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Interesting Stuff 2009-02-09

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Dave Lee | 13:20 UK time, Monday, 9 February 2009

Today's blog post is sponsored by Twitter, the world's most popular microblogging service.

I'm kidding, of course, but some BBC Radio listeners have been feeling a little overwhelmed by the explosion of Twitter-chat over our airwaves, suggesting that DJs are unfairly (and annoyingly) publicising the networking site. We blame Jonathan Ross.

BBC tweeters will be trying to make sure they don't make the same mistake Peter Horrocks did. The head of the BBC newsroom inadvertently announced some job appointments using his Twitter account.

The Guardian's Media Monkey tells us:

Radio 4 boss Mark Damazer is to become the first BBC radio station controller to have his own blog and will make his debut today, Monkey can reveal. No word yet on whether there will be a "green ink" button for the station's famously sensitive listenership to make their comments."

And here it is! The new Radio 4 blog from Mark. He's made an enthusiastic start:

It may not work--but I thought that given the nature of the R4 audience--loyal, demanding, inquiring--I am hopeful that I will learn some useful things and that you will feel more in touch with the station."

PaidContent has this interesting interview with the BBC's Future Media controller, Richard Titus:

We have a lot to do. The BBC, historically, hasn't been as good at reaching younger audiences - mobile is a way that we can build a bridge. We have to get beyond news, sport and weather (on mobile). Mobile skews younger, very similar to our radio mandate ... many of them don't have laptop computers... we need to start targeting services and products there. Twenty percent of the audience for BBC Mobile uses no other services from the BBC."

This article in the Financial Times on Sunday explores the mobile ambitions of the iPlayer further.

Any readers out there that make use of the /programmes XML may be interested in this bug discussion.

Finally, Jem Stone, BBC Communities Executive, Audio and Music, has written one of the most insightful pieces on integrating Twitter that I've read for a long time. It's a whopper, but well worth reading.

Dave Lee is co-editor, BBC Internet blog, BBC Online, BBC Future Media & Technology.


  • Comment number 1.

    That's all very well Dave, but you fail to mention why the BBC has become part of the Twitter marketing department recently. It's becoming a real cause of frustration, and begs the question about what type of affiliation the BBC and Twitter have.

    By all means allows your hosts to mention that they have a Twitter account - but the BBC has become nothing short of an annoying advert for Twitter recently. Perhaps you should bear in mind that Twitter is a commercial website aiming to make a profit and you're helping them.

    Poor show, BBC.

    'Other micro blogging sites are available'

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Mike - the BBC's use of Twitter is one of a number of experiments we are doing with different social networking sites. We're also trying things with Facebook, You Tube and Bebo to name a few.

    It's experimental and informal. In other words we don't have any "affiliation" with Twitter. It's just at the moment Twitter is flavour of the month with certain people and groups of people. Most use of twitter is actually personal use by BBC people.

    We have some guidelines on this here.

    We are careful about how we talk about commercial services, so we don't plug, or endorse them.

    If you have any examples where you feel we have overstepped the mark then I'd be interested to hear about them.

  • Comment number 3.

    Is Twitter the next big thing after Blogging, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, and whatever else was between then and now. Um, maybe, maybe not.

    Many, not smitten by its charms, just see it as an alternative to messaging, txt, email and all the other ways of communicating.
    The only interesting thing is that this trend has been adopted mainly by the 24 - 40 yr olds - not by the teens.
    Now politicians and journalists have started using it - a sure sign it's about to become uncool. (And its not just me that thinks this.)
    As soon as the marketing guys start dropping product names into Tweets (and they will) it's time to bail.

    Interestingly many people use Twitter to stalk - I mean follow - celebrities such as Britney Spears, Lance Armstrong and MC Hammer.
    So, an extension of their Facebook group status alerts - with Tweets possibly produced by some PR guru (How could you tell?); an always-on Hello feeding instant celeb news to fans.
    I imagine record company marketing depts. are in ecstasy over the potential of this.

    By-the-by though; have U thought of having a Dr Who Tweet yet? You know, audience building.

    Just stop mentioning it all the time, it's sooo 2008! We know about it.

  • Comment number 4.

