A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

Announcing Twitterslurp for Personal Democracy Forum (#pdf09)

twitterslurp Anyone that has been to a tech conference the last few years knows that there is a huge amount of back channel communication that occurs on Twitter.   People provide live coverage of the talks they go to.  People organize dinner plans.  People stage revolts against panelists.  The conversation is constant, unfiltered and takes place in real time.

The preeminent poli-tech conference, Personal Democracy Forum, takes place next Monday and Tuesday in New York City.  Since we are a sponsor and partner of the Personal Democracy Forum, we decided to launch a tool that will aggregate conversation around the conference.  Check out Twitterslurp for #pdf2009.

We are finishing up details, but here is a list of Twitterslurp’s key features:

  • The site will ingest any posts tagged as “#pdf09″, “#pdf2009″ or “Personal Democracy Forum” onto our main page in real time.  We can expand the words we track if other phrases/tags are used.  This will allow us to ingest the entire conversation, and not limit us to only pulling in mentions of a single hashtag.
  • Twitterslurp features a leaderboard listing the top Twitter users at the conference based on volume.  Later today, we are going to expand this to feature a fuller leaderboard.  Our hope is that this directory of people tweeting about the conference will make it easy for people to make connections with others at the conference.
  • Twitterslurp features a stats page that analyzes the volume of tweets that are coming in.
  • We’ll be able to use our backend system to filter out spammers.  At the end of the conference, we’ll also have a database of all the relevant tweets which will allow us to do a full analysis of the conversation post-conference.

Most importantly, we’ll be releasing the code behind Twitterslurp to the open source community next week so that other conferences/organizations can use the tool.

Check out Twitterslurp, and follow @bivings for the latest about the release of the tool.

Fixoutlook.org is Great

I’ve been doing web work for over ten years, so I’m sort of jaded about new websites and online initiatives.  I’m not easily impressed.  It gives me great joy when I run into something truly new and novel, as I did last night.

I happened on the website www.fixoutlook.org, which is an effort to lobby Microsoft into supporting CSS and other design standards in Outlook 2010.  The site essentially functions as a Twitter petition.  Twitter users can sign on to the effort simply by sending out a tweet that includes the words fixoutlook.org.  The site then displays all the tweets in a constantly updated wall of Twitter avatars.

fixoutlook

The difference between good and great is always in the details, and www.fixoutlook.org gets the details right:

  • Having the wall update in real time and including the avatar is a powerful incentive to send the tweet.  Maybe I’m simple, but I wanted to send out a tweet about it just so I could watch my picture show up on the screen.  And once I sent that tweet, all my followers know about the effort, causing the message to spread via word of mouth.
  • The site has a counter showing how many people have sent tweets so far.  This will lead to people coming back to the site to check on progress.  Over 13,000 people have sent tweets so far.
  • It is smart to have people tweet the URL of the site instead of a hashtag.  This ensures the URL of the site is in every tweet, driving people back to the mother ship.

This is a really well done initiative.  Check it out.

Bing vs. Google — One Anecdote

My daughter's math class needed to find examples of periodic behavior and estimate a sine curve to fit the data, both manually and by using a TI-83 calculator.  Obvious examples of periodic behavior are average city monthly temperatures and low/high tides.  My daughter wanted something a bit more unusual; her teacher suggested looking at data for live births by month in the U.S. prior to the introduction of contraceptives.

 So off to Google we went.  She typed in "live births by month in the U.S., 1954" and got this search result page.  We clicked on several of the links, ending up at this page about the US census.  Data is yearly, we needed monthly.  But there is a URL at the bottom of the page that we followed to the Center for Disease Control.  And with a few more clicks, we found what we were looking for, Yearly Vital Statistics Reports.

We downloaded various PDFs, found the monthly numbers, and my daughter used Excel to plot the graphs, fiddled with the constants to come up with a good approximation, and used her calculator to get the best sine curve fit possible.  About an hour and a half in work.

While she was finishing up, an advertisement for Bing was running on the TV.  So I gave it a try, and typed in exactly the same thing:"live births by month in the U.S., 1954."  I didn't know what to expect, but here's the page, and look at the fourth result.  Bing-o! Not only the data, but various graphs and explanations for the seasonal variation in live births.  All in two clicks.

This is only one anecdote.  I don't know yet if Bing is a decision engine, but in this case it was a powerful discovery engine that beat Google hands-down.

Our Experience with Basecamp

Around eight months ago we made the decision to start using Basecamp to manage nearly all our projects.  Prior to the move to Basecamp, we used a patch work of tools to manage our work.  We had an internal wiki we used for many of our task lists and project documentation.  We used a bug tracking system for some of our more intense programming projects.  We used Basecamp for some work.  And for some projects we relied on emails, Outlook task lists, whiteboards and Excel sheets.

While in retrospect this random approach to project management seems dysfunctional, it really wasn’t a huge problem until we started growing and hiring new people.  When you have a small group of people that have worked together a long time, formal process and tools are less important.  You just sort of know how people work, where they saved their files and how they want to be communicated with.  However, this reliance on personal relationships falls apart when the volume of work increases and you have to integrate new employees into a poorly defined process.  It doesn’t scale.

So we started using Basecamp.

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Turning a Profit for in-Demand Tweets

Twitter was barely off the ground before companies and programmers were looking for ways to monetize it, and a new tool by 83 Degrees has found a new  way to do that.

The tech company on Sunday launched Super Chirp, a subscription-based service allowing Twitter users to require payment to receive certain direct messages.

While most Twitter users aren’t thrilled about paying for Tweets from their favorite celebrities or areas of interest, even getting just a fraction of their fan base to sign up could end up turning huge profits for Twitter publishers with a big enough following.

The Washington Post reported that if even one percent of Shaquille O’Neal’s 1.1 million followers paid $0.99 a month to access a for-subscribers-only direct message stream, “he could bring in about $100,000 worth of extra revenue this year.”

Super Chirp is a little different from past efforts at monetizing Twitter streams, such as Twitpub. Unlike its competitor, Super Chirp doesn’t require Twitter users to create a new account, but lets them set up special direct-message only streams for subscribers, according to TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington.

“Twitter is mobile and it’s real time, two huge advantages over normal fan sites. And it’s constantly refreshed with new content,” Arrington reported Sunday.

The tool runs through PayPal, and Super Chirp keeps 30 percent (including PayPal fees) of the profit. Publishers can charge anywhere from $0.99 to $9.99 for subscriptions.

TechCrunch points out the tool can be utilized not only by celebrities and businesses, but also by charities.

“Loyal supporters can donate to the charity and get a stream of news relevant to that charity,” Arrington reported.

While Super Chirp offers something new over competitors like Twitpub and Be a Magpie, brainstorming ways to profit from Twitter has just begun.

“Super Chirp is just the latest in a stream of third-party services and apps trying to capitalize on Twitter’s social infrastructure,” Arrington said.