Tim O’Reilly’s article Why I Love Twitter, which was published one year ago today, had a lot to do with my getting on Twitter. I’d been a long-time regular reader of Tim’s blog, so his strong endorsement of Twitter convinced me to give it a try. A year later, I’m glad I did. It’s been a great ride … So, as my way of saying Thanks, I’m excerpting his article below.

  1. Twitter is simple
    Twitter does one small thing, and does it well.
    See also comment by @mgco – “i couldn’t agree more, twitter = simplicity
  2. Twitter works like people do
    If I’m interested in someone, I don’t have to ask their permission to follow them. I don’t have to ask if they will be my friend: that is something that evolves naturally over time. … Twitter’s brilliant social architecture means that anyone can follow me, and I can follow anyone else … Gradually, through repeated contact, we become friends. …
  3. Twitter cooperates well with others
    Rather than loading itself down with features, it lets others extend its reach. There are dozens of powerful third-party interface programs; there are hundreds of add-on sites and tools. Twitter even lets competitors (like FriendFeed or Facebook) slurp its content into their services. But instead of strengthening them, it seems to strengthen Twitter. …
  4. Twitter transcends the web
    Like all of the key internet services today, Twitter is equally at home on the mobile phone. …
  5. Twitter is user-extensible
    The @syntax for referring to users, hashtags, …  were user-generated innovations that, because of Twitter’s simplicity, allowed for third party services to be layered not just on the API, but on the content.
  6. Twitter evolves quickly
    Perhaps because its features are so minimal, new user behaviors seem to propagate across Twitter really quickly. …The most fascinating evolution happening on Twitter isn’t an evolution of the software, but an evolution in user behavior and in the types of data that are being shared. … I saw this myself with retweeting … I became one of the most prolific retweeters … it’s fascinating to see the growth of retweeting …

[From Tim’s concluding words]: In many ways, Twitter is a re-incarnation of the old Unix philosophy of simple, cooperating tools. The essence of Twitter is its constraints, the things it doesn’t do, and the way that its core services aren’t bound to a particular interface. … It strikes me that many of the programs that become enduring platforms have these same characteristics. … What’s different, of course, is that Twitter isn’t just a protocol. It’s also a database. … That means that they can let go of controlling the interface. The more other people build on Twitter, the better their position becomes.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

I recently fell into a nice little example of how tweets “accumulate wisdom” as they get retweeted — Starting with a simple “link to a good site” sort of tweet, then someone finds an especially good specific page down inside the good site and retweets that, then the next retweeter sees an interesting angle on that page and adds a hashtag for it … The ball just rolls along … Until it eventually leads to a series of good comments on my blog … all because of that simple little tweet that started the ball rolling …

The ball started rolling when I saw this tweet, that links to the Genetic Science Learning Center home page at Univ of Utah …

ettagirl: Learn.Genetics | Univ of Utah site about genetics, bioscience and health http://bit.ly/3fLrZu
5 days ago from web · Reply · View Tweet

I found a cool specific page at the Utah site that I thought would be more likely to draw interest than just linking to the home page …

ericrumseytemp: Cell Size & Scale – Move Slider – WOW! (Univ Utah, via @ettagirl) – http://bit.ly/YwzA8
5 days ago from web · Reply · View Tweet

Hugo Buriel (@BurielWebwerx) found my tweet, and in retweeting it, he made the perceptive connection to Seadragon (see my words about it below), which I hadn’t thought of  …

BurielWebwerx: RT @ericrumseytemp Cell Size & Scale – Move Slider – WOW! (@ettagirl) – http://bit.ly/YwzA8 (expand) <– time for some #MooTools/#Seadragon
5 days ago from web · Reply · View Tweet

The Slider tool at Utah does indeed look like pages viewed with Seadragon, an innovative Microsoft technology for seamless zooming. I became interested in Seadragon a year ago, and even wrote a posting about it, so I wrote a tweet to link to that posting …

5 days ago from web · Reply · View Tweet

This was (I assume) seen by Graham Storrs (@graywave) on Twitter, and so he sent in his useful comments to the blog article.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

Searching for talk on Google Books and the Settlement since Judge Denny Chin delayed the decision on October 7, I’ve been finding very little — What had been a stream of chatter in Twitter searches has turned into a trickle. I found a little example reflecting this today that I think is worth recording — The first seven hits in a Twitter search for #GBS, going back a day, are in German. … You can pretty much tell when NO ONE in the US is talking about a subject when you search in Twitter and find that the last day’s tweets are NOT IN ENGLISH! … I’d predict that in a couple of weeks there WILL be a bit of discussion in English!

