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Showing posts with label Twitter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Twitter. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

5 Techniques To Deal With Spam: Open Letter To Twitter

I love Twitter, but lately, I am getting annoyed by Twitter spam and I'm not the only one. I don't want Twitter spam to become email spam. I don't want to whine about that either, so I spent some time thinking about what Twitter could do to deal with spam. Consider this an open letter to Twitter.

Facebook's privacy settings are the new programming a VCR. Google has been criticized a lot about profiting from content farms. I believe that all the major players are playing a catch-up game. A lot of people have stared to complain about LinkedIn spam as well. Quora went into different direction — where they started out with a strict upfront policy regarding who can join Quora, ask questions, answer questions etc. — to maintain the quality of their service. Strict upfront policy hampers new user acquisition and adoption but could ensure better quality where as liberal policy accelerates the user acquisition with a risk of service being abused. I do believe that there's a middle ground that these services could thrive for by implementing clever policies.

Here are five techniques that Twitter could use to deal with spam:

1. Rely on weighted rank based on past performance: I ran a highly unscientific experiment. I kept a record of all the accounts that I reported as spammers on Twitter in the last few days. I went back every few minutes, after reporting an account, to see whether that account was suspended. It took Twitter some time before that happened. Every single account that I have reported so far has been suspended. I don't think Twitter is using that knowledge. If it did, my subsequent actions would have resulted into quicker suspension. Learn from Craigslist. Craig Newmark will tell you all about community-based flagging. Instrument the system to rely on reputation of power users — who are savvy enough to detect spam — to suspend a spammer's account. If it turns out that it's not a spam, give an opportunity to the account owner to appeal. Spammers don't waste time arguing; they simply move on.

2. Expand categories to match how people consume: Create a separate "unsolicited" category to receive mentions and replies from people whom you don't follow. This could be a separate window in a Twitter client that replaces the current "replies and mentions" window. Require Captcha for direct replies (and not mentions) for the conversations where both the accounts don't follow each other to stop automated spam. Everything else, including real spam, goes into "mentions", which is now a new category, that can be consumed in a separate window leaving the "replies" window clean.

3. Remove spam tweets from the stream: Many users don't consume their mentions or replies in real-time or even in near real-time. Mark the tweets spam once you suspend the account and require the Twitter clients to remove them from users' stream in real time. No API restrictions and no throttling. If you do it right and spam gets detected within a few seconds, the account can be suspended in no time, and the tweets are removed even before the most users would even see them. Emails can't be recalled, the tweets can be, if Twitter wants it to. Let's do it.

4. Focus on new accounts: Set a reasonably low limit on number of tweets per hour on a new account. A first-time genuine Twitter user doesn't go from 0-100 in a day, but a new spammer certainly would. Focus energy on new accounts; spammers don't wait for a few weeks or months to start spamming. The current "verified" account feature is a black magic. Open it up to all the people and use standard means such as cell phone, credit cards, and other identities to verify their Twitter accounts. These accounts enjoy the benefit of doubt - an upfront requirement of multiple signals before their accounts are suspended. Spammers don't want to verify themselves.

5. Find and fight bots with bots: There are a bunch of bots out there that look for the words such as iPad, iPhone, and XBOX in your tweets and then they spam you. Twitter can crate their own bots to tweet these words to catch these spam bots and more importantly harvest the links that they are tweeting to detect other spammers. Twitter's own bots would obviously be far more intelligent than the spam bots since they would have access to a lot more information that the spam bots don't.

The spammers do catch up, but if Twitter spends a little time and energy, they can stay ahead in this game. They can even lead the pact of social media companies on how to deal with spam.

Update: As soon as I published this post, I tweeted it and copied Del Harvey on it. She immediately responded to the post. You can read her response here. I really appreciate Twitter responding to this. My take on the response is that they seem to understand what the issues are and how they might solve them, but they haven't fully managed to execute on it, so far. I don't agree with their feedback on issue #2 calling it non-safety. Users see Twitter as one integral product where spam is very much part of it. Personally, I don't think of spam as a security issue for me. It's just plain annoyance. Executing on these ideas will matter the most. Let's hope Twitter gets behind this with full momentum and it doesn't become a "project".

Thursday, March 31, 2011

It's 1999 Again: The Bubble 2.0 And Talent Wars Of The Silicon Valley

I have been living in the Silicon Valley for a while, and sure enough I haven't forgotten the dot com days. A few days back, on my way to the San Francisco airport, I saw a billboard by aol advertising that they are cool (again!). I also observed that parking lots alongside 101 weren't that empty. I told myself "man! this does feel like 1999".

