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    Celebrities Who Treat Twitter Like Broadcasting Medium Miss the Point

    I form first impressions very fast, and since I make a lot of friends through Twitter I’ve figured out some different ways of evaluating their profile to make some generalizations about who they talk to, how engaged they are with people, and what they’re interested in.  It’s much faster to read someone’s last 100 tweets than to read their last 10 blog posts.  One thing I look at is the ratio of followers to following.  The reason is that I’ve discovered there is a balance between the two – if someone is following too many people (far more than are following them) then they are likely a spammer.  Twitter controls for this by making it so that you can’t follow more than 2000 people until you have at least 1800 people following you.  On the other end of the spectrum are those who are followed by many many people but make themselves seem inaccessible by following back only a tiny percentage.

    What this says to me is, “I’m not listening to you – I’m listening to tweets that come up with my name in them”.  Bleagh.

    Yesterday, I gave a talk with An Bui to a group of business women about how they can use Twitter to benefit themselves and their businesses.  At one point, a hand was raised and the person said “a lightbulb just went off for me – this is a way for me to broadcast what my company is doing”.  Damn!  This is the danger with Twitter, if you look at it as an outside observer its easy to see why people think this – but broadcasting is truly a small percentage of what you need to do to realize the real benefits of Twitter.

    What real benefits, let me list the ones I’ve seen:

    • rapid information sharing where friends are the filter through which you hear about the world
    • ability to discover people with similar niche interests and find places to expand those interests
    • random meetings of people you read, admire, compete with, etc. in cities while travelling
    • chance to come up with cool content creation partnerships (blog posts, talks, video, etc.) on the fly with other creatives
    • sense of being more intimately connected to friends, even when you’re a workaholic (and proud of it!) like me
    • way to discover products/services friends LOVE that are improving their quality of life (yeah – I do listen to my friends for this stuff)
    • hear a random thing and search it on Twitter to find out what it is related to… long tail searches of conversation work
    • find out what people are saying about you, your content, brand, customers, competitors, ANYTHING!
    • feel like you’re much closer to the people you admire (internet personalities, celebrities) and be the first to hear about their work

    There’s probably more, but I’m dashing this off fast and found I couldn’t type fast enough to write these benefits down.

    Someone Tell Them: It’s the Conversation that Counts

    Why?  Because even for big time celebrities they are still real people, who can endear themselves to new fans, find new opportunities, share in the richness of the world, provide a useful filter to their followers, and be more deeply connected.  Also, celebri-twits are battling against a deeply entrenched early-adopter culture that is both excited and horrified by the way these newest converts are using Twitter.  On one hand, I can admire that they are even better at shameless self-promotion than what I’ve seen so far — but I’m disappointed because I expected this new media to peel back another layer of the onion and make these people more accessible.  Wasn’t that what all the hype was fundamentally about?

    Would I be excited if one of these celebrities followed me?  Yes, I admit I would be briefly.  Would I be converted?  No, not unless they took the time to read something I said and respond with something relevant.  To join the small conversation that is my life.  That’s how I can be reached, touched, and impressed.

    Hell, even internet-famous Julia Allison (or one of her assistants) emailed me when I commented that I continued to read Valleywag due to “my love/hate relationship with Julia Allison” and asked me why the hate.  I was impressed, she was listening – and even went to the effort to get my email address from my blog.  Yeah I realize she’s not famous on the same level as these celebrities – I just thought it was thoughtful and a good example.

    Celebri-Twit Yer Doin it Wron

    Look, for example at some celebrit-twits who are making a splash on Twitter like Ashton Kutcher, Oprah,

    Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk)


    Oprah Winfrey (@oprah)


    Larry King (@kingsthings)


    Breaking (bwhaha!) update: sounds like Spencer (of Spencer and Hill on that MTV show “The Hills”) wants to compete with Ashton on Twitter.  Even the radio commentators on KISS 106.1 FM were like… “oh god, have’t we heard enough of this yet?”  Yeah, bleagh.  I bet I’ll blog it, for some reason I just can’t stay away from this topic, disgruntled semi-early adopter that I am.

  • Posts

    Social Media Begins with Listening, Not Branding

    Warning: bit of a rant.