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumseytemp AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

Steve Pociask wrote an article in Forbes last week, “Google’s One Million Books,” on the Google Book Search Settlement. There’s been a lot of commentary about GBS recently, as the October Settlement hearing approaches, and I was doubtful that tweeting this article with it’s forgettable title would get much attention.

Reading the lead paragraph of the article, though, I was struck by the lead sentence: “Imagine that your home and the homes of millions of your neighbors are burglarized.” Pociask suggests that the “burglar” metaphor might be a good fit for the Settlement. Hmmm, I think, surely someone will pick up this bold, unique metaphor in a tweet. But with a Twitter search I found that, surprisingly, no one had used it. And searching further, I found that the only tweets on it just used the article’s uninspiring title, and not surprisingly, few of these had gotten any retweets. So I tweeted to bring out the “burglar” theme, and got two retweets by the end of the day. Here’s my tweet:

Google as Burglar of One Million books? – #GBS settlement, Steve Pociask, Amer Consumer Inst (Forbes) http://bit.ly/MqovK

I also added the name of the author and his connection with the Amer Consumer Inst, which I think added interest to the tweet, and which had gotten little attention in previous tweets on the article.

So, the simple lesson — When tweeting a link to an article, remember there’s no rule that you have to use the title that the author used. If it’s boring and unexciting and you think your followers’ eyes will gloss over reading it, use something else! READ THE ARTICLE and see if it has an interesting theme that’s not brought out by the title, and base your tweet on that instead.

Eric Rumsey is on Twitter @ericrumseytemp

Just as Google Wave was announced yesterday, I was thinking of writing about the usefulness of the pictures that accompany results in Twitter Search, giving a good immediate overview of search results. I find this especially valuable in searching for Twitter users, to see how connected they are — It’s easy to see at a glance if most of the tweets listed are by the person being searched. So now Google Wave takes the idea a step further, with pictures of the people in an email thread. Below: Left: Twitter Search.  Right: Google Wave (from yesterday’s Google demo)

Facebook, of course, has similar pictures in its status updates. It’s interesting to follow how the use of pictures has progressed — In Facebook the status update pictures are relatively small. In Twitter, they grow larger, and now, in Google Wave, there are multiple pictures. This increasing reliance on pictures is smart. With the brain’s highly-developed facial recognition skills, we’re able to take in a large amount of information very quickly.

Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumseytemp

Nova Spivack, in his article Is The Stream What Comes After the Web? suggests that the new metaphor for the Web will be the Stream. He says that especially with advent of Twitter and microblogging, the streamlike nature of the Web has become more apparent:

Just as the Web once emerged on top of the Internet, now something new is emerging on top of the Web: I call this the Stream. … The Stream is what the Web is thinking and doing, right now. It’s our collective stream of consciousness. … Perhaps the best example of the Stream is the rise of Twitter and other microblogging systems including the new Facebook. These services are visibly streamlike — they are literally streams of thinking and conversation.

The Web has always been a stream. In fact it has been a stream of streams. … with the advent of blogs, feeds, and microblogs, the streamlike nature of the Web is becoming more readily visible.

The Web is changing faster than ever, and as this happens, it’s becoming more fluid. Sites no longer change in weeks or days, but hours, minutes or even seconds. if we are offline even for a few minutes we may risk falling behind, or even missing something absolutely critical. The transition from a slow Web to a fast-moving Stream is happening quickly. And as this happens we are shifting our attention from the past to the present, and our “now” is getting shorter.

