The Visibility and Eloquence of @KimKierkegaard

The best new account that has popped up on Twitter in the last month is @KimKierkegaard. It’s the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard mashed with the tweets and observations of, who else, Kim Kardashian. These are my favorite tweets from the hilarious mash-up account:

On June 28:

What do you like better steak or cake? Existence is a prodigious contradiction which it is impossible to ponder without becoming passionate.

On July 2:

Man turns outward, away from the source of his happiness, hungry for distraction. Cant wait 4 tonite’s Keeping Up w/ the Kardashians on E !!

On July 16:

To strive to be what one already is, is the most difficult of all tasks. But everyone always thinks I’ve had my nose done.

On July 22:

My soul always turns back to the Old Testament & Shakespeare. They hate, love, murder their enemies. What could be more summery than that?

Find all the tweets under the full name, @KimKierkegaardashian.

The History of the @-Reply on Twitter

Garrett Murray didn’t invent the Twitter @-reply, but he provides some good background on its history:

I have always half-jokingly taken credit for inventing the @reply on Twitter. Or at least for starting its wide-spread use on Twitter—I got the idea from seeing people do it over at Flickr, where it had been happening for more than a year. But until today I continued to claim I was the first person to do it on Twitter. Recently, user @rabble put together a blog post titled Origin of the @reply – Digging Through Twitter’s History, in which he did some research to show when it was first used. Only his research isn’t entirely correct and it doesn’t give fair credit to everyone involved.

It turns out that I’m not the inventor of the @reply, though I’m definitely one of the pioneers. Robert Andersen seems to be the father of the @reply on Twitter. He sent this message on November 2, 2006 at 8:58PM (all times in this post are Pacific—if you’re reading this from the Tumblr Dashboard, all the dates will look funky):

@ buzz – you broke your thumb and youre still twittering? that’s some serious devotion

I like his thought about collective consciousness when he and a bunch of other people started using the (now indispensable) @-reply on the same day in November 2006.


Related: the Twitter hashtag (#) was invented by Chris Messina in 2007

The Many Voices of @Sweden

One of the great things currently unfolding on Twitter is the @Sweden Twitter account. The program, known as Curators of Sweden, came about when the Swedish Institute and Visit Sweden, the government tourist agency, sought to develop a plan to present the country to the world on Twitter. They hired an advertising company, Volontaire.

To qualify to post for the @Sweden account, one must “be interesting,” Twitter-literate, and happy to post in English.

The New York Times profiles a few people who’ve had the privilege for speaking for the Nordic nation.

On the benefits of posting for @Sweden for a young man named Erik Isberg:

The authorities at his school waived their usual rule against in-class tweeting (one teacher told Mr. Isberg he could skip all his classes, if he needed more time to post).

The success of the @Sweden account has inspired similar Twitter initiatives from other countries and travel sites.

Margaret Atwood on Twitter

Margaret Atwood is one of the most popular authors who’s an active user of Twitter. In this fantastic New York Review of Books post, she muses on Twitter’s personality and her evolution as a Twitterer:

[O]n Twitter you find yourself doing all sorts of things you wouldn’t otherwise do. And once you’ve entered the Enchanted E-Forest, lured in there by cute bunnies and playful kittens, you can find yourself wandering around in it for quite some time. You might even find yourself climbing the odd tree—the very odd tree—or taking refuge in the odd hollow log—the very odd hollow log—because cute bunnies and playful kittens are not the only things alive in the mirkwoods of the Web. Or the webs of the mirkwoods. Paths can get tangled there. Plots can get thickened. Games are afoot.

On Margaret Atwood’s early days on Twitter:

When I first started Twittering, back in 2009—you can read about my early adventures in a NYRblog post I wrote two years ago—I was, you might say, merely capering on the flower-bestrewn fringes of the Twitterwoods. All was jollity, with many a pleasantry being exchanged. True, some of those doing the exchanges represented themselves in masks, or as pairs of feet, or as rubber ducks, or as onions, or as dogs—quite a few dogs. But having had an early career in puppetry and a somewhat later phase during which I amused small children by giving voices to the salt and pepper shakers, I was aware of the fact that anything can talk if you want it to. My Twitter friends were not only sportive but helpful, informing me about Twitpic, letting me in on the secrets of acronyms such as “LMAO,” analyzing the etymology and deep symbolic meaning of “squee,” and teaching me to make many an emoticon, such as the vampire face, represented thus: >:>} (Though other vampire-face options are available.) They led me to extra-Twitter adventures: a live chat on DeviantArt, a website where I found the cover for my book, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination. To this day I rely on my Twitter followers for arcane information, most recently some updates on the vernacular speech of the young. Who knew that “sick” is the new “awesome,” and that “epic” is the rightful substitute for “amazing?” Twitter knew.