The smart people - entrepreneurs, VCs, and analysts - that I talk to, tell me that we're in a bubble. They call it Bubble 2.0. Perhaps, they're right. The company valuations are through the roof. Facebook is valued around $75 billion and Color, on the launch day, had $40 million in the bank. The angel, super angel, and incubator investment deal flow is bringing all the talent to the Valley and all these young smart entrepreneurs are working on some of the coolest things that I have ever seen. But, there's a talent side that I am worried about. What this influx of easy venture capital has ensued is companies waging talent wars. For companies such as Google, attracting and retaining talent has become very difficult. Facebook and Twitter are new Google and Quora is new Facebook. The talent acquisitions that worked in the past, such as Facebook acquiring Friendfeed, have started to fall apart since the founders realized that serial entrepreneurship is a much better option that allows them to control their destiny against trusting someone else's innovation engine.

I like the creative ways in which the start-ups try to attract the talent. When Google launched a sting operation against bing, they took the honeypot keyword "hiybbprqag" used in the sting operation to register the domain http://www.hiybbprqag.com and redirected it to the Google Jobs page. They received a few thousand resumes that week. I am seeing more and more creative techniques that the companies use to attract talent. The value proposition for a killer designer or a super-geek programmer to work for you has to extend beyond the basics in the valley. This is especially true under current circumstances where there is a stunningly short supply of designers and developers in the Valley.

The talent war is for real. It's easy to get money and get started on an idea, but a real success requires a great team composition that is not easy to achieve. But, that's the reality of the start-up world and we should recognize that the people are even more important than ever before. If you think retaining talent was hard, gaining talent is much harder. I also foresee that these new millionaires will most likely angel invest their money into new start-ups. This floodgate will result into more start-ups competing for talent and possibly with the marketing budget of the incumbents. But, then, if we believe, it's a bubble, it gotta burst one day, and when that happens, it won't be pretty.

Friday, January 28, 2011

5 Tips To Become An Influencer On Twitter

I have been answering quite a few questions on Quora. The most recent one was "What are 5 tips to becoming an influencer on Twitter?" This post is a version of my answer on Quora.

Being an "influencer" means different things to different people, but I would attempt to describe this in the most general sense.
  1. Be unique: Twitter has very low signal to noise ratio. You don't get others' attention if you cannot differentiate yourself and your contribution. Be passionate about the topics that you care for and work hard to craft high quality tweets. Go through a brutal qualifying process to discard the weak draft tweets and post the ones that are of the highest quality. Treat your Twitter account as your personal brand and think what makes any brand stand out. As Seth Godin would say, be the purple cow.

  2. Be a great blogger: Let's not forget that Twitter is still a form of blogging; a microblogging. Ask yourself what makes a great blogger? Apply those qualities on Twitter such as extensive due diligence, passionate about your point of view, not afraid of picking up a fight when you think you are right, not afraid of taking criticism in public, ability to give constructive feedback, and importantly discovering, reading, and synthesizing the information. To blog and to tweet is the last mile to influence the people. There's plenty of legwork that happens before that.

  3. Converse with the influencers: Being surrounded by smart people makes you smart. This is not only true in real life, but it is also true in social media. Don't just follow the influencers, but try to understand why they are the influencers. Retweet their posts with your insights, thank them, and reach out to them with interesting stories, insights, and comments. Also, make an attempt to meet them in real life at tweetups and other networking events. At times, they are more open to meeting people than you might think.

  4. Hashtags: I cannot overemphasize the importance of following and tweeting the live events. Follow a few conferences remotely such as #tcdisrupt or #sxsw and be part of weird memes such as #lessambitiousbooks. Also, try following obscure events. This is how you will discover interesting people and people will discover you. Follow up with people, that you like, after the event. Don't be afraid of self-promotion as long as you are humble and adding value in the conversations and interactions.

  5. Cross-channel pollination: Twitter is one of many social media channels. Author your own Tumblr or Posterous blog, answer questions on Quora, post interesting pictures on Flickr and Instagram, and importantly, use the channels to direct people to follow you on Twitter. There are many different ways people find other people to follow on Twitter. Use the low impedance nature of Twitter to your advantage by converting all the social media interactions to have rich conversations with them on Twitter.
You don't have to be an influencer in real life to be an influencer on Twitter. In fact, that's exactly the point. It's all about Twitter as a channel that empowers simple human-beings, that are not influencers of any kind, to do amazing things and become an influencer. Justin is a great example. He found Twitter and used the medium for what it was good for. Now, he has a book and a TV show. On the other hand, Eric Schmidt has 54 tweets but has 2.34 million followers, as of 01/27. I don't think of him as an influencer on Twitter. Is he an influencer in real life? Hell, yeah. There are also people like Padmasree and Chamillionaire that have effectively been using Twitter to amplify and extend their great influence in real life to social media.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

In Case You Didn't Know Twitter Is Growing Fast - Very Very Fast

I have been following the Chirp conference today where Evan Williams, who goes by @ev, disclosed Twitter growth numbers in his keynote and shared their pains, gains, and priorities. We all know that Twitter is growing fast – very, very fast – but here is the summary of those numbers that tells us what that growth actually looks like:

  • 105 million registered users and they add 300k uses every day
  • 3 billion API request a day (equivalent to Yahoo traffic)
  • 55 million new tweets every day
  • 600 million search queries every day
  • 175 employees
  • 75% traffic comes from third party clients
  • 60% tweets come from third party clients
  • 100,000 registered apps
  • 180 million unique visitors on Twitter.com (you don’t have to be a user)
  • FlockDB, their social graph database that they just open sourced, stores 13 billion edges
  • They started using “Murder” a new BitTorrent platform to transfer files during development. This reduced the transfer time from 40 minutes to 12 seconds
  • Made deals with 65 (telco) carriers
  • 37% of active users use Twitter on their phone (@ev wants this number to be 100%)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Branding On The Cloud Is Part Business Part Mindset

As it goes "on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog". Actually people do. Recently AT&T asked their employees to fake the net neutrality. Employees were asked to use their personal email addresses to petition against net neutrality. The internal memo ended up on the blogs and Twitter in minutes. Forcing your brand down your employees' throats is not particularly a smart idea.

Is your brand ready for the cloud? This is not a question that many companies ask until their brand gets caught in a cloud storm. The storm is about the customers, partners, and suppliers discussing your products and brand in the public using social media, report problems using the SaaS tools, and engage into the conversations in ways that you never anticipated. Recently Seth Godin announced an initiative to help companies launch brand in public. It stirred quite a controversy and created confusion. He had to pull back. The organizations are simply not ready. The organizations are unclear on how to monitor, synthesize, and leverage the conversations that are happening on the cloud. The cloud enables the people to come together to share and amplify their conversations. .

Whether you are a SaaS ISV, non-SaaS ISV, or not even a software company, what can you do as an organization to build your brand on the cloud? It is part business past mindset:

Don't dread failures instead use them to amplify brand impact:

Recently an enterprise SaaS ISV, Workday, experienced an unplanned 15-hour outage. Not so surprisingly customers responded well with the outage. SaaS essentially made the outage a vendor's problem. Unclear? Take an example of the analog world. Occasionally I have experienced power outage in my neighborhood (yes, even in supposedly modern silicon valley). The wider the outage faster it got resolved. The utility folks feverishly worked to resolve the problem that impacted hundreds of subscribers. Coming back to Workday's outage, while Workday had all hands on the deck to resolve the outage the management team personally picked up the phone and started calling the customers to reassure them that the outage will be resolved soon. They extensively used the social media during and after the outage to be transparent about the overall situation. Now it gets even more interesting. They reached out to a key blogger, Michael Krigsman, who analyzes IT failures to brief him on what happened and extended an invitation to have a chat with the CEO. Michael Krigsman has a great post 'A matter of Trust' covering this outage and his subsequent conversations.

Workday used its outage not only to underscore the fact that why people think they are better of with a SaaS vendor but also used the opportunity to strengthen their brand proposition amongst the customers, analysts, and bloggers.

Building brand leveraging SaaS delivery model to act in realtime:

If you are a SaaS vendor ask yourself whether you are leveraging the SaaS delivery model to strengthen your brand in realtime. Jason Fried from 37 Signals was quite upset upset with Get Satisfaction when 37 Signals got labeled as “not yet committed to an open conversation”. A couple of people from Get Satisfiction immediately responded, apologized, and changed the parts of the tool in minutes that caused the problems. Similarly Twitter postponed its scheduled downtime to accommodate the protest against the outcome of the election in Iran. A former deputy national security advisor to George W. Bush, Mark Pfeifle, went to the extent to comment that Twitter founders should have won the nobel peace prize for postponing the downtime.

Being able to demonstrate the support for what you believe in has significant positive impact on your brand. Don't underestimate the power of social media on the cloud. Twitter has changed culture of Comcast.

Empower your employees to be your mavens:

As Malcolm Gladwell puts it customers don't retain their soap wrappers to call the toll free number to let the manufacturer know if they are unsatisfied. But if someone does call, you know that, you discovered a maven whom you should serve at any cost. That person will start the word-of-mouth epidemics. Chances are that some of your employees are already having conversations on the cloud. Make them mavens of your brand. Get Satisfiction is an example of a great tool that a company can use to encourage their employees to get closer to the customers using the alternate customer support channels. Glassdoor is another example of such a tool that not only works as a great salary benchmarking tool but also provides insights into culture of an organization. Primarily designed as a tool for the external candidates the tool has potential to be used by the internal executives to objectively assess the employee sentiment and help improve the external brand perception as projected by the employees. Focus on your employees and how they can better connect with the customers and partners using the tools and open communication channels on the cloud.

I am not ignoring the negative aspects of the cloud being an open medium that isn't perfect. It never will be. As Bruce Schneier describes the commercial speech arms race - "Commercial speech is on the internet to stay; we can only hope that they don't pollute the social systems we use so badly that they're no longer useful."

I am optimistic. The cloud is a great platform for social participation that, if used wisely, could strengthen your brand.
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