The era of the Web was mostly about the past — pages that were published months, weeks, days or at least hours before we looked for them. … But in the era of the Stream, everything is shifting to the present — we can see new posts as they appear and conversations emerge around them, live, while we watch. … The unit of change is getting more granular. … Our attention is mainly focused on right now: the last few minutes or hours. Anything that was posted before this period of time is “out of sight, out of mind.”

The Web has always been a stream — it has been happening in real-time since it started, but it was slower … Things have also changed qualitatively in recent months. The streamlike aspects of the Web have really moved into the foreground of our mainstream cultural conversation. … And suddenly we’re all finding ourselves glued to various activity streams, microblogging manically … to catch fleeting references to things … as they rapidly flow by and out of view. The Stream has arrived.

Spivack’s vision of the future Web as a Stream resonates with other commentaries, as I’ve discussed in related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumseytemp

Two recent articles, one by a librarian and one by a publisher, talk of the growing realization on the part of both parties that they increasingly have common interests, as both learn how to deal with the the implications of electronic publishing — Librarian Barbara Fister’s Library Journal cover story Publishers & Librarians: Two cultures one goal and publisher Neil Schlager’s blog article The problem with reference publishing.

Reading these articles has got me thinking about what I’ve been writing about on this blog in the last several months — As shown in the Categories (right sidebar) many of the subjects discussed here have common librarian-publisher threads. And in fact some of these articles have drawn comments from publisher kinds of people as well as librarians (See below). Thinking further, I realize how valuable Twitter has been for connecting to the publisher community, serving as a wide-ranging forum for discussion of current topics. So I’m listing below some of the people I’ve met on Twitter who talk about librarian/publisher issues:

Jose Afonso Furtado (@jafurtado)
Peter Brantley (@naypinya)
Nancy Picchi (@islandlibrarian)
Roy Tennant (@rtennant)
Lorcan Dempsey (@lisld)
Adam Hodgkin (@adamhodgkin)
Mike Shatzkin (@MikeShatzkin)
Tim O’Reilly (@timoreilly) – See more below
Neil Schlager (@neilschlager)
Kat Meyer (@KatMeyer)
Joe Wikert (@jwikert)

In her own category: Kassia Krozier (@booksquare) – Not a librarian or a publisher, but in the center of the discussion!

Tim O’Reilly (@timoreilly) and his group at O’Reilly Publishing have created a unique gathering place for thinking about the future of publishing. The O’Reilly Radar blog has articles by Tim and a group of other writers, some with library connections, notably Peter Brantley (@naypinya). In addition, the annual O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference (TOC) in New York has speakers from the library world as well as the publishing world. Writers and speakers for the O’Reilly blog and TOC conference appear regularly on @timoreilly‘s Twitter tweets. Also, during the TOC conference, on-site Twitter reports are extensive. Joe Wikert (@jwikert), from the list above, also works at O’Reilly.

To read Seeing the Picture articles about issues of libraries and publishing, see the categories Publishing and TOC. Articles that have had comments/discussions with publishing people: Copyright in Google Books: Pictures & Text and Jon Orwant on Google Book Search at TOC.

Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumseytemp

Working on Swine Flu this week has been especially interesting because it makes me reflect on how much things have changed in the information landscape since I worked on SARS in 2003 and Bird Flu in 2004-05. In those outbreaks, the main source of information was lists of links found in Google. How much that has changed now, with Twitter! People use Twitter in different ways — For me the most valuable part of it is the links in tweets. In former outbreaks, when Google was the “king of links,” it was especially hard to keep up with current news stories. Now links to breaking news stories appear within minutes in Twitter.

Evgeny Morozov, in his article, Swine flu: Twitter’s power to misinform complains about the chaotic nature of Swine Flu information in Twitter:

There are quite a few reasons to be concerned about Twitter’s role in facilitating an unnecessary global panic about swine flu. … [Twitter users] armed with a platform to broadcast their fears are likely to produce only more fear, misinformation and panic. … Twitter seems to have introduced too much noise into the process … The “swine flu” Twitter-scare has … proved the importance of context — The problem with Twitter is that there is very little context you can fit into 140 characters.