    Hi Nick

    I think it's the sheer volume of mentions Twitter is receiving, that is causing the frustration. The conversation between Chris Moyles and Andi Peters last week on Radio 1 was of particular frustration as it amounted to a 10+ minute chat on something that which had already been mentioned on various other stations at various times of day, hence why to many it may as well have been an 'advertising feature'.

    Not to mention the various BBC News online articles which are popping up recently on the very same subject. I can understand the BBC experimenting with these new ways of communicating to its audience, but - as you said it yourself - the vast majority of these Tweets are by the presenters themselves, and don't represent the views of the BBC. So why are they all (from the outside) being encouraged to promote it so much?

    The difference with Facebook was that it was already on its way to huge success, and the BBC caught on for the journey. Twitter is still extremely niche, and the growth over the past few weeks (in the UK) will be largely as a RESULT of the BBC, and NOT through natural word-of-mouth (as was the case with Facebook).

    The Digital Spy forum post is a good example of how the audience is seeing this. Before Dave's blog post today, I had already come to the conclusion that the BBC are trying to forcefeed us Twitter.

    I think the message I'm trying to get across is... this promotion of Twitter by the BBC recently, is REALLY sticking out like a sore thumb.

  • Comment number 5.

    "Now politicians and journalists have started using it - a sure sign it's about to become uncool. (And its not just me that thinks this.)
    As soon as the marketing guys start dropping product names into Tweets (and they will) it's time to bail."

    The crucial thing about Twitter, of course, is that when the marketing types come along, you can simply decide not to follow them. They need not bother you again.

    And there lies the key difference between Twitter and the likes of Facebook, Bebo and all the others. It allows celebrities, normal people, organisations to interact on a personal level to individuals. But, because 'friends' on Twitter are not mutual, they don't become overwhelmed when their accounts get too popular.

    In other words, the likes of Chris Moyles can 'talk' to thousands, but only have to listen to their own select few. It's a great service.

    Dave Lee

  • Comment number 6.

    "Perhaps you should bear in mind that Twitter is a commercial website aiming to make a profit and you're helping them."

    Actually, it's not, it doesn't... though maybe.

    Look at Twitter's about pages.

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi Dave Lee. #5 To open up the argument.
    FB status asks 'What are you doing at the moment? Twitter asks 'What are you doing?' Don't say they didn't get the idea from that - they did.

    There isn't anything here that is distinctive and new, other than it takes advantage of web enabled phones. (Twitter was designed primarily around SMS - hence the word limit.)
    What's made Twitter popular is that phones with web connectivity, and WiFi notebooks are becoming popular, and reading/writing short messages are suited to mobiles - and it kills time on commutes, ques etc.
    It also explains why Teens weren’t the first adopters; those working were the first to afford web-enabled phones, hand-helds etc. It also places a limit on its popularity. (Below)

    I see Twitter as an refinement of existing services; i.e. take one feature and make that the main service.
    To use FB as an example (MS etc.does similar.) I, we (you) choose who to allow as Friends, can interact with them on a personal level, with a selected group or all of them. (I could also do this via various messaging services, email etc) I can choose to read their status reports or not. Comments, messages etc are relayed to my email or mobile etc.
    I could block those that started spamming me. (But I am very choosy who is to be a Friend; they are all friends from 'life'. 'Pokes' from strangers get ignored.)
    I can also choose to join/unjoin special interest groups, or start one.

    If I want an account for co-workers to collaborate on, then any number of Wiki sites, Ning, Moodle etc let groups mail and converse in real time. I can add chat software to a website or blog. If I'm serious about staying in touch via various social networking services I'd be using the Flock browser. I can also text to one or many from my phone.
    I can get RSS feeds from multiple sources.

    I see the point that a Moyles can post to 1,000s, but only receive back from those he wants to hear from.
    So, mainly of use to those with a high profile [and if he has any sense, he'll also have a second account just for close friends - public/personal persona's and all that] wanting to build a fan base. (And Twitter does appeal to fans, expect boredom to set in quickly.)
    But that's similar to bands growing audiences on MySpace, Obama's FB/MS pages, blogs and so on. (It's an obvious next move for a band to open a MySpace page, then encourage fans to follow them on Twitter - expect the widget soon.)

