on the train.” Do what? Are you telling me that people have to buy first class to guarantee a place? And so it continues to unravel…

Finally I thought it might be interesting to look at the photos people were taking – this was particularly illuminating when looking at Terminal 5 coverage, basically showing mountains of suitcases. Eurostar photos seem to consist mostly of queues of people, with comments alongside them such as “And the start of a 36 hour trip home.” Dearie dearie me.

It would be nice – well, not nice maybe, but interesting certainly – to monitor the Facebook group, and social videos. I just put these columns in to get a quick overview of what’s going on. Same for UK, global and social news, Delicious bookmarks, even wikipedia updates – they can all be added, and more. I just put this together to test the system while I’m developing it.

So there you have it. Negativity abounds, and it doesn’t seem as if Eurostar is helping the situation by offering people transit if they pay through the nose. Disclaimer: I don’t actually know this to be the case, but that’s the impression that blog post gave me.

How to deal with all this? I’m sure the smart guys at We Are Social are on the case but it’s probably a priority now for them to do a post-mortem on what went wrong, and how to make it right again – because this won’t stop here. It’s going to take quite some time for Eurostar to stop being a joke, as it did with T5 and as it will for Tiger Woods (another case study in how to get it wrong, including, this time, social media – he could have been contrite sooner and more directly, but that’s another story).

Let’s face it, we work in the world of impressions, reputations and opinions. It’s tricky, and you’ve got to be careful. At the very least, listen.

Dear Yahoo Pipes…

… it’s so hard writing this blog post I don’t know where to begin.

So I’ll begin at the beginning.

When we first met I didn’t think you were anything special. You had a nice interface and cute little modules, but I wasn’t bowled over, I must admit.

No. It took a while, but then I started to appreciate you for yourself. You let me bring feeds together and split them apart. You helped me change the contents of feeds, filter them, edit them. And you enabled me to build a modular monitoring system, keywords separate from processing, sub-pipes that looked after blogs, others that scanned forums, videos, pictures…

It was plain we were meant for each other and our relationship blossomed.

But then those small tell-tale signs that I tried so hard to ignore became all too plain. Those ‘Connection refused’ errors (yeah right, who were you trying to kid?). ‘Internal error’ was another one that hurt. And I still don’t know how you could bring yourself to tell me that I had a malformed engine, or that you were unable to parse data. I mean, you told me early on in our relationship but I always thought it was a metaphor.

The more I talk about it, the more it seems you’ve been transgressing with other people too. Oh yes, they know all about your server hang-ups too, the way you time out on them, or even refuse to connect in the first place. You dirty dog.

So that’s it, Pipes. I’ve had enough. There’s only so much a semi-programming-literate copywriter can take. Go now, go. Walk out the door. Just turn around now cos you’re not welcome any more. Before I chase you down the road and smash your rear windscreen with a nine-iron.

If it’s easy, it’s probably wrong

Me trying to get Pipes to work, yesterday. Click image for source.

Me trying to get Pipes to work, yesterday. Click image for source.

Owing to a bit of downtime – clients disappearing instead of continuing projects, yes I agree, it’s very rude isn’t it – I’ve been fighting with Yahoo Pipes and Netvibes to try and get some sort of effective monitoring solution together.

In theory it’s pretty simple. Yahoo Pipes lets you do all sorts of fancy stuff with RSS, so you can specify keywords in just one place and do searches across every known platform that has a decent search feature allied with RSS. Netvibes is a funky front-end that lets you bring together the outputs from Yahoo Pipes, alongside nice charts, and just about anything else you care to add if you know a smattering of HTML.

In practice it’s been a nightmare.

Firstly, Yahoo Pipes. I’ve complained about it many times before but it really is the only game in town when you want to bring feeds together, split them apart, change them, filter them and so on. But it’s so clunky, and more often than not it plain old doesn’t work. When I try to save something I invariably get an error, but I’ve learned that, in a marvellous twist of irony, the error message itself is in error and usually the pipe saved ok.

But there are other issues. The interface breaks, there is a huge lag between changing something and seeing the results come through in the RSS feed, and the whole system goes down often enough to be irritating. I get a strong feeling Yahoo have decided they don’t make much money out of it so they’re happy leaving it in its semi-parlous state for now at least.

On to Netvibes. That started freaking out earlier this week, and was down today with an internal server error. Again, as with Yahoo Pipes, there are other players in the field but Netvibes is the best. In fact I love everything about Netvibes except its recent flakiness. I just hope it pulls itself together and starts working properly.

So the real issue has been Yahoo Pipes. The workaround is that I don’t use them. I just grab the RSS direct from wherever – Google Blog Search, Flickr, YouTube etc – and then at least I’m avoiding the idiosyncracies of Pipes. But that takes ages, and if I change any of the keywords I have to set all the feeds up again from scratch. Much better to have a modular system that lets you do this once and once only, then purrs through every known platform and gathers it all up for you.

But that would be easy. And easy is seldom right, right?