Anyone who’s used Twitter knows that there’s much truth here. Especially for a new user, it’s hard to separate the Twitter wheat from the Twitter chaff. But it can be done. To show the shallow, mindless nature of Twitterers, Morozov quotes text from tweets about Swine Flu. And he’s right, they’re pretty valueless. But, clicking to look at the writers’ profile pages shows that most of them are fairly inexperienced, with relatively few updates and followers, so it’s not surprising that their tweets are bad. Which goes to show, just as with online sources in general, in Twitter it’s important to check the source! Find out who’s behind the information.

So, while I agree with Morozov that Twitter has some negatives, I think we need to appreciate the positive value it has added to our ability to exchange information rapidly, that will certainly make us better able to deal with a real pandemic if it occurs. In composing this article, I came across a good conversation in Twitter that speaks to my ideas:

@PhilHarrison: Twitter is relatively new & we’re all learning about its power to inform & misinform as well. (bold added)
@charlesyeo: During SARS, some people in Asia blamed media for not exposing cases earlier so the sick can get help!

Note that the second tweet, by charlesyeo, comes back to the point I made in the first paragraph, that lack of information was a serious problem in the SARS epidemic. Twitter has clearly improved that.

Another valuable of Twitter in the Swine Flu epidemic has been the vibrancy of its international participation — Before Swine Flu, I had learned to value the prolific and multi-lingual tweeting of Jose Afonso Furtado (@jafurtado), a librarian in Portugal who tweets mostly on library/publishing subjects. When the Swine Flu epidemic broke out seriously in Mexico, he tweeted on that, and through his tweets I was able to connect on Twitter with people in Europe and Latin America who were following the situation in Mexico.

Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumseytemp

In Dec, 2008, Google announced that they had begun adding recent popular magazines to Google Book Search. Because Google, inexplicably, chose not to provide a list of titles that were included, I made a list of about 40 titles, and until recently I hadn’t added to it, assuming that Google hadn’t added any more titles, since none had appeared on the Google Book Search home page. Recently, though, I saw in Twitter that people were mentioning new titles, so I did some searching to see if I could find more. And indeed, I did find about 10 new titles that have apparently been added recently, and I’ve added these to the list at Google Magazines – Titles.

A suggestion: If you find an interesting new magazine title in Google Book Search, put it in Twitter, and include the hashtag that I just created, #gbsmag (Clicking this will retrieve tweets in Twitter Search, with examples from the new titles I recently found). If you don’t use Twitter, of course, feel free to put new magazine titles in a comment to this article.

Venn diagrams have long been used in teaching online searching, to help users visualize how Boolean searching works. A new application of Venn diagrams, Twitter Venn, gives on-the-fly Venn diagrams of Twitter postings. Because Twitter does such a good job of taking the pulse of the Web, Twitter Venn is an excellent way to visualize connections of breaking news topics. The first Twitter Venn example below shows that there are 5047 postings per day with the word heart, 1314 postings with the word risk and 24 postings that contain both words, represented by the gray “intersection” in the middle containing two purple dots. The fun part — To the lower left other words are listed that occur in the postings on heart and risk — The top word, in large print, is decaf, indicating that there’s current buzz that relates decaf to heart disease risk. Sure enough, a Google search for heart decaf shows that there have indeed been recent reports that decaf coffee may increase the risk of heart disease, at least slightly.

[Click images below for live results in Twitter Venn. The numbers will vary slightly, since they’re generated live. On the Twitter Venn results, click the middle intersection area to show common terms in lower left.]

The second example, below, shows clearly that the main source of alarm about salmonella poisoning is peanut butter, since this is the predominant word that occurs with the search words, as shown in the listing at the lower left.

It’s occurred to me for a long time that Venn diagrams are a good way to visualize the relationships among subjects in online searching. But I suspect the sort of on-the-fly, realtime generation of Venn diagrams done by Twitter Venn would be too slow for databases with more text per record. So it’s for Twitter, with its tiny 140-character records, to show how useful Venn diagrams can be for visualization.