Fresh coat of paint

Stopped by the old site for the first time in nearly 10 years and did a little sprucing up.

I was thinking of exporting the site content into a PDF and deleting it from the web. But there’s a lot of stuff here, including comments from friends past that I deeply value, and I don’t want to tear all this history down, even if some of it can be a little cringe-inducing.

So I’ve done a little cleanup with a newer theme, fonts, header, and so on. I’m updating the About page as well, to reflect changes in how to find me. For example, I have abandoned Twitter in the wake of the Musk Meltdown of 2022, fully deleting my account (just like I did with Facebook in 2018). That was hard to do — I started on Twitter in 2007 and made a lot of friends, especially in Alaska and across the digital community inside public media.

But life, and the Internet, moves on. (Except, apparently, WordPress, which is still kicking and getting better. They even seem poised to join the Fediverse in some fashion this year.)

These days (early 2023) you’ll find me here:

If you’ve stopped by, say hello anytime, anywhere.

How to fix Twitter's trending topics? Curation

So the web was abuzz yesterday over some articles focused on Twitter’s “trending topics” feature, in which the most popular words, phrases, hashtags and such are automatically listed in your sidebar, showing you what’s getting the most chatter on the service in near-real-time. In this case, the “trending blog post” was this one: Why Twitter Needs to Do More to Save Trending Topics.

The article goes into what trending topics are and how they’ve been heavily gamed in the past (and present) to get certain topics bubbled up to the top of the list. The writer, Adam Ostrow, also suggests some options of what Twitter could do to fix the situation, namely:

  • Make the topics less obvious throughout Twitter, so you don’t see the silliness
  • Automatically hide hashtags (the stuff with the # symbol at the start of a unique word or phrase)
  • Increase the size of the topics list to perhaps 50 or 100 items to expose more intelligent stuff

These are not solutions to the core problem.

The core problem is what Ostrow points to at the end of the article:

…as a company that’s stated goal is to “[ask] what’s happening and [make] the answer spread across the globe to millions” and has the power to shape public discourse, Twitter needs to do more to balance what its diverse set of users want with what it should see as a responsibility to be a comprehensive guide to what the world’s talking about.

Ostrow, however, points out in the paragraph before this one that editors should not have a hand in shaping the trending list — it should be an expression solely of the users, as calculated by algorithm, and that’s what makes Twitter (and other services) unique.

You sure about that?

Because here’s the list from late Monday night, with my own explanations…

  • Jick Nonas — a play on Nick Jonas, the teen singer
  • #thatswhyyoursingle — a viral joke-telling thing in which that’s the punchline
  • #pleaseexcusemy — another viral humor thing
  • #stoptalkingabout — yet another viral item, not so funny
  • Craig Sager — sportscaster at the Lakers / Suns game tonight
  • Mbenga — basketball player in the Lakers / Suns game tonight
  • Lakers won — outcome of the Lakers / Suns game tonight
  • Cerati — Argentinian singer that had a stroke
  • Game One — tonight’s big Lakers / Suns basketball game was the first in a series
  • Grant Hill — basketball player injured by Kobe Bryant tonight

Of these 10 items…

  • 40% are nonsensical wordplay games that may be fun, but aren’t particularly insightful as to what is being discussed on Twitter
  • 10% are about an injured popular singer
  • 50% are about the Lakers / Suns basketball game (and wouldn’t it be better to have 1 entry for everything related to the game? A sort of trending topic cluster?

A modest proposal: Editors

Trending topics lists today are sometimes interesting, but mostly useless because they get clogged with these nonsense games and deliberate attempts to reshape the topics or traffic around them. There’s limited newsworthiness or discussion dynamics. We need an edited list, crafted through a combination of algorithm and human review.

Twitter can continue to share a raw trending topics algorithmic listing for the public. That’s fine. It’s sort of mathematically interesting. But we also need an edited list, in which the trending topics raw numbers are passed through a human filter and lightly organized.

Using the list above, you’d get a cluster of Lakers / Suns basketball and the Argentinian singer, each with a corresponding list of tags or words that seem to be closely related. But then the editor would delve deeper into the data, exposing more human conversation and topical interest amidst the sea of “gamed” tweets.

The result? A rapidly-updated (though not real-time) listing of what people are discussing online, presented in a way that makes sense and shows the meaning behind the tweets (where possible).

