Artist abandons Twitter and Facebook – and explains why

Hugh Macleod is a well known cartoonist who has a blog by the name Gaping Void. Here is an excellent and thought-provoking post from last month:

Earlier today I told everybody on Twitter and Facebook, that I’m leaving Twitter and Facebook.

Why?

Because Facebook and Twitter are too easy. Keeping up a decent blog that people actually want to take the time to read, that’s much harder. And it’s the hard stuff that pays off in the end.

Besides, even if they’re very good at hiding the fact, over on Twitter and Facebook, it’s not your content, it’s their content.

The content on your blog, however, belongs to you, and you alone. People come to your online home, to hear what you have to say, not to hear what everybody else has to say. This sense of personal sovereignty is important.

And as I’ve said many times over the years, Web 2.0 IS ALL ABOUT personal sovereignty. About using media to do something meaningful, WITHOUT someone else giving you permission first, without having to rely on anyone else’s resources, authority and money. Self-sufficiency. Exactly. […]

Read the rest of the post for more of Macleod’s reasoning. It’s interesting to read the various responses around the web to the post.

I admire Macleod’s idealism. In general I’m inclined to agree with his points about Twitter and Facebook. They are companies with their own objectives and although the services are free, we should think about if we should use them – and how. (Incidentally at the time of writing Macleod appears to be back on Twitter but let’s ignore that and focus on the advice.)

I wouldn’t recommend Macleod’s advice for everyone in every case but I would say that it is of particular relevance to artists and creative people who ‘create content’. As always it comes back to the nature of your set-up and what you want to achieve.

What the White House rickroll (kind of) means

The book Cluetrain Manifesto is often regarded as an early vision (from 1999) of informal and authentic communication between human beings online. It contrasts that with the often insincere brochure-speak beloved of corporations and institutions.

Now, I’m sure this will be misinterpreted by humourless columnists and equally derided on forums for even being a bit passé. But I like it: on Tuesday the person given legitimate control of the White House Twitter account rickrolled somebody. That is, he did a little prank which you can read about in the news item. It’s a little glimpse of humanity at work.

Is it a sign that the Cluetrain lessons and practices have truly reached trusted staff, at least over in the USA?

I can’t imagine any public organisation or council doing something like this in Wales just yet, where often there are attempts by management to block social media platforms like Twitter.

It’s not that I”m asking for a big rickrolling craze to start in the public sector. That would be boring. And I’m not asking for a bunch of press coverage around some ‘cheeky’ branding campaign that’s been constructed in detail. This is for everyone, not just about whoever’s responsible for PR, publicity, branding and marketing, although it’s relevant for them.

The point I’m trying to make is: are people in your organisation allowed to use whatever tools they want or need to use, to enjoy their work and to communicate with people outside the building without having to adopt a false, guarded corporate tone? In other words can they converse online they way they’re inclined to talk anyway, like human beings? If they’re not, what is stopping them?

The nature of the bargain: your organisation, Facebook and Twitter

Dave Winer has been developing a theme of open systems on his blog over several months. Today he looks at the recent French decision to prohibit media promotion of web services run by companies:

In the United States, the media are making a huge mistake re Twitter and Facebook by treating them as if they were open systems like the web or email. In fact, and they know this, they are corporations with eponymous services.

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In France, in the spirit of being open to competition, the government has prohibited the media from using the names of the services unless the story is specifically about the company. I think this is very smart, compared to what we’re doing and not doing here.

In the United States, not only do the media treat Twitter and Facebook as if they were public utilities, like the open web, it’s actually even worse. The Library of Congress, which is part of the government, is subsidizing Twitter, by doing a complete archive of Twitter, before making a serious attempt at archiving the web. This helps cement Twitter as the medium of record, which is ridiculous. The market is just getting started. How can you justifiy the government taking sides over other equivalent (or better) ways to communicate, that are not owned by a company (like the web, for example). If this isn’t against the law, to use taxpayer funds to help a company achieve dominance over competitors, it should be against the law.

You can read the rest on scripting.com.

I regularly use Twitter and Facebook and sometimes recommend them to organisations for certain projects as part of the work we do at NativeHQ. But that doesn’t mean I’m entirely trustful of these and other services for the long term. These are free-of-charge-to-user services provided by companies and paid for by advertisers. Furthermore they offer very few ways of exporting your data or contacts and moving to a rival service, should you want to.

