Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mentions and Hashtags Are Arcane

There’s a lot of talk at the moment about Twitter potentially doing away with both mentions and hashtags. The story broke over the weekend when Vivian Schiller, head of news at Twitter, alluded that mentions and hashtags have become “arcane” and could be phased out. Understandably, reaction to that statements has been…shall we say, mixed.

At first blush, removing mentions and hashtags would seem to gut Twitter as we know it. The ability
to connect with others via mentions and organize those conversations with hashtags is what has made Twitter into the (in my opinion at least) premier engagement platform in social media. Removing these two functions would effectively gut Twitter. Which is why mentions and hashtags aren’t going anywhere.

A while ago, Twitter moved retweets into the background. That put the focus on the original content and maximizing the use of all 140 characters of real estate for that content. The old-style RT had become arcane; inclusion of “RT” and the original users handle limited what information could be shared via retweet. With this example, we’ve seen Twitter wants to do everything it can to maximize the useful information contained in those 140 characters.

Mentions and hashtags aren’t the important part of a tweet. They are simply the vehicles we use to accomplish what we want; connection with other users. What if those disappeared into the background? Check out this conversation I had with Alexis Anderson. What if that conversation didn’t involve the mentions?

This was a relatively short and sweet conversation. We’ve all been involved in those long, multi-user conversations in a Twitter chat. When you get more than two or three people involved, it becomes nearly impossible to exchange information because of all the usernames. If those usernames and the accompanying hashtag disappeared into the background, like the new style retweet you see below…

…imagine the depth conversations you’re having on Twitter could reach with that extra real estate!
Twitter is a publicly traded company now. It isn’t going to do anything that could, and absolutely would, gut the core of its service. Giving users more space to say what they need/want to without changing how Twitter works is, in my view, a fantastic idea. How many services are out there that lengthen your tweet? I’ve never heard anyone say 140 characters is TOO MUCH. Getting unnecessary characters out of the tweet (i.e. mentions and hashtags) only makes Twitter MORE appealing to new users, not less.

What does all of this look like? I have no idea. I’m not a developer. Hashtags would seem to be the easiest to solve. They can go the route of the new-style RT and still maintain their purpose without disrupting too much. Mentions are certainly trickier; especially when you get into 3rd party services such as HootSuite. Whatever happens, rest assured. The purpose of mentions and hashtags are NOT “arcane”. How they’re currently being used is indeed arcane.

Twitter Image: Josh Seman via Flickr CC 2.0

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Facebook Quietly Rebranding

Over the last couple of months, Facebook has been working towards putting more news into your newsfeed. That isn't a breaking news story, but it is a very smart thing for Facebook to be doing. Tweaking what you see as all those stories flow by makes a big impact on what marketers, PR folks, and advertisers are doing on the Book of Face.

More than tweaking its algorithm, Facebook is quietly launching, what is in my opinion, a rebranding campaign. For a very long time, Mark Zuckerberg's creation has subsisted on what you and your friends are doing (and that will remain an integral part of Facebook's success).  I've noticed two things lately that make me draw the rebranding conclusion. The first has been well documented all across the web. Facebook is taking a page out of Twitter's book and introducing trending topics.

I received this feature over the weekend, and for once I think Facebook is beating Twitter at its own game. For a very long time, I've wished Twitter would do with its trending topics what you see here with Facebook's (this was pulled from my page on Monday, Jan. 27th). A short description of WHY the topic is trending makes this column infinitely more useful than just a list of topics. It gives context to what's going on so I can instantly figure out what I need, or want, to pay attention to.

That's huge if Facebook wants to play the social news game. When a big story breaks, it is often trending on Twitter within minutes; and that's where most people go to discuss breaking news. Facebook is encouraging people to do that in their newsfeed now. It's a very good idea to get people to stay on the most valuable real estate Facebook has to offer. There's another, smaller, thing I noticed that leads me to my belief about Facebook's rebranding effort. I noticed this while I was playing Candy Crush Monday night (yes. I play Candy Crush. Judge if you must.)

See what it says there at the top? "Get Important News". Now, while I might quibble with categorizing any of these (save for Womens Wellness Publishing) under "important news", Facebook isn't saying "like these pages that your friends do". It's encouraging me to get NEWS. To me, that represents a fundamental shift in how Facebook is approaching the information it presents to its users daily.

With investors to report to four times a year, and millions of owners to turn a profit for, Facebook can no longer rely on static ads. That's why you've seen the push towards paid content rather than organic reach for brands. If Facebook views itself along the lines of The New York Times or your local TV station, then why wouldn't it be pushing the people who advertise on it to pay for access to its "viewers"?

One could argue that this is even more than a simple rebranding. One could argue this is a business model shift. Will it pan out? Maybe. Maybe not. I'm willing to bet that those Princeton students are wrong, though.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Taking Time To Rest and Reflect

When someone asks you how you're doing, how do you answer? If you're like me, or many other Americans, a variation of "good" or "busy" is your stock answer. That's an interesting answer when you think about it. In America today, Inbox Zero is treated as some kind of a mythical animal, work/life balance is an actual discussion, and having enough time to relax each day is a privilege reserved for the rich (or you earn the lazy tag).
ImageRest and reflection are integral to maintaining a healthy perspective. They allow you to take a step back and see not just the larger picture, but how all the pieces fit together and form its shape. This philosophy applies to every segment of life; professional and personal. There's a few areas I'd like you to take advantage of the next time you take a step back.
  1. Dive Into Your Analytics - Don't do your day-to-day number crunching. Allow yourself to take a step back and see how the dots connect. When you scour those numbers day after day looking for that piece of data that puts everything into place you will likely miss it. Ever notice how your keys appear when you take a moment to collect your thoughts? The same thing happens more than you realize if you simply take a step back.
  2. Think About Your Thoughts - No, I'm not asking you pull a White Goodman and bleed your own blood. Groupthink is a real and, in my personal opinion, dangerous thing. That's not to say that consensus isn't a desirable outcome. It is to say that too often we develop a herd mentality. We take the easy way out when taking a stance on a topic. Even if you take the popular stance, decide for yourself why you have taken that position. When you understand your own thought process it clarifies why you believe what you believe, which can be incredibly valuable.
  3. Relax - There's no insight to be had here. Treat yo self. We spend so much time buried in work and other responsibilities that we don't take time for ourselves. Vacations are important, yes. I'm talking about that daily time to just sit back and kick your feet up. You'll feel better, and when you feel better you'll perform better when your responsibilities resume.
There's a reason the people around you depend on you. If you're not at the top of your game, you won't be doing any good for anyone; especially yourself. Rest and reflect. Gain a new perspective. You'll be glad you did.

Photo: tanakawho via Flickr CC 2.0