My February Challenge: 10 Tweets a Day

It’s somewhat sad, I suppose, that my only effective mode of self-improvement is to set arbitrary goals. But it works.

Last November, I challenged myself to write a blog post a day. I am happy to say I met my goal. Although I subsequently fell off the wagon in December (8 posts) and January (5 posts), it still feels like a significant achievement.

This month, I’m setting my sights on Twitter.  I think of myself as an active and enthusiastic user of the platform, but when I actually calculate my daily tweets, the number is unimpressive. A visit to How Often Do You Tweet? tells me that I’m averaging 0.7 tweets a day. That ties me with the estimable Paul Conley, but leaves me well behind even the moderate output of new-media mavens Rex Hammock (7.0) and Adam Tinworth (7.6). And if I can trust the MediaPost claim that average Twitter users tweet 0.5 times a day, that makes me only slightly better than average.

Now, to be fair to myself, I rarely used Twitter for the first year or so after joining in April 2008. How Often Do You Tweet? calculates your daily average by dividing your total number of tweets by the total number of days since joining Twitter.

But even calculating my output for the last six months yields just 1.4 tweets per day. Clearly, that’s not enough if I want to consider myself a genuine participant in the conversation.  But how many daily tweets is enough?

According to Dan Zarrella, “Users who tweet between 10 and 50 times per day have more followers on average than those that tweet more or less frequently.” Now Zarella notes that the optimum number of daily tweets appears to be 22 (and can it be sheer coincidence that the the wily and ultra-productive Mark Schaefer tweets exactly—you guessed it—22 times per day?)

Realistically, I will never hit that level. It’s just not in me. But 10 tweets a day should be doable.

I’m not sure one’s number of followers is a good proxy for effective use of Twitter, but let’s assume that it is. If I tweet at least 10 times per day, how many more followers will I have, I wonder? My count as of February 1 is 255. Let’s see where I end up on leap day.

No challenge is complete, of course without a few rules. Here are mine:

  • Every day I must post at least 10 times on Twitter. Ideally I will spread my tweets throughout the day, but I won’t rule out the occasional barrage at 11:30 p.m. (Just hope you aren’t awake and on Twitter then.)
  • Retweets and @replies count toward my daily goal; direct messages do not. Twitter’s not strictly about originality or broadcasting, but about sharing. If the world can see it, it counts; if not, it doesn’t.
  • Exactly three of my tweets must be self-promotional. I want to follow my formula of one-third of my daily tweets being conversational, one-third curatorial, and one-third promotional. For me, the last of these quotas is the biggest challenge; not, as for many others, because I need to cut down on promotion, but rather because I need to increase it. Marketing does not come naturally to me.
  • Escape clause: One day a week, I can make up any deficit for the previous six days (but by no more than 10 tweets total). I hope I won’t have to exercise this one, but realistically, I probably will.

Will my challenge make me a more prolific Twitter poster in the months ahead? Perhaps not. But that may be OK. We also serve who only sit in the back of the classroom and take copious notes. As one Douglas Ferguson of the College of Charleston commented in reply to the MediaPost article cited above,

Defining “activity” by messages “sent” is misleading. Twitter is also for receiving messages. In fact, much of what counts in the media world is concerned with receiving messages, not sending them. No one holds YouTube to the same standard as Twitter, so it seems unfair to focus on messages being sent.

Still, one wants to encourage those students in the back to share their thoughts more often. So here goes my humble effort. (And if you want to check on my progress, follow me. And on the other hand, if you don’t relish the thought of 1000% more tweets from me every day, feel free to unfollow!)

Will Self-Publishing Save Print?

Last month in this blog, I made a statement that at the time seemed obvious, but now seems rash. “Most writers,” I wrote in declaring that print is effectively dead, “don’t care in a meaningful way about the physical presence of a book. They just want to tell a story, or convey information, or to create works of art out of their words.”

Since then, I’ve had cause to rethink my position. Print, it seems, isn’t dead, but just retired. Though diminished, it still has vital roles to play—especially for writers.

This realization came to me last week as I attempted to lean back and survey my achievement, such as it was, in publishing my first e-book, the New-Media Survival Guide. The leaning back was satisfactory; the surveying less so.

As a vehicle for conveying information, the e-book is superb. But as a device for signifying to yourself or others that you’ve written a book, it is dismally disappointing. The physical heft of a book that is an outmoded and inefficient drawback for traditional publishers and booksellers is, for authors, one of its most precious traits. Just try weighing an e-book appreciatively in your outstretched hand. It can’t be done.

That’s one reason why I spent many hours this weekend formatting my e-book for print-on-demand via CreateSpace (more on that experience later). Until I have a volume, however slim, that I can put on a bookshelf, I won’t feel that I’ve truly published it.

That’s why I suspect self-publishing may end up sparking a modest renaissance in printed books. In terms of units the quantity of printed books will grow ever smaller. But the number of printed titles may well explode as self-publishing grows. No matter what their motives for publishing, most book authors will want at least one printed, bound copy.