    The limits on the popularity?
    Cost. Upgrades may eventually mean everyone has a web enabled phone, even then some will choose not to use it, as mobile web access is unlikely to become free.
    The hand-held vs PC divide. Many will prefer the PC as they work in front of one and/or use it at home.
    Time/interest: Do I have time for Fry's (or Moyles) tweets [even on a PC]. Nope.
    Information overload. My web life is busy enough and I struggle to get the virtual/real life balance right (never mind work/life) as it is. This adds another level - and I don't see a killer app here. [Maybe it hasn't emerged yet.]
    Thanks for having a conversation.

    #6. Funding. Twitter was founded by Evan Williams (owns Obvious Corp, also founded Blogger [sold to Google], Odeo).
    Investors include Marc Andreessen (also invested in Netscape, Digg, Del.icio.us, sits on Facebook's board) Union Square Ventures (Del.icio.us, Feedburner) and some other big hitters in US tech venture capital.
    They will expect returns on their investments. Expect monetising / diversification attempts soon.

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi Dave. My opening sentence comes across as quite hostile, I didn't mean to sound that way, just make the point that the idea for Twitter came from FB status messages.
    I do 'get' social networking, RSS etc. This just doesn't push my buttons in the way other services did when introduced; Twitter's an optional extra, not a must have. It certainly isn't a FB/MS/blog killer.

  • Comment number 9.

    It would be nice if next time you look at Twitter you look at some of the more open services that support the open micro blogging API. I'm thinking projects like loconi.ca.

  • Comment number 10.

    Twitter's major rival is likely to be Jaiku, it recently was bought by Google (guest invites only at present, as with Gmail when in beta.)
    Don't underestimate the reach of Google to popularise its own microblogging service, particularly on mobile phones as part of Anderoid.

    Jisko's also an open-source service.
    Plurk, 12seconds.tv, Tumblr, Soup.io, Chyrp are other 'me-too' clones; (not all open-source) others are appearing; some adding picture, video, URL sharing etc.
    SocialCast is aimed at being sold for use on company intranets - of course companies love staff wasting time!
    To keep track of all these feeds, aggregators are now appearing so you can combine them from several sites in one place: FriendFeed, Swurl, Spokeo and so on.
    Of course, there's a search engine to search through all these posts - Twingly.
    (Obviously, some will be put of business next year.)
    Firefox is bound to have a widget soon that supports Twiter feeds.

    Will life-streaming be the next big thing?
    I can see the student market liking this, but limiting posts to within groups of friends.
    The big question is how a service can make money from this?
    If Facebook launches its own service soon (or buys one) it could capture the youth market; FB's already made one offer to Twitter.

  • Comment number 11.

    "The difference with Facebook was that it was already on its way to huge success, and the BBC caught on for the journey. Twitter is still extremely niche, and the growth over the past few weeks (in the UK) will be largely as a RESULT of the BBC, and NOT through natural word-of-mouth (as was the case with Facebook)."

    Err… I can't see how that's remotely true. Twitter's UK growth was primarily due to three people Jonathan Ross, Stephen Fry and Phillip Schofield. JR was off air when he started, and Fry's only ever mentioned it once on the BBC and had tens of thousands of followers already.

    It stikes me as a situation pretty much identical to Facebook.


  • Comment number 12.


    I don't think Twitter will come under threat from Jaiku. Google-owned it may be, but Google doesn't always have the golden touch.

    YouTube proves that community is much more important than technology. There are plenty of sites with better technology -- Vimeo, Blip, to name two -- but it's all about who's on it.

    The Jaiku situation reminds me Google Video.

  • Comment number 13.

    Early days; people forget - or don't know - that Twitter does have competitors.

    Twitter has traction, early mover advantage etc. it will be hard to challenge, but Google will try - and has advantages in its ubiquity, brand name and deep pockets. (Mind you, when Google video failed to make headway they just bought YouTube - game over.)

    There is a point being made above - Twitter is mainly fanboy stuff at the moment - following Fry, Ross, Cleese etc and inevitably will pall over time.
    Something that encourages kids to interact and mash information could come along and make huge waves. If, that is, people are prepared to spend most of their time life-streaming.
    With multiple services life-streaming will probably eventually end up like blogging, part of the Web and with plenty of consumer choice.

    Perhaps it might be worth stopping saying how wonderful [the BBC thinks] Twitter is (product endorsement) and instead talk about microblogging/life-streaming.
    If the BBC is hoping to hop on this bandwagon in some way, AlexBennee's point about using open source is a reasonable one to make.