As I like to say: Twitter is what you make of it.

Twitter, Facebook, and Personality Type

What can one glean of someone’s personality type based on preference for Twitter vs. Facebook usage? David Hughes at Manchester Business School and his colleagues surveyed 300 people online and were scored on the “big five” personality factors of extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, openness, and agreeableness. The study’s findings are summarized here:

People who used Facebook mostly for socialising tended to score more highly on sociability and neuroticism (consistent with past research suggesting that shy people use the site to forge social ties and combat loneliness). Social use of Twitter correlated with higher sociability and openness (but not neuroticism) and with lower scores on conscientiousness. This suggests that social Twitter users don’t use it so much to combat loneliness, but more as a form of social procrastination

What about using the sites as an informational tool? There was an intriguing divergence here. People who said they used Facebook as an informational tool tended to score higher on neuroticism, sociability, extraversion and openness, but lower on conscientiousness and “need for cognition”. Informational users of Twitter were the mirror opposite: they scored higher on conscientiousness and “need for cognition”, but lower on neuroticism, extraversion and sociability. The researchers interpreted these patterns as suggesting that Facebook users seek and share information as a way of avoiding more cognitively demanding sources such as journal articles and newspaper reports. Twitter users, by contrast, use the site for its cognitive stimulation – as a way of uncovering useful information and material without socialising (this was particularly true for older participants).

Finally, what about people’s overall preference for Twitter or Facebook? Again, people who scored higher in “need for cognition” tended to prefer Twitter, whilst higher scorers in sociability, neuroticism and extraversion tended to prefer Facebook. Simplifying the results, one might say that Facebook is the more social of the two social networking sites, whereas Twitter is more about sharing and exchanging information. 

It’s an interesting study, though I would have liked to see a sample size of a magnitude higher, and more balanced with the female-male ratio.

The Downside of Being Internet Famous

Gina Trapani, the founder of Lifehacker, has recently surpassed 200,000 followers on Twitter. In her post “The Flip Side of a Big Audience,” she mentions the benefits of having a large audience:

If I want a lot of people to see something, I can make that happen in a few keystrokes without any help from a PR firm or media outlet. I’ve mentioned my follower counts and blog stats in book deal and paycheck negotiations, because people who hire me are often buying my ability to market my book or project.

But the focus of her post is on the negatives of being/becoming internet famous:

You field a weekly flood of pitches. Having a big audience means you’re a commodity, and you get to constantly field pitches from strangers, acquaintances, former co-workers, and distant family members who you never hear from otherwise asking you to mention their new app, book, Kickstarter project, or MySpace page. People decide how important you are by your Klout score and treat you accordingly. Ad agencies look up how much your tweets are worth and recruit you to tweet on behalf of their clients for money. It’s a bizarre and sometimes awkward crash course in saying “sorry, no” to the requests that just don’t feel right (and most of them don’t).

People who don’t know you make wildly inaccurate assumptions about things you say. If you crack a joke, use sarcasm, or don’t fully explain your 140-character statement, you will be misunderstood, because most of your followers barely know you. Last week I said I have mixed feelings about lesbian contestants in a beauty pageant. A handful of people tried to explain why lesbians are just as worthy of beauty pageants as heterosexual women. Having to explain stinks.

You forget how to share with people who do know you. To avoid misunderstandings, you start dumbing down your posts and only writing things which are literal and mostly non-controversial. (At least I do.) But that means your friends don’t enjoy the connection that comes with hearing you be you, instead of edited-you. In an attempt to fix this problem, I set my Facebook user profile to friends-only access. But by now I’m so ruined by my addiction to the flood of retweets, favorites, and replies I get from public posts to my big audience, I spend less time sharing privately.

You get addicted to the approval of strangers. The addiction to the attention you get from a crowd of strangers turns you into a performer instead of a sharer. You look for cheap laughs, stars, retweets, and replies, instead of meaningful conversation with people you actually care about.