That’s a very different deal from, say, buying a domain name, some hosting and setting up a blog or wiki which you control, which is independent of any company (even, say, WordPress or Twiki if you’re running the code independently) and which can be backed up. Or, setting up a subdomain and running something like status.net, the open source Twitter clone, within your organisation or community. In practice the core code for those systems is free of charge but you will spend money getting them set up and maintained. My point is the freedom and control you get with them.

So should we use the free-of-charge hosted services like Twitter and Facebook, the services which don’t bring the freedom? For cost-free web services, it’s difficult to make a categorical decision which applies to all cases. Even the paid web services (like Flickr, which has a mixture of free-of-charge and paid premium users) suffer downtime, get acquired, modified – and sometimes closed. Long-term reliability could be one of the things you’d be looking for and these weaknesses reduce the score, at least in that category.

I have a feeling that a lot of the innovation we will see in the next few years will be focused on replicating the feel and capability of some of these social media services in a way which is distributed across the web – small pieces loosely joined – just like websites are. The closed systems provide the initial idea, the impetus will come from business opportunities and individual will and the result will be open systems of many kinds which restore power and control to the users. That might sound less convenient than the comparatively slick centralised systems we have now. But I believe developers will find a way to make it work in a friendly way.

But that’s where the prediction ends. As befits the NativeHQ blog, this is a practical blog post about what you can do now.

So for now if you want to be where the people are in 2011 centralised systems like Twitter and Facebook can feasibly – but not always – have an important role to play.

When and if? As with many questions on which our work here hinges, it depends. I can say with certainty that the benefits to you will come at the possible expense of some of the weaknesses and the potential problems. And I owe it to the people we work with to be clear on that.

How you use these tools is important too. Here’s just one example: are you putting your organisation’s news and information on Facebook only, perhaps on a Facebook page or worse still, your own personal profile? You could be missing a whole bunch of people  – particularly if they’re not habitual users of Facebook, are using Google search, are on your website, are looking at your email newsletter or any number of other places. You also miss some of their comments and restrict the visibility of the conversation. In that case I would look at putting your content on the web and then sharing a link on Facebook instead. For programmers it’s the difference between passing along a reference and passing along the data, the values. It will probably make your content more accessible – appearing in a Facebook feed as well as being on the open web, with all the benefits that brings.

A musicians’ intro to digital media

On 2nd July 2010 I did a presentation to some Wales-based musicians about digital media, online and music business. The host was the Welsh Music Foundation (thanks to them) and our venue was Chapter in Cardiff.

It was an introduction to digital/social media with some practical tips and points for discussion.

Here are some notes which summarise my presentation and our discussion. These are mainly aimed at the musicians who attended but you might get benefit from this if you’re a musician who earns from your music.

Definitions

What do we mean by digital media?
“the creative convergence of digital arts, science, technology and business for human expression, communication, social interaction and education”
from Digital Media Alliance Florida / Wikipedia

I’ve purposefully used the umbrella term digital media, which covers social media, social networking and categories like live streaming. An expert may quibble with my definitions here but let’s say we’ll err on the side of the practical.

A useful metaphor is:
People having conversations online

This takes place with text, video, photo, audio, slides and other images. Because of the public nature of these conversations it’s important to note that it is:
People having multi-way conversations online

Examples of digital media

Technologies include:

Blogs, e.g. WordPress, Posterous, Tumblr
Social network services, e.g. Facebook, Myspace
Wikis, e.g. PBWorks
Link sharing, e.g. Delicious
Collaboration tools, e.g. Basecamp, Google Docs (a very important use of digital media)
RSS (allows you to subscribe to multiple blogs and other time-based feeds and read them all in one place)
Live streaming, e.g. Ustream.tv
Streaming/hosting services like YouTube for video and Flickr for photos

History of media and media revolutions

Printing press
Telegraph
Telephone
Photography
Film
Radio
Television
Internet and web

The main point here is to think about how society, culture and business changed as a result of these new technologies being widely adopted.