Though I plan to put the print version of the Survival Guide up for sale, I don’t expect to sell many copies. For most readers, the electronic version is ideal (ahem: why not buy a copy and find out for yourself?).

But for most authors, I now see, e-books lack one thing that only a paper book can provide: tangibility. A small thing, to be sure. But like print, it still matters.

Introducing the New-Media Survival Guide

New-Media Survival Guide

Today I’m both pleased and relieved to announce the publication of my first e-book, the New-Media Survival Guide. (If you just can’t wait to buy a copy at the bargain price of $2.99, click here now. Not that impulsive? Then you might want to read more about it here.)

My goal in writing this e-book was to give people trained in traditional media—journalists in particular, but also people from public relations, marketing, and other areas—an easy-to-read, practical, and concise introduction to the new-media revolution. If it’s successful, readers will understand that the ways of new media are not be be feared, but to be welcomed.

If you’re skeptical or concerned about new media but want to understand it better, this is a great starting point for you. And if you’re a social-media maven, you may not need this book, but you probably know someone who does. Here are a few reasons why you may want to read or recommend it.

  • It can be read in one sitting.
  • Though it’s short, it provides numerous sources for further reading.
  • To my knowledge, there’s nothing else quite like it (or if there is, please note it in the comments—this is an equal-opportunity blog!).
  • For the moment, at least, it’s very up to date.

In coming days, I’ll be reflecting on the process of writing and self-publishing an e-book and why I recommend it. In the meantime, I hope you’ll learn more about the New-Media Survival Guide and let me know what you think of it.

Lytro Photography and the Advance of Data Journalism

The Lytro camera

The Lytro camera

Until this weekend, when I came across Rob Walker’s brief article about it in the December Atlantic, I had figured the new Lytro camera was more cool gimmick than serious game changer. You’ve probably heard about the technology already. Rather than focusing when you take the picture, you let others focus it later, when they view the image, by clicking on the area they want to see clearly. (Confused? See Lytro’s examples.)

This effect is made possible by capturing far more data than a typical camera. One way to achieve it, Walker writes, is to use “hundreds of cameras to capture all the visual information in a scene,” then use a computer to process the results “into a many-layered digital object.” Another is what the Lytro does: squeeze “hundreds of micro lenses into a single device.”

As technological advances go it’s impressive. But to a photographer, it’s not a big deal. Autofocus usually works just fine.

But Walker’s article made me realize who really benefits from the Lytro: not the photographer, but the viewer. The technology takes part of the artistic decision away from the artist and gives it to the audience. Likewise in journalism, the technology may help shift control of content from the producer to the consumer, as UC Berkeley new-media professor Richard Koci Hernandez told Walker:

Imagine, he suggests, a photojournalist covering a presidential speech whose audience includes a clutch of protesters. Using a traditional camera, he says, “I could easily set my controls so that what’s in focus is just the president, with the background blurred. Or I could do the opposite, and focus on the protesters.” A Lytro capture, by contrast, will include both focal points, and many others. Distribute that image, he continues, and “the viewer can choose—I don’t want to sound professorial—but can choose the truth.”

I’m still not convinced that the Lytro technology by itself is, as Walker says, revolutionary. But it is yet another development that hands more power to the consumers of journalism by giving them more data.

Journalism, of course, has always involved data. Even when you tell a story about an event, as in narrative journalism or photojournalism, you’re presenting the viewer with data. But those data are limited and selective, in the service of a particular point of view about the reality you’re describing. If you choose to focus on the president, that’s what your audience sees. With the Lytro, however, you give them access to far more data; now they, not you, choose what to focus on.

If you don’t think data journalism is going to be a big deal, consider the Lytro and the trend it represents. Technology will not stop here. As it evolves, it will enable everyone to capture and distribute increasingly large amounts of data. And in response, journalism’s role will correspondingly shift from telling stories to giving its audience the data they need to tell their own.

Adam Tinworth: Journalism in a Period of Continuous Change

Adam Tinworth

Adam Tinworth

If I were asked to name one active blogger that every B2B journalist should follow, I would probably suggest Adam Tinworth. For more than eight years, the British trade press editor has blogged about journalism, social media, and much more on One Man and His Blog. His insights there are based on a combination of his ongoing and enthusiastic experimentation with new-media platforms and his practical experience as an editor and blog evangelist for the UK branch of Reed Business Information (RBI).

Though he frequently attends and covers new-media events like Le Web, which he’s liveblogging about this week, Tinworth is no armchair pundit. What makes his blog so compelling is the fact that he is, in many respects, a typical working journalist sharing his experiences in the exciting but often confusing and disruptive world of new media.

As he mentions in the following interview, conducted by e-mail over the weekend, Tinworth has a new career disruption to deal with. He learned last week that he will “most likely” be leaving RBI as part of a staff reduction. Though no doubt disconcerting, it is the kind of change that will surely lead to rewarding new experiences both for him and his readers.

