Friday five: Twitter, bubbles and liquid clocks

Twitter as a global town square – by Kalev H. Leetaru for The Atlantic

I’ve written before about the impact of Twitter on the news (and confessed that it’s one of my go-to news sources). But this article in the Atlantic has opened my eyes to how limited it is as a reliable information medium.

“…if Twitter is indeed a global town square, it’s one that most of the town hasn’t entered yet—and one where the townsfolk who have entered seem to be doing more listening than talking these days. This reality has broader consequences for the promise of social media as a platform for hearing from and engaging with the world in unprecedented ways.”

While the number of Twitter users has increased by 100 million over the past two years, the number of tweeters has remained more or less stagnant. Which means that more and more are signing up to be “observers”. The article uses this fact to question Twitter’s relevance as a news communicator. But I think it validates it. Observers use Twitter as a news source, which gives weight to those that are communicating, and encourages others to do so. And one day these observers could well step in with something useful.

It does seem, however, that Twitter is not the grass-roots agitator that its reputation claims. Most tweeting is done from urban locations, where news coverage is not exactly scarce. Information from remote, uncovered areas is still scarce.

“…rather than growing outwardly and spreading to new regions, Twitter is largely growing inwardly and intensifying its coverage of locations where it was already popular, including the United States, Indonesia, and Japan.”

This questions its usefulness as a communicator of otherwise unreported news, some of which could have significant impact. We as yet still are not getting a worthwhile stream of tweets from rural Latin America, most of Africa and Central Asia and southern India, regions that do play an increasingly important role in determining the direction of capital and human movement, and the world economy. So how useful, then, is Twitter?

Interest in Twitter as a social network is nowhere near that of other platforms, with Facebook servicing 5 times more monthly users. The “walled garden” analogy that the author uses is confusing, though, likening Twitter to a “fire hose” and Facebook to an “email service”.

“People currently seem to be gravitating toward social networks that emphasize control over message distribution, with a bias toward circumscribed communication rather than broadcasting to the entire world.”

Personally, I don’t agree. On Twitter, I choose who I follow, and if they tweet boring stuff, I unfollow them. On Facebook I get so many sponsored messages and in such a long format that it feels much more fire hose-y. But then again, I’ve been using Twitter for a long time now, and it could well be just be that I’ve gotten used to it.

I stand by Twitter as a news source. I find it much easier to skim than Facebook, much less distracting and time-sucking, and much more social in that people whose views and writing I respect “introduce” me to others that I also find fascinating. I don’t expect it to come up with profound insights into uncovered areas, but I do rely on it to show me stuff that I wouldn’t otherwise see. In an easy-to-skim real-time stream, as well. List format. Which digs up gems such as this:

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An honest guide to the San Francisco startup life – via Medium

A hilarious tongue-in-cheek account of startup life, with jibes at standing desks, San Francisco streets and scalding coffee.

“Driving in SF is like a theme park ride — the cars move bumper to bumper, the terrain is alpine, and the people around you have the temper of 10-year-olds.”

“Here is a pop-quiz — Which one’s an SF road and which one’s a roller-coaster?”

image via Medium

image via Medium

“Our office, like most modern startup offices, has an open floor plan. In an open floor plan, desks are organised like tables in a college cafeteria. However, instead of food and noise, you have computers, food, and noise.”

A fun, glad-I’m-not-there read.

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Offline communities from online connections – via The New York Times

This is a charming anecdote of how online networks can create social structure and connections, building a sense of community offline through interaction online. A new arrival in an Italian neighbourhood felt disconnected and left out, and created a Facebook group for his street. He posted flyers advertising the group, others joined, and soon the whole neighbourhood was meeting for drinks, lending each other tools, helping each other out with fixes and chores.

“Almost two years later, the residents say, walking along Via Fondazza does not feel like strolling in a big city neighborhood anymore. Rather, it is more like exploring a small town, where everyone knows one another, as the group now has 1,100 members.”

“The idea, Italy’s first “social street,” has been such a success that it has caught on beyond Bologna and the narrow confines of Via Fondazza. There are 393 social streets in Europe, Brazil and New Zealand, inspired by Mr. Bastiani’s idea, according to the Social Street Italia website, which was created out of the Facebook group to help others replicate the project.”

I think I’ll propose one of these at my next resident’s meeting.  :)

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TV programming for 2020, via Quartz

If you’ve been following the state of online media and the scramble to find a business model that works, you’ll find this funny.

via Quartz

via Quartz

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The upside of a downturn in Silicon Valley – by Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times

“Bad times feed good ideas, which in turn lead to good times, which breed complacency, waste and lots of bad business plans.”

A sobering reflection from Farhad Manjoo on how an extension of the startup “bubble” would not be a good thing for business. All those writing articles (which I’m collecting) declaring that we’re not even in a bubble, that this valuation exuberance is quite normal and reasonable, should take note.

“The boom has made Silicon Valley soft: Companies are spending too much, investors are funding too many me-too ideas, and most founders have never had to confront any limits to their overweening ambitions. Venture capitalists won’t quite say they are looking forward to a correction, but some do say that a bust could toughen up the place.”

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A liquid clock, via Dezeen

image via Dezeen

image via Dezeen

A clock. Made with no moving parts, only liquid magnets. Really.

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Have a great weekend, everyone, and thank you for reading! I’m torn between feeling a bit sad that August is almost over, and excited about September. A good place to be, right?. :)

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