Characteristics of digital media

It is easier to form groups online, according to shared interests, campaigns, fans and so on, with all kinds of fascinating outcomes.
Recommended book: Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky – about the ease of forming groups online

People like to remix, re-use, re-create, re-version their culture, not just music. Go to YouTube and look at fan videos as just one example. Some musicians release their music under a licence which allows this to happen legitimately, within the normal legal framework of copyright.
Recommended book: Remix by Lawrence Lessig – about the culture of the remix and challenges to our traditional ideas of copyright

“Every company is a media company”
Rick Burnes, former NYTimes.com editor

Online tools every musician should know about

YouTube

I call it the most popular online music discovery service – because it can stream music in video form. Are you on it? If not, why not? There may be a legitimate case for not being on YouTube but you need to at least consider its potential reach.

When I mentioned this at the session several people complained about YouTube’s royalty rates. While true YouTube doesn’t pay much, the main advantage could be in people discovering your music and raising revenue from other sources. Video embedding is a key feature which helps bloggers to introduce their readers to your music.

Ideas: music videos, interviews, tour diaries, live performance footage

Flip have many affordable portable video cameras.

Your blog

A blog is a set of posts organised by time. Every artist and band online should probably have some sort of blog, even if it’s just a news feed of your latest gigs, releases and media appearances.

The way musicians express themselves through a blog varies wildly. Some like to post diary entries and reveal things about their life and work to various degrees, others do not. Both are fine. Some have elaborately designed blogs and others choose minimal design. Either way or something in between is fine. Be yourself. But don’t ignore it – having a blog is like having your own media channel that you control. This is pretty much vital.

Your website

A musician’s website and blog should be on the same domain – in most cases.

Adding a blog post or news item to your website should be painless. If updating your current website is a chore it may be worth spending some money to make it smoother. You’ll enjoy it, which is how things should be.

My favourite website software is WordPress. It was originally conceived as blogging software but has been extended and adapted to run full websites. Many websites around the world now run on WordPress.

Two main ways of running WordPress
wordpress.com
You get a free blog with the name yourbandname.wordpress.com
You can choose different themes.
You can pay fees for extra services, e.g. to have it redirected to yourbandname.com seamlessly

wordpress.org
WordPress is open source so you can download the software for free, run it on your own hosting and publicise yourbandname.com
You have total control over its behaviour and appearance. You can choose different themes or design your own. You can extend its functionality by installing plug-ins. In practice you’d probably ask a designer with the technical knowhow to install it and design/build the theme.

Other people’s blogs

Being featured on blogs can be a key way of growing buzz around your band. Use Hype Machine and Google Blog Search to find blogs already featuring similar artists or your genre. Start reading them and get in touch if you have something relevant.

Facebook

There are three kinds of presence on Facebook.
– individual user profile
– page
– group

The page is Facebook’s offering for brands, companies and organisations. Usually the page is the correct one for a band, artist, label or venue.

Do not get an individual user profile for a band. Facebook may take a dim view of a non-person having a user profile. Even if you’re a solo artist, it pre-supposes a two-way friend relationship which exists in the offline world. So consider having a profile for friends and a page for fans.

In general Facebook’s customers are its advertisers and you play in their garden and by their rules. Be careful about how much time you invest and be sure to evaluate if you are getting value back.

Myspace

In general its value for reaching fans is diminished because attention has gone elsewhere. It’s worth having a page for your music and photos because agents and other music industry people are in the habit of using it. Most bands should not spend too much time on it. Certain genres are stronger on Myspace than others. Know your genre!

Twitter

Some artists are good on Twitter and can use it to update fans.

It’s far more proven as an excellent place to keep up with news, including music industry news.

Don’t necessarily believe what anyone says about it – try it yourself.

Email lists

People still use email. Its value is diminishing, again because of fragmented attention. But it may be worth running one.

Make sure anything in the email address is also on your blog or elsewhere online. People want to search for it and link to it. Don’t limit the audience to the mailing list!

Recommendations: Your Mailing List Provider and MailChimp (both slightly different)

Don’t send email to people who haven’t opted in. Never spam people. Never ever.

Some thoughts about business models

Record business is not the music business

“Disruption” – technology companies like it, record companies don’t necessarily like it

In the 1980s certain parts of the record industry were extremely concerned about home taping – imperfect analogue copies. Now we have perfect digital copies. What now?

Copying is not the same as stealing – they are covered by different laws.

Throughout history, forms of copyright infringement have become licensed uses, e.g. public performance, radio. What we now think of as illegal may become licensed. Whether or not this is true, people WILL copy your music. They might use filesharing networks, they might use the web or they might use memory sticks. But only if your music is good enough.