What was the pivotal moment that shaped how you view the post-print era?

The single most important moment happened in late 2001, when I first encountered a site called Livejournal. I was freelancing for an American games company to top up my rather meager journalistic income from my full-time job, and some people I was collaborating with on a project invited me to join the early blog/journaling site. I remember typing my first post, pressing publish, and seeing my words right there on the web, with the ability for people to leave comments underneath. This was not only easier than our publishing CMS at work (where the same process would have taken hours, not seconds) but more functional—because there were comments, something most content management systems still lack.

It was a life transforming moment—I’d been involved with online communities for four or five years at this point, but they’d seemed “other”—completely detached from what I did in my day job. And now anyone with access to the internet had more powerful publishing tools than I had in work. This would change everything—the speed of the news cycles, the nature of our competitors, how news was delivered. It was a moment that defined the next decade of my working life.

Indeed, if I have any regret as I leave RBI, it’s that the average WordPress user still has more publishing power at their fingertips than the average journalist within one of our teams.

In the past decade, what in your mind were the most important new-media issues?

I still think that the most important issue is acknowledging and enjoying that you’re publishing into a more crowded, noisy, dynamic, and swashbuckling public sphere than ever before. We used to call it “blogging,” but it’s become a bit more complex than that now. The world has changed and  seeing people clinging defiantly to journalistic structures that were products of the print process—the inverted pyramid news story, and the 1000 word plus feature—as the only methods of journalistic expression is a melancholy call-back to King Canute.

The forms of journalism I find most exciting these days are those that are done in cooperation with their audience. Jon Ostrower mixing his own passion for the latest news in aircraft development with the knowledge, skill and research of his readers, for example. Or Tony Collins hitting the point where he had more leads from his blog readers than he had time to follow up. That’s journalism done in recognition that we no longer have exclusive access to the tools of publication. Instead, what we have is time and skills, to find out stuff that wouldn’t otherwise come to light, and to become a unique voice of investigation and research amongst the experts and enthusiasts publishing on any topic.

Pretty much everything I’ve done in the last decade has been exploring that idea in some sense or another. We’ve invented the single most efficient and accessible information distribution system mankind has ever come up with. It was bound to transform every information business—and journalism is an information business—utterly.

What do you think are the most pressing new-media issues facing journalists today?

Business models is, sadly, the obvious one. The old “journalism is a great way to sell advertising” model is in pieces online, and there still aren’t enough experiments that result in hard data about what journalism is actually good at achieving that makes money. I think RBI’s “funnel” model, which brings readers through social media, free-to-air news, registration-dependent services, and paid-for service is a good one that seems to work, but even there there’s plenty of work left to do to figure out what types of journalism (and content) most reliably support the underlying business model.

I have a habit of being disparaging about “serving some Platonic ideal of journalism.” Journalism has almost always been a commercial pursuit, and the trick has always been in balancing commercial imperative with journalistic ethics. Both sides of those equations are vital, and you need to find a way to balance them. The whole phone-hacking scandal is an example of the balance going wrong one way; every noble journalism endeavor that goes bust is the other.

The second issue is the competition for attention. I know precious few journalists still who have really got their head around this concept. They still create arbitrary lines in their heads between professional journalism and the rest of the content on the web, and don’t really think of the mass of blogs, forums, social networks, video and other forms of content as competition. But it is. And often, it’s winning the battle for attention.

The third is probably the need to accept we’re in a period of continuous change. This isn’t like the shift from hot metal to desktop publishing, where there were stable “before” and “after” states, but, instead, a world of information exchange where the rules, mechanism, and tools of publishing develop month by month. The rapid growth of mobile in the last 18 months to two years is just the latest example of that, and I think we can all name publishers who are ahead of—and others who are well behind—the curve.

In the early days of OM&HB you wrote “readership in itself is not something that I’m over concerned with. This blog is for me, not for you gentle reader.” Has that view of your blog changed? How?

Yes and no. It’s still my playground—where I experiment in public. And that experimentation and learning is more important to me than building a huge audience. But for the last five years I’ve been conscious of how important it is in communicating with my RBI colleagues, and I’ve often used it quite deliberately as a tool to stir up conversations within the business.

And also, with an eye to the future, I’ve been aware that it’s become a major source of my reputation outside the company. The sort of work I’ve done isn’t obvious to the outside world. You see the reaction, not necessarily the catalyst. And I enjoy thinking in public, and getting my peers and contemporaries to join in a conversation and refine those ideas.

Given recent events, it’s going to be one of my strongest marketing tools as I figure out what’s next for my career after my stint in RBI—and that’s a conversation I’ll probably end up having in public, too.

I wish I still used phrases like “gentle reader,” though.

Adam Tinworth is one of eight new-media thought leaders profiled in the forthcoming e-book, the New-Media Survival Guide. More of my interview with him will be has been published soon on the ASBPE National Blog.