How to do it

  • Hire editors/curators to maintain the service 24×7 in English (maybe other languages later)
  • Editors update the trending topics using the top 250 items out of the algorithm
  • Those topics are narrowed to perhaps 25 items, which includes very popular singular terms or clusters of related terms taken from the prior 15-minute interval
  • Each topic listed is a clickable link
  • A clicked topic link goes to a short-lived topic page in which the highest topic name and all related topics are listed and the most recent tweets are also shown
  • This topic page can include advertising that’s relevant to the keywords or topic involved
  • Topic listings are repeatedly updated every 15 minutes

You could also get fancier, with more sophisticated algorithms, a broad crowdsourcing process for topic analysis and aggregation and so forth. The advertising could pay for the editor costs and then some.


I know engineers want to code artificial intelligence into all the systems out there to make them scalable, but sometimes that just doesn’t get the job done.

Today, I ignore the trending topics because they’re useless and sometimes even offensive. But a well-curated / well-edited trending topics list would be fascinating. Twitter could make money from the listings, of course, and the service would be more relevant to more people more of the time.

Twitter: you can keep the raw numbers, but we need a useful listing of what everyone’s talking about.

MUST SEE: Future of gaming, future of society?

Om Malik posted the following video by Jesse Schell and raved about it over on Giga Om. And rightly so. It’s a 30-minute roller coaster ride of ideas about the “experience economy,” authenticity, gaming psychology, Facebook, and the future of social media and possibly even society.

I still need some time to wrap my head around this. It’s such a new way of thinking for public service media, yet it’s so crucial we start thinking about media as an “experience,” not just something to be passively consumed. If we’re serious about creating positive outcomes for people and communities, immersive and “authentic” experiences will be much better suited to reaching our goals than simply giving people information and suggesting they consider changing their behaviors.

In my particular case, I’m wondering what kind of “gaming” elements can be added for readers of the St. Louis Beacon to keep them more engaged, get them more informed and connect them to each other and positive outcomes for the community. Or how might we offer “points” for participants in upcoming public service media projects we’re going to do at KETC?

In any case, this is a MUST SEE VIDEO. Take the time. It’s well worth it.

The Paul F. Tompkins 300

Paul F. ThompkinsFriend and coworker @akmayhem pointed me to a blog post by comedian Paul F. Tompkins that bears some repeating.

In it, Tompkins talks about how — via Twitter and Facebook — he may have found a way around the dismal comedy club circuit and made direct connections with fans. He stumbled into it, and it’s not a formal business plan by any means, but he’s basically setting up paying gigs around North America using fans to power the choice of cities and ensuring that his tickets will sell even before he starts any promotion.

The premise: You gather 300 people that will commit to buying tickets and attending the show in your town. I will show up and entertain.

That’s connecting. That’s context. And it’s participatory.

The fans promise support. The artist promises a good show. Everyone gets together. The fans get a far better show because they know, definitively, they share something in common with each other and the artist.  And the artist knows that the fans are really there to see him — they aren’t random ticket winners or other marginally-interested folks — they had to do something tangible to get there (even if it’s something small). It makes for a more intimate event and everyone gets more from the experience than they would via any other means.

I had this kind of experience in my home this past summer, when I hosted a Tweetup and House Concert. It was a fabulous experience.

So what, in public media land, are you doing to connect people, either to you or to each other? What are you doing to make your media palpable, interactive, participatory and “real” for your community?

Nonprofits and engagement media

I’m out of the nonprofit world these days, but I’ve spent some years in it, so I’m not at a total loss as to how things work and how cultural norms accrue. I’ve got my opinions, to be sure.

So when I saw, via FriendFeed, a post from Beth Kanter — Seth Godin’s Non Post About Nonprofits: Deers in the Headlights? — I was curious. I like both Kanter’s and Godin’s work and this seemed to be generating some buzz. So I clicked over to both Kanter’s post and to the original Godin post: The problem with non.

Quite a bit of the conversation was on Kanter’s site, so I joined the fray with the following post-length comment…

I was, until recently, trying to develop engagement media practices inside a public media company. It was a disaster, but not for the reasons most nonprofit managers would point to.It wasn’t about the tiny budgets or the excessive time required. It was about EXACTLY what Godin was talking about: resistance to change and slothful, good-enough-for-a-nonprofit management practices. It was also because the traditionalists liked their ivory tower positions; they liked speaking from on high to the little people in the audience. I was told we didn’t want to get the public involved in public media — that’s too messy.

Godin has nailed it and the reason for the violent response is precisely because he nailed it.

Lots of nonprofit workers, after a while, develop a sort of victimization mythology that serves the stagnation problem. “I don’t have enough money, so I can’t do this, so I can’t make more money… woe is me. But I’ll keep at it because I’m such a nice person. And maybe someone rich will come along and notice me. It could happen!” I saw that all the time.

Is it all nonprofits? Nope. But it’s a lot of them. Of the 2 million out there, how many are really creating engaging relationships with donors or their constituents regularly? Maybe 10,000? Whatever the number is, it’s not enough.