What could you do if you knew 1,000,000 people had shared your music?

Some will still buy the CD or the vinyl. Some will attend your gigs and buy your merchandise.
Some will buy the digital files because they value the convenience or because they want to pay out of gratitude.

“Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.”
Tim O’Reilly, technologist and publisher

Examples of perfect digital copies in other industries

Software companies make their source code available for free under open source licences and sell what can’t be copied – services, consultancy, customisation, support, advertising/sponsorship and premium paid features. Examples are IBM, Mozilla, Red Hat and Automattic/WordPress. You could go into competition with any of these companies using their own software.

Consultants and experts are blogging their advice for free. Again, you could go into competition with any of them using their own material and (what were formerly known as) trade secrets. But often these consultants and experts are accruing MORE reputation and MORE work through the ease of access and widespread distribution of their advice.

Despite copying of films, cinema has large screens, good sound and the experience – all of which are uncopyable. Compare watching a laugh-out-loud comedy at home to being in a big audience at the cinema. Recently cinema has been adding 3D to the large screen experience of many films.

2009 poll: people who admitted unlicensed downloading spend an average of £77 a year on music – £33 more than those who claimed NOT to download.
Poll by Ipsos Mori for Demos think tank

Kevin Kelly says “A creator needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.” (Discuss…)

Conversation about National Theatre Wales around the web

We’ve been working with National Theatre Wales and people who belong to their community – including office staff, production staff, cast, venues and “people formerly known as audience”.

Last year we built the community side of NTW’s website on Ning, with graphic design by the folks at Elfen. (Hoffi made the front page and listings pages.)

It’s worth noting that members of the community have the clear choice of making their posts public (open to be read by anyone who is looking) and many are doing so. The community is open to anybody on the web who wants to sign up.

But obviously with the web as it is, people are publishing their own stuff about National Theatre Wales and its productions around the web – not just on NTW’s community. We want to encourage this, it’s part of what NTW wants to achieve.

In fact, with NTW we have purposefully assigned a short tag to each production for use around the web – of the form ntw01 for production one, ntw02 for production two and so on. People are starting to use these tags already, in order to make their thoughts and posts more findable.

We also want to help the community to be aware of this other interesting stuff – videos, Twitter posts, blog posts, photos, audio – where relevant. “Online conversation” is a metaphor that has become popular on the web – and it does have some explanatory power. We want to give that conversation the best chance of being seen by groups of people who might be interested, so they can take part if they wish – wherever they choose to post their responses.

Here’s Tom’s post on the NTW site about the production tags and how posts, photos, videos and so on are collected on the NTW group for each production (and also a Netvibes page):
http://community.nationaltheatrewales.org/profiles/blogs/talking-about-national-theatre

Take a look at the group for ntw01, A Good Night Out In The Valleys for an example of live search results from around the web. If you’re wondering how the live searches work on the groups, we made them with Yahoo Pipes. There is a chance of a few false positives turning up, as with any web search. But on the whole we like the way they’ve turned out.

We’ve included the services which seem to be the popular ones for discussing theatre. In theory more publishing services, e.g. Audioboo, could be added to the results if those services start to become popular.

So there you go, one small part of NTW’s online strategy which we’ve been working on.

Male-female ratio on social network services

Here’s a chart of the male-female ratio on different social network services – including Facebook, Twitter, Ning and so on.

(I don’t know how reliable the figures are.)

David Cameron speaks the perfect tweet?

Opposition leader David Cameron appeared on radio this morning and took a cheap shot at Twitter, saying “the trouble with Twitter, the instantness (sic) of it – too many twits might make a twat.”.

We only get the glib soundbite from Cameron – crude language and all – and it adds nothing to the topic of discussion. So ironically, Cameron is guilty of being as trivial, whether by accident or by planning, as the Twitter users he presumes to criticise!

But there is a grain of truth in the point he was apparently trying to make. Yes, anyone using a communication medium – especially one so relatively new – should be aware of its limitations and be careful to avoid being misunderstood. But that’s self-evident isn’t it? That goes for blogs, television, the press, Facebook, YouTube and any of the other media “outlets” you might speak through. Radio too.

With Twitter and other social media platforms, politicians and the public sector can communicate directly with people, without the filtering or editing that takes place in traditional mainstream media. His language is unfortunate and misses the point. But I guess it’s good to hear Cameron speaking with passion and an authentic human voice. He could have posted it on Twitter.