    I just opened my weekly email from Biznik, letting me know about business events in my neck of the woods, and was confronted with this:


    What’s the problem with this?  Well, for one the use of “Any social media expert” kind of baffles me — since they are few and far between.  By I digress.  The problem with this approach is that it puts branding and SEO at the fore and in focus, completely confusing how people need to come into social media if they want to be engaging, successful, learn, and teach.  I hate to use the dreaded buzzword, but “authenticity” comes from doing a whole lot of listening and conversing first – and THEN figuring out how your brand, SEO strategy, etc. fit with social media.

    I’m not saying this because I’m some social media bleeding heart who thinks it’s more about the conversation than the bottom line – yes using social media is a business activity and fundamentally about making money.  However, you are never going to sell me something if you turn me off like the myriad “social media experts” who follow me on Twitter each day masked as PR professionals, real estate agents, mortgage brokers or (worst!) motivational speakers and coaches.  The insincerity of it all makes me sick.

    I don’t know Steve MacDonald, and I imagine for those who are new to social media they will come out of this session with some things to do and will learn quickly from the community (if they are open) if their approach is too much talking and not enough listening.  This makes me think even more about how to make sure we have the right focus at my talk next weekend, alongside An Bui, where we will address women in business and teach them about Twitter.

    I’ve got a flight back to Seattle, so we’ll leave this to be continued… check back later this week as I work on developing the talk and look for your input.   Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll see you there!

  • Posts


    Last night I stopped by the Valleywag mixer, which was geared towards PR and Media types, at Apartment 24.  I was curious to meet Owen Thomas, and understand what he was trying to accomplish by bringing together flaks for a no-host bar (heh).  If you don’t know, Valleywag is the Silicon Valley tech gossip rag that everyone claims to hate but reads anyway.  Recently merged with Gawker Media, it takes a decidedly “New York attitude” towards gossip, publishing juicy tidbits that you might expect to find on Page Six.  The publication is both a boon and  a nightmare to PR professionals.

    Trending Toward Neophilia?

    Owen talked for about 20 minutes about what he observes as an emerging trend toward “neophilia” – an obsession with what is new and uses the real-time communication service Twitter as his most prominent example, speculating as to why the service should be valued so highly and could potentially be a sexy acquisition target for big companies like Google or AOL.  In a surprisingly serious post this afternoon, Owen goes on record with these thoughts on Valleywag and I can’t help but think, “is this supposed trend anything really new”.  Ha!  I must be a Neophile, too.

    Self-help gurus like to talk about living in the moment. But if we are constantly documenting the moment in which we live, we stop being able to live in it. Sometimes the most important things happened hours ago, years ago, a century ago — but we are just beginning to understand how they mattered. Realtime? So 10 minutes ago.

    There is Value in Capturing the Moment

    After spending nearly two years explaining to people why they should capture their lives in real-time with Whrrl, the location based collaborative storytelling application I worked on before, I’ve had a lot of time to think about this.  In my mind I picture the scene from American Beauty where they are watching the plastic bag floating through the air to some simple and moving music.

    “Do you want to see the most beautiful things I’ve ever felt.  It’s one of those days, where it’s a minute away from snowing and there’s this electricity in the air and you can almost here it, right?  And this bag was just, dancing with me like a little kid begging me to play with it.  For fifteen minutes.

    That’s the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know that there was no reason to be afraid… ever.  Video is a poor excuse, I know, but it helps me remember.  I need to remember.

    Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it and my heart is just going to cave in.”

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    Impressive Twitter.com Traffic in March

    I was screwing around on Compete.com tonight, looking at the traffic of some of my favorite websites, and thought “oh yeah – I should look at Twitter”.

    As those of you familiar with Twitter know, there are TONS of ways to update the 140 character communication service without actually visiting the site.  From desktop applications like TweetDeck to mobile phone applications, to SMS, etc. you can keep your friends and followers apprised of what has your attention now (or “what are you doing?” if you’re more traditional).

    As Jeff Segal, over at breakingviews.com wrote (in an article that ended up on Fortune!), “8 million users can’t be wrong.  If only it made some money”.  Well, I’m guessing he based that 8 million number on the uniques trafficking the website in February, but the numbers for March are out now and Twitter.com has seen a 76.8% increase in traffic this past month.  Cool.


    Random Thought: compete.com should consider offering a nice little iframe embed  – that would make my life easier and probably get them some more traffic.

    So, why does this matter?  Well, maybe it doesn’t – it’s a fair point that Twitter doesn’t make money yet but if you believe Jason Calcanis then advertising on the service will be worth millions in the coming years.  What do you think?

  • Posts

    Startup Weekend SF or Bust!

