Archive for July, 2009

Twitter follower ethics

Several months ago I wrote an article for PBS about dealing with “friend inflation” (my term) on Twitter, and the ethics and strategies for following other people. I’ve always been on the very conservative end of following, choosing usually to only follow back people I know in some way. Those who have 20,000 followers and yet they follow 20,000 people? Their network is virtually worthless in my opinion.

But what about those who cash in on those mutual follows only to go and unfollow them afterward? Not only are they falsely inflating their numbers, but they’re doing so under false pretenses. And what happens if Twitter account conducting the shenanigans is owned by a respectable news outlet?

My colleague Bill Beutler caught Congressional Quarterly using such questionable tactics:

Well, that’s something. What are we looking at? In the first chart, we can see CQ’s followers growing organically since April, only to drop off slightly in the past couple of weeks. But this drop-off is only the ripple from a much bigger change we see in the second chart: after following and unfollowing accounts as it climbed from 4,600 friends to 9,200 (more about this below), CQ decided to shed them all — in fits and starts and then, last weekend, it deserted the rest in one fell swoop: somebody spent an entire afternoon (at least) unfollowing some 9,100 Twitter accounts. Or they set up a bot to do it for them.

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Twitter, circa 1874

This comes via marriedtothesea

twitter machine

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Can online pay walls boost print sales?

Usually the argument for a newspaper placing up a paywall centers on the idea that users will value the content enough to pay for its online distribution. But when an Arkansas newspaper placed a pay wall up on its own site, it didn’t necessarily care that the wall didn’t produce much revenue:

The economic argument in favor of online paid content is not necessarily in the revenue it can generate on its own, Walter Hussman said Thursday afternoon, but it is in the way paid content can help keep a newspaper’s print circulation up.

…Hussman said the paid content online generates just one-tenth of 1 percent (0.1 percent) of the newspaper’s total revenue. But the newspaper has been very successful in keeping print circulation up in part because the newspaper is not giving all its content away for free. The Democrat-Gazette’s daily circulation is up 3,000 to more than 176,000 over the past 10 years, while other newspapers in the Southeast are down (some significantly). Sunday circulation for the Democrat-Gazette is down just 1 percent in 10 years.

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The difficulties of reader retention

It is relatively easy to drive bursts of traffic to a website, but perhaps the most frustrating thing for website owners is to see a huge spike, only for the numbers to return to what they were before within only a day or two. Though there are a number of tools to measure traffic and its sources, it can be incredibly difficult to gauge how “sticky” your site is.

Nieman’s Journalism Lab has a piece up today on some of the science and tools that could be factored into measuring reader engagement:

Even on the infinitely measurable web, gauging engagement remains a tricky and largely elusive task. One popular measure is the bounce rate, or percentage of visitors who leave after seeing one page. The Huffington Post, despite its surging popularity, has said the site’s bounce rate is too high, which hurts the value of its advertising. Another metric is return readership. Talking Points Memo boasts that 60 percent of readers, in a TPM survey, said they visit the site more than once a day.

But those are imperfect measures, and tracking engagement within a website is even more difficult. This month, I’ve been playing with new software, already in use on some major news sites, that offers a partial solution by tracking an unusual metric: how many times users copy text and images from each page — and what they’re copying.

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How The Ensemble squeaked by to win the Netflix Prize

netflix prizeSusie Murphy was a relative latecomer to The Ensemble — a group of several dozen people who came together to compete for the Netflix Prize — but she was there in the very end, when in the final hours the team shot ahead to claim the prize from the clutches of BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, the team that had been the first to surmount the 10% mark.

The team, she explained, had come together hapahardardly, with two other teams joining while pulling in other stragglers along the way. Many of the members were plucked from the Netflix forums, chosen not always solely for their skill but also likability. They put together something Murphy called a “probe exchange” that allowed them to easily upload and collaborate on files they were creating.

“They just started working together, basically as a community,” she explained. “And as each person joined into the probe exchange, they would bring their contacts, and then eventually the other people formed teams, and those teams joined the Ensemble, and it became kind of a big group. Last time I counted there were 34 guys, just from all over the world.”

To create order within such a spread-out group, they used internal polling tools to vote on important decisions and what strategies would be implemented. As the deadline quickly approached, the numbers of emails and files being uploaded increased dramatically; the group had become an adrenaline-fueled hive.

“I think probably right at the very end there, there was a sense that the 10.10 results were going to be very very good,” she said. “At one point someone lost a file on the server, and everyone had to go look for it. It was just — I saw it characterized as a nail biter — but it was so much more exciting than that.”

I asked Murphy what it was like for the team now that they had won. Would they simply just go about their business?

“It seems like it’s kind of falling into two categories,” she replied. “Some have said, ‘well, that was a lot of fun, but I have to go back to myjob or working on my PhD thesis now.’ The second half kind of wants to continue the experience. They want to continue to work with the people in The Ensemble, or do something with recommender systems, but in a more formal capacity.”

For now, many are simply enjoying the mini-celebrity status that has suddenly found them. For whatever reason, the Netflix Prize managed to elicit feature stories in the New York Times Magazine and Wired, along with hundreds of other press stories and blog posts. With the contest finally won, the attention and praise has been enormous. But what kept the contestants going since 2006, when the contest was first launched?

For most of The Ensemble, it boiled down to the simple fact that some people just love a good puzzle.

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Are mommy bloggers’ power overstated?

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Alaska public radio reporter resigns because of blog posts

Most of us learn the lesson in some form or another. Whether it’s alienating a friend or loved one or getting fired from our jobs, at some point the notion that the blogosphere is a small world after all becomes immediately apparent. Eileen Goode, a news director for an Alaska public radio station, learned her lesson when a local resident stumbled across a personal blogspot account Goode had created, one that honestly and unwaveringly criticized the local culture in the town. Once the one resident had it, it quickly spread.

But last week, Goode’s adopted Alaska town came across the blog too. Her neighbors weren’t laughing, and now Goode is out of a job.

The 28-year-old resigned from KDLG on Monday morning, she said, after a firestorm of outrage over the sometimes serious, sometimes mocking jabs she made at the town over problems like alcoholism and sexual abuse on her personal blog, titled “Chilly Hell” and subtitled “I’m in Dillingham Alaska — What’s Your Excuse?”

Perhaps appropriately, Goode took to her blog — presumably after her resignation — to defend herself.

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