Meanwhile Simon Dickson has some insights into Whitehall and a recent Twitter strategy document for civil servants:

Yes, Neil’s document is lengthy; and he admitted from the off that it would seem ‘a bit over the top’. But if exciting new tools like Twitter are to make it through the middle-management swamp of the Civil Service, they need to be wrapped in boring documentation like this. Whether or not it ever gets read, mandarins need to feel that your Twitter proposal has received the same proper consideration as the other (weightier?) items on their to-do list. ‘Dude! This is so cooool! We should so be doing this!’ will not get you very far.

Sky News appoints Twitter correspondent… (via Guardian)

Jemima Kiss at The Guardian pretty much nails it with this analysis of today’s Sky News story.

The danger is that is this rush to fetishise Twitter, the media perpetuates the rather irritating habit of always looking for The Next Big Thing. The point is not Twitter itself, or the company that Ev Williams, Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey built, but the behaviour it has facilitated and encouraged. It’s the impact of the tool and not the tool itself that is meaningful, because that is what will grow and influence more new services, and impact existing ones. Facebook is already responding, and there are swathes of services all plugging into the conversations Twitter is driving.

There is merit in monitoring Twitter for breaking news – particularly with services like Monitter and Twitter Search. But more generally, it’s just one platform – and part of a technological and cultural shift towards a real-time web.

Besides the real-time web, Sky News journalists like Ruth Barnett should probably be monitoring the rest of the web in other very established ways. One such example is with RSS to catch topical search results like this. But it’s the cultural and societal shifts that are the really big deal.

BBC Takes Back Control of Rogue Twitter Account (Lessons for Brands)

Yesterday I wrote about Twitter name squatting and included a recent example where a rogue person had registered the name BBC on Twitter.

Earlier today Twitter Inc handed the account to the real BBC, after a BBC staff member complained to Twitter Inc. It’s been cleared of all previous tweets and all 7,684 followers.

It’s now impossible to follow the original links and see what happened. So here are some screenshots to illustrate my point about the importance of brand control. All were taken on 28th January 2009 just after 5PM.

Message to fake BBC Twitter account

The screenshot above shows an @ message sent to the BBC Twitter account.

Reply from fake BBC Twitter account

The user @sputnik101 was surprised to see this reply from the BBC Twitter account. Like many people, including me, he was unaware that the BBC did not have control over the account. In that sense, like many others, he’d be duped into thinking he was following the real BBC. It’s generally expected that large corporations will protect their trademarks and copyrights to prevent this happening.

First available tweet from fake BBC Twitter account

I tried to see how long the BBC account had been in third party control. Above is the earliest tweet I found – from 9th October 2008.

Some replies to fake BBC Twitter account

As far as I could see the message to @sputnik101 was the only @ reply from the impostor posing as the BBC. But many other people sent @ messages to the account about many different topics. You can see just one page of search results above.

We don’t know if the rogue posing as the BBC sent any private direct messages to any of his or her thousands of followers, in the four months he or she had control over the account. It would have been possible.

BBC take control of Twitter account

Today the real BBC have control. So do head over and read what they’re posting from the new look, genuine @bbc. If you’re on Twitter you can follow them too.

This BBC story is an excellent example of the need to control your brand name on Twitter. If someone has your brand name, particularly if it’s a trademark, you should complain to Twitter Inc by sending a message to @crystal in user support.

If your name or brand name is still available, then register a Twitter account today to prevent somebody else taking it.

It’s also worth using usernamecheck.com to check the availability of your name on a variety of other popular sites.

At Native our purpose is to advise companies on good use of online and social media. This is advice we give to all our clients. As such, the BBC story is given here purely as an illustrative example. I’m not going to labour this point – there are many other examples of Twitter squatting but I won’t be attempting to catalogue them all.

I do believe that Twitter squatting could lead to examples of phishing and other nastiness if companies are lax about this. Unfortunately the onus is largely on them to monitor this. (If you’re concerned about this or you want more information, call us.)

In this example, on the surface it would appear that the rogue was attempting to provide a useful service – by pulling in the legitimate RSS feed from BBC News. But it would be easy to do this for other purposes – including phishing – to give an appearance of authenticity to an account. The legitimate feed could easily be combined with a feed from elsewhere (using an RSS aggregation service such as Yahoo Pipes).