Your view of the world gets skewed. An outsized audience presents problems like the ones listed here that no one else has. When you have a big audience, you’re the 1% of the web, and that means your view of the world is skewed. You get paranoid about privacy, cynical about requests from friends, and impatient about misunderstandings.

I would argue that anyone who is on Twitter and is gaining popularity in the blogosphere can get addicted to the approval of strangers. It’s an odd behavior — we seek reassurance from people we’ve never met rather than the ones close to us.


(Hat Tip: @cherilucas)

On Slowing Down

Some startling statistics about our obsession with technology:

The average American spends at least eight and a half hours a day in front of a screen, Nicholas Carr notes in his eye-opening book “The Shallows,” in part because the number of hours American adults spent online doubled between 2005 and 2009 (and the number of hours spent in front of a TV screen, often simultaneously, is also steadily increasing).

The average American teenager sends or receives 75 text messages a day, though one girl in Sacramento managed to handle an average of 10,000 every 24 hours for a month. Since luxury, as any economist will tell you, is a function of scarcity, the children of tomorrow, I heard myself tell the marketers in Singapore, will crave nothing more than freedom, if only for a short while, from all the blinking machines, streaming videos and scrolling headlines that leave them feeling empty and too full all at once.

That’s from an op-ed “The Joy of Quiet” by Pico Iyer, who also notes that there are hotels that cite lack of access to internet and television as a selling point:

I noticed that those who part with $2,285 a night to stay in a cliff-top room at the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur pay partly for the privilege of not having a TV in their rooms; the future of travel, I’m reliably told, lies in “black-hole resorts,” which charge high prices precisely because you can’t get online in their rooms.

In barely one generation we’ve moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them — often in order to make more time. The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug. Like teenagers, we appear to have gone from knowing nothing about the world to knowing too much all but overnight.

In 2011, I’ve had the chance to unwind and go internet-free for a few days (at least several independent occasions). One of my resolutions for the coming year is to have more days where I unwind and slow down.

Who Owns a Twitter Account?

Well, I think this is kind of ridiculous:

In October 2010, Noah Kravitz, a writer who lives in Oakland, Calif., quit his job at a popular mobile phone site,, after nearly four years. The site has two parts — an e-commerce wing, which sells phones, and a blog.

While at the company, Mr. Kravitz, 38, began writing on Twitter under the name Phonedog_Noah, and over time, had amassed 17,000 followers. When he left, he said, PhoneDog told him he could keep his Twitter account in exchange for posting occasionally.

The company asked him to “tweet on their behalf from time to time and I said sure, as we were parting on good terms,” Mr. Kravitz said by telephone.

And so he began writing as Noah Kravitz, keeping all his followers under that new handle. But eight months after Mr. Kravitz left the company, PhoneDog sued, saying the Twitter list was a customer list, and seeking damages of $2.50 a month per follower for eight months, for a total of $340,000.

I don’t think you can equate getting Twitter followers under one account, and say, intellectual property developed at a university or a company (using tools available at such university or company). In this case, the effort was entirely Noah’s, with little to no input from his parent company.

Imagine a lawyer or an account who goes from one job to another, and takes along the clients he cultivated at his old job to his new one. Should he get sued in the process?

Analysis of the New, New Twitter

I think the best analysis of the New Twitter (on Twitter: #NewNewTwitter) that was unveiled yesterday comes courtesy of Dan Frommer:

  1. Most important: Twitter is shipping. There’s been a bit of negative press about the company over the past several months. And yes, some of its early and/or important employees aren’t there anymore. But Twitter is a large company now. And to release something this big, this good, this smoothly, it actually seems to be working. (And in my observation, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and Executive Chairman Jack Dorsey actually seem to play off each other pretty well. At least in public!)
  2. This is the beginning of Jack Dorsey’s real vision for Twitter combined with Dick Costolo’s vision for a real-time social advertising product. The main components: writing and Tweets, obviously; having conversations with other people; discovering what’s happening in the world through Twitter; and seeing a promoted message from brands here and there.
  3. Twitter is trying to de-emphasize private messaging by moving it a layer deeper in the user interface. I’m guessing there are a bunch of reasons for this, not limited to: Simplicity, perhaps relatively low usage by most users, potentially confusing rules around DMing, and that more public content is probably better for Twitter’s product and advertising goals. Some long-time and hardcore Twitter users are probably going to be upset about this, but one of Twitter’s strengths has always been its willingness to design for its mainstream users at the expense of its geek users. (Tip: To get fast access to your DMs on Twitter for iPhone, you can swipe up the “Me” icon at the bottom.)
  4. Twitter is emphasizing real-name identity more than it did before. It’s now saying “retweeted by Dan Frommer” instead of “retweeted by @fromedome”. While I’ve always appreciated the playfulness of Twitter handles, this is probably more useful for Twitter going forward. It adds a sense of civility. It starts to make Twitter an alternative to Facebook for real-name identity management. (Something the market wants.) And as Twitter grows, and as having a unique handle without numbers becomes trickier, it looks cleaner.