Here are the key nonprofit organization questions you have to answer:

  1. Who are you, why are you here, and why should anyone care? (And if you spit out a mission statement, you just failed step 1.)
  2. What are you doing today to build authentic, meaningful relationships with donors and potential donors? (Mass mailings via any means don’t count.)
  3. What are you doing today to build authentic, meaningful relationships with the individuals, firms or communities you serve? (Look up the words “authentic” and “meaningful” before you answer.)
  4. What are you doing today to connect your donors and your beneficiaries, either directly or indirectly, so the donors feel energized and involved and the beneficiaries feel supported and involved, too? Or in other words, how are you building a community around your mission? (And broadcasting doesn’t count as connecting.)
  5. Given #1, what tools will best help you handle #2-4? (Notice I made no mention of Twitter or any other social media tool.)

charity:water is just the beginning. There’s a new generation of donors growing up right now and they won’t take your call or your e-mail or your mass mailing. But they will respond to an earnest call for help, especially from a friend they know. The next-gen trick is to be that friend first.

Nonprofits had best start making new friends. Because the old ones are dying and the broadcast campaigns (e-mail blasts, newsletters, appeal letters) will largely die with them. There’s still a place for building awareness, but action will come via relationships.

Godin’s pointing all this out through this post, his recent Tribes book and plenty of other posts. It’s a tough message, especially if you’re a “victim” inside a change-averse nonprofit (or a for-profit, for that matter!).

From here, you can deal with it — seeking new ways to engage your community — or just hope he’s wrong.

Frankly, I think it’s more fun to engage with your community regardless of what Godin says. But if proving Godin wrong sounds more fun to you, enjoy.

What I didn’t mention in my comment was my own immediate experience with fundraising for a cause via social media — via connections built across my own “community.” It was a small, first effort. But it was the collective action of a group of people with no nonprofit organization whatsoever. We came together to help a friend we’d literally never met.

For my generation and especially for Generations Y and Z, the old impersonal “broadcast” approaches used in public media and across the nonprofit spectrum will have diminishing returns.

But if I know you and you know me and we know we care about one another in some meaningful way — if we’re engaged in each other’s lives — the support will be there.

Recent presentations

Well, the week of presentations is now over. Here are both of them, for reference. They may not make sense out of context, but there were definitely some links in the Twitter presentation particularly that may be of use to the APRN journalists that attended my presentation last Friday.

APRN Chaordic Organization Option

This presentation was made to several managers of public radio stations in Alaska and then again to the Board of APTI a couple days later. It concerns the future of collaborative public media efforts in Alaska. Developed in cooperation with the unequaled Robert Paterson, and using ideas pioneers 40 years ago with Visa International, it’s a proposal for starting conversations statewide about finding a new way for us to collaborate and compete in a more natural way than we’re organized today. It’s kind of hard to follow without the narration/explanation, but I wanted to share it anyway. I’m happy to answer questions.

Twitter for Stations, Programs, Journalists and Fun

This presentation was made to a group of Alaska public radio journalists in Anchorage during an annual conference. The idea was to expose them to the Twitter service and suggest they try it out and see what others around the country — especially NPR — are doing with it. The reaction was… tepid. I think Alaska pubradio journalists are really saddled with a lot of responsibilities that just aren’t present in the rest of the country, and taking on new forms of media is just so hard for them. And then journalists also tend to be a skeptical lot — as they should be, of course. Again, narration helps, but there’s lots of links in it for reference.

All a-Twitter

For those of you still not using (or at least trying) Twitter, or if you’d like to learn about some resources that can make your Twittering more interesting or useful, check out this comprehensive post by digital media professor Kathy Gill (University of Washington). Good history, good explanations, great list of resources.

Plus, don’t miss the Twitter Fan Wiki for even more tweety goodness.

I’m still not a constant Twitter user myself — it kind of happens in batches for me — but it’s still a lot of fun. I’ve met people in my own area that use Twitter and maintained some interesting pseudo-connections with people very, very far away.

My experience:

  • it’s better than IM, because it’s asynchronous in nature — like e-mail
  • it beats blogging every thought that comes into your head
  • it’s highly mobile — via iPhone with web or any cell phone with SMS
  • it offers a fascinating stream-of-consciousness view of the world
  • it actually informs me about the world — it’s faster than RSS feeds, far faster than web sites and the news I capture via Twitter friends is much more relevant to me (most recent example was learning about the midwest earthquake before I heard about it anywhere else)
  • my wife won’t sign up, so I can say whatever I want! 😉
Get that account, and I’ll see you on the Internets!