Sunday, March 17, 2013

Twitter anti-patterns #2: Where's the beef?

Respect your twitter feed, and even more important, respect the humble link.

Ah Zakynthos, flower of the levant, beautiful isle of the Meditteranean, how I miss thee! How it frustrates me that I only get back to visit thee biennially, and must make do in the interim with websites, and those spectacular 18-month calendars you get in the tourist shops with azure-sky beach photography, to cheer up my drab study at home. How nice it would be follow a Zantean (adjective for Zakynthos) portal site like Go Zakynthos on Twitter and, I don't know, maybe be alerted to the occasional new album of photos or something. Or read a quick précis of some story posted on the site, if it could be made to fit in a tweet, which it usually can.

But sadly, maybe because of cutbacks and austerity measures, most of Go Zakynthos tweets contain nothing except a link. And not a meaningful link either, one you can read, like for example http://www.gozakynthos.gr/another-beautiful-photo-of-navagio-beach where the nostalgic office-bound IT worker could at least choose to click through based on an expectation of what was about to appear in his browser. Oh no, these links look like this: http://fb.me/2hXiHhKhq. Why would you click on that link? You could be rickrolled (it's probably 'nickrolled' in Greece, actually) for all you can tell from the URL, right? And I've noticed that plenty of other people do the same in twitter, posting cryptic tweets consisting of a sole meaningless link.

Approaching Shipwreck beach, Zakynthos
"Approaching Shipwreck beach, Zakynthos" taken by me in 2009.

Somewhere in the last few years, it became more important to many people to do things the Twitter way and break the web than do things the correct way. That sort of 'fb.me' link is almost utterly opaque. I say almost because I'm guessing the 'fb' domain means it's a link to facebook. And indeed it turns out that it is. Huzzah: a crypto-facebook twitter link! Only if that link didn't actually resolve correctly, and was actually a broken link, could this mess be any more knuckle-headed and fucked. You only need to shorten a link if you're going to fall foul of the 140 character limit! Why, if all that's in the tweet is a link, do you need to break the web and make an opaque URL? The final facebook URL (the fb.me link actually turns into a t.co link en route. Of course it does.) is nowhere near 140 characters.

Even if you insist on abbreviating and obfuscating the link, which I've heard a friend say he does with bit.ly to get reporting, you then need - you especially then need - to say something about what the link is about. With a meaningless bit.ly and fb.me link, the tweet becomes the explanation for the link. It doesn't matter how interesting the destination page ultimately is: I have no reason to click through if it makes no sense on its own nor does the person explain to me what the link relates to. So the double-whammy here is that there's a meaningless link AND no accompanying content to at least give the tweet some meaning. Where's the beef?

This isn't about crossposting

In general, I think crossposting is a good thing, as long as it's manual. I'll be crossposting this to Google+ and LinkedIn. Actually I might leave LinkedIn, since semi-coherent rants like this aren't related to my professional alter ego. But I'll certainly be posting it to Twitter, with a brief description of course, since I actually think it's a good idea to give people a reason to click on the links I bring into this world.

I suspect the cause of empty, opaque-link, spammy tweets is auto-crossposting, with some setting in facebook generating this logorrhea. To the extent that the facebook settings section is somewhere most of us would not willingly go, I slightly sympathise. But not much. Nowadays it behoves a chap or chappess to pay attention to one's social media hygiene. Especially with hundreds of followers. LinkedIn actually disabled the auto-crossposting from Twitter to their site using the #in hashtag, and a good thing too. Likewise Google+ has held off from allowing write operations on their API lest that site ends up like Buzz did, a place crossposts go to die.


Oh yeah, let me just hit that follow button.

Or reimagining norms

Neither do I think I'm not getting how twitter is changing the norms of the web, or about how young people 'reimagine' hyperlinks in ways irrelevant people like me don't understand. There was a great moment recently in This Week in Google where Leo (Laporte, the father of the internet) was saying how his daughter and all her friends only use hashtags to label and caption their photographs on Instagram instead of plain ol' words, even when those hashtags mean nothing and an ordinary sentence or phrase would do. Leo saw this is maybe just how 'young people' are using the web. As in, gee, maybe we don't get it. Young person, and budding curmudgeon Gina Trapani was having none of it, explaining to Leo that as far as she was concerned this was no more than a misunderstanding of how hashtags work, or are supposed to work. Her exact words were: "get off my grass". Wonderful. Youngsters shmungsters. Twitter shmitter. A link is a link, and the last time I checked Twitter was a website. Links are supposed to be legible and indicative of what they link to.

I'm tired of Twitter - I hardly use it any more. My Google+ follower count passed my Twitter one a while back, reflecting the increased amount of time I spend on the plus. With the imminent demise of Reader though I may find myself pushed back on Twitter. I don't want to be negative: I'd actually love to follow Go Zakynthos on Twitter - it's a nice, colourful site, and it would be a great way to be casually reminded of what's going on in Zante from the convenience of the twitter client which is on my phone, tablet, heck even my new TV. Same with plenty of other potential followees. But loads of them misuse twitter like this. Don't they check? What do they think it looks like to a user? Do we need to round people up and send them back to web primary school?

Day 1: the link.

Twitter anti-patterns #1: The sound of one hand tweeting