I actually frown upon the emphasis of real names on Twitter, as I know people I follow by their Twitter handles  (and perhaps so do you). By proceeding with this emphasis of real names, Twitter is becoming more like Facebook and Google Plus, which is unfortunate.

Read the rest of Dan’s post here.

Readings: Facebook MD, Trading, Rainbow Toad, Tweeting Birds, Dominion of Melchizedek

What I’ve read online today:

(1) “How Facebook Saved My Son’s Life” [Slate] – amazing story of how Facebook friends of one mother, Deborah Kogan, recognized symptoms of the rare Kawasaki disease in her young son, all while doctors missed the initial diagnosis…

(2) “How Hard Is It To Become the Michael Jordan of Trading?” [The Big Picture] – if you’ve ever wondered the statistics on what it takes to become a professional athlete, this post provides some numbers:

The talent pool gets much more competitive at the college level. The NCAA estimates approximately 3% of HS basketball players, and 6% of HS football and baseball players make an NCAA team.

If those number look daunting, the cut is far more challenging at the professional level. In basketball, only 1.2% of NCAA senior players get drafted by an NBA team. NFL drafts 1.7% of NCAA senior football players; Baseball holds the best odds, where 8.9% of NCAA baseball players will get drafted by a Major League Baseball club — but that includes minor league farm teams.

There’s a handy chart at the bottom of the post which summarizes the statistics. Now, what does it take to become an all-star trader?

(3) “After 8 Decades, Tiny Toad Resurfaces in Asia” [New York Times] – very cool discovery of the Borneo rainbow toad (click through to see the picture):

The Borneo rainbow toad, with its long spindly legs, looks a bit like an Abstract Expressionist canvas splattered in bright green, purple and red. But when this amphibian was last seen, in 1924, the painter Jackson Pollock was just 12, and the only image of the mysterious creature was a black-and-white sketch.

(4) “First Evidence that Birds Tweet Using Grammar” [New Scientist] – fascinating evidence suggests that birds tweet using proper grammar

First, they played finches unfamiliar songs repeatedly until the birds got used to them and stopped overreacting. Then they jumbled up syllables within each song and replayed these versions to the birds.

“What we found was unexpected…” The birds reacted to only one of the four jumbled versions, called SEQ2, as if they noticed it violated some rule of grammar, whereas the other three remixes didn’t. Almost 90 per cent of the birds tested responded in this way. “This indicates the existence of a specific rule in the sequential orderings of syllables in their songs, shared within the social community.”

(5) “The Strange Tale of Alleged Fraudster Pearlasia Gamboa” [San Francisco Weekly] – probably the most bizarre story I’ve read all week. It’s about the Dominion of Melchizedek, which, according to Wikipedia, is a micronation known for facilitating large scale banking fraud in many parts of the world. The SF Weekly story profiles its president, Pearlasia Gamboa, and her confessions.

The Dominion [of Melchizedek] eventually expanded beyond its underwater seat of government to claim more land: three more tiny Pacific islands and portions of Antarctica. After annexing its polar territory, the Dominion began listing among its senior officials a figure with the surname “Penguini,” a touch that a veteran California fraud investigator describes as “cute.”

What was the point of such a lovingly detailed fiction? The Dominion of Melchizedek, according to government authorities, was intended to act as a sort of mothership for con artists worldwide, issuing fake banking licenses, passports, and other documents to lend a veneer of official authenticity to fraud schemes. “Everything about it is phony,” says John Shockey, former head of the fraud unit for the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency.

A fascinating read.