    As for seeing Twitter as a news source, I keep saying it, verify, verify, verify.

  • Comment number 14.

    "As for seeing Twitter as a news source, I keep saying it, verify, verify, verify."

    Like the web, Twitter has both reliable and unreliable sources. I suggest trying @BreakingNewsOn if you want example of Twitter-news done right.

    The reason why I think Twitter's competitors will not win is still because of the community element I discuss in my previous comment.

    A social media service is only as good as the people on it, and so it requires something radical to get people to join, en-masse, to new services.

    Before I started this job, I taught journalism in New Zealand. I told my students (aged from 17-25 or so) that they could add me on Facebook.

    They didn't. Why? Because they wanted to add me on Bebo instead.

    In the UK, Bebo is, by and large, a social networking site for young teens. MySpace is for older teens, and Facebook for older teens and young adults.

    So why were all these older students in NZ using Bebo? Simple: Because their mates were on it. It had little to do with the technology.

    If you ask me, Facebook's interface is better to use than Bebo's, and certainly MySpace's, but that would be ultimately worthless if nobody worth talking to was on there.

    As for celeb-watching -- it's a humorous diversion. Twitter has far more depth to it than that.

  • Comment number 15.

    'verify, verify, verify'

    The recent 'Steve Jobs is dead' rumour that recently went around seems to have caught some people out.

    @BreakingNewsOn looks useful - to journalists. Once the novelties worn off you'll treat it as 'just' another news service or source for background/human interest.

    Everything depends on what the community do with microblogging/life-streaming. If it continues to mainly be 'pick a celebrity to follow' [Twitter 1.0], then it'll just continue to be an entertainment/brand building medium.
    Microblogging needs to do much more than that (greater democracy, participation, sharing, personalisation etc) to really make it really attractive - and useful - to larger numbers of people [Twitter 2.0].
    You're right, it needs people to think of more radical ways of using it. There may be more depth to it, but it's hidden depth at present.

    As Nick Reynolds said (Post 2) at the moment Twitter is flavour of the month.
    But it's not alone and the emergence of greater competition does mean that the BBC should be careful about not looking as if you "plug or endorse" it, regardless of which one you currently think will be most successful in 2 - 5 years time.

    It's rather like talking only about just, say, Bebo, instead of using the term 'social networking site'.
    It's ignoring other services and focusing on particular feature-sets, not unique principles that make these types of sites/services distinctive. Google Maps are good, but they're not alone and many rivals are equally good etc. etc.

  • Comment number 16.

    "It's rather like talking only about just, say, Bebo, instead of using the term 'social networking site'. "

    Oh heck, no. Just.... no.
    For one thing, how would I (a listener of viewer) know which one a presenter was talking about?

    If there's one thing that really puts me off watching or listening to BBC output it's the obsession with generic terms. As both a lover of details and a lover of gadgets, there's nothing more infuriating than listening to somebody talk around what they're using without actually naming it.
    If they've namechecked it before it's fine, at least I have the context. And don't get me started on "other alternatives may be available". They're either inferior or, for some products, there is no alternative.

    It's one thing that is genuinely pushing me more towards blog and podcasts than broadcast material. At least independant groups are open to actually namecheck what they're talking about, and they don't feel the need to mention other products unless it's genuinely relevant to the topic at hand.

    I mean, what's next? Blogging about a product or service but having the URL lost in a sea of links to all the other possible alternatives "in the interest of fairness"?

  • Comment number 17.

    Who is driving the BBC's pursuit of Twitter? - the audience? No. The techies? - they are probably encouraging. The Management? - maybe like a rich kid showing his new phone in the playground, - impressive but he hasn't a need for a phone.

    The BBC are so keen to impressive everyone with their trendiness - pity they don't pay more attention to the demand from viewers and listeners, rather than playing in areas that have no benefit to a big corporate.

  • Comment number 18.

    @Officer Dibble

    Similar arguments were made when the BBC launched a project known now as, er, 'bbc.co.uk'.

  • Comment number 19.

    I think the comparison between a 140 word limited status facility and a corporate website is slightly stretching credibility.

    The BBC dabble in a lot of non-core activities. When BBC mass communication "core business" channels are being closed I don't see any business case for Twitter.


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