    I started out at Startup Weekend feeling very non-committal about everything. Would I be in town on Sunday for the presentations? Did I have the energy or motivation to get something done over the weekend? On Friday night, I didn’t know. After the ideas were pitched I talked to a lot of people looking to start projects, figuring that even if I couldn’t join a group I could at least lend my vote of confidence to any ideas that sounded worthwhile. The SnoozeMail team caught my attention, and I had a wide-ranging conversation with Al Abut about use cases, and I even reminisced about some of the features I had loved as a Lotus Notes user (when I worked for Expeditors).

    First There Is a Mountain

    After running into some fellow Seattle-ites (Kintan and Ayush) I felt my desire to be a part of building something grow – and so I committed to help them. The original project idea was that we would take the skittles.com concept and apply it to anyone’s online persona, so that they would have a one-stop-shop for all of their social profiles. At dinner we were informed this had already been built (domain name we wanted and all!) with the precise implementation that we had planned at Skittlr.com, and so it seemed like a huge waste of time and effort to build it all over again.

    Kintan & Ayush - MonkeyCalling.com Team - Startup Weekend SF 2

    That left us, at about 1am on Saturday morning, headed back to the drawing board. Realizing that our only hope of recruiting more developers was dependent on having a solid idea first thing Saturday morning, we began the brainstorming process in the hotel lobby of The Palace and a couple of the more sleep deprived teammates passed out on the couch. We agreed it would be fun to use the Twilio API somehow, and began to think up ideas of how to use it.  We parted ways at about 4am with the essential concept – to make it easy for anyone to plan and execute an automated phone call.  This would eventually be scoped down and become MonkeyCalling. As I fell asleep, I wondered how we were going to pull off building this simple product with no developer in the mix, and resolved to use my rusty HTML skills for good in the morning.

    Then There is No Mountain

    Saturday morning I had a meeting, so the team agreed they would meet at the Microsoft offices in Union Square and I would join them around noon.  Watching a couple of emails back and forth from my iPhone confirmed my fear, the idea we had come up with was unpopular with those who had been sleeping and it was shifting again – but to what?  It was unclear what we were going to get done without a whole lot more direction, and fast! The team’s scattered focus was grating on my sleep deprived nerves, and I was weighing whether or not it was worthwhile to keep committing my valuable weekend time to this project as opposed to my real job. I decided to take my sense of urgency down a notch, at least temporarily, and see how things worked out.  Sometimes it pays to stop being driver-driver for a moment, and see what happens.

    We got into a conference room, got to the whiteboard, and threw up 5 ideas (yes, very much like vomitting ideas).  We actually discovered that two of them were use cases for the same idea – and it came back to the original idea to plan a phone call.  I fought for the market research survey idea, knowing it was an actual business and something we could implement even if we had to hack the entire solution without a professional developer.  Somewhere in this whole process we ran into Rahul Bhide, a friend of Kintan and Ayush, and he agreed to help us in our coding efforts.  Newton, our other developer, had slept in his car the previous night and was ready to go to bed so we said goodbye to him (and to the venue and its terrible wifi) and headed out to Starbucks (where the wifi was just as bad) and then finally to Rahul’s house.

    Then There Is

    Rahul saved us.  If not for his house, and his ability to learn the Twilio API, we would not have had a product to demo on Sunday evening.

    Once we actually settled in, around 4pm, it didn’t take long to get a front end mocked up and begin digging into using Twilio to make phone calls and ask questions.  Before I called it a night and headed to Palo Alto to watch a friend conduct his orchestra we had a functional, albeit un-sexy, website live and later in the evening I got a call from Monkey Calling!!  The call flow was complete, now we just needed to make it pretty, make a connection between the web form and Twilio (they apparently call this “the plumbing”), and write up some marketing stuff on our site.

    Sunday was spent make the UI you’ll see now if you visit MonkeyCalling.com based on Ayush’s super simple design – which include magenta as the accent color.  The guys were convinced we needed a “naughty” color – although I didn’t ask what this meant (and I still don’t know), I like how it looks.  We ended up quickly getting a blog, about us, team page, facebook group, and twitter account going thanks to Nirav and we began the pre-marketing of our product.  If you don’t know, this is an excellent tactic for getting the most you can out of Startup Weekend — and we actually scored an interview with a reporter for TechCrunch.  Would be fun to see where that goes…

    Overall it was a lot of fun, with a lot of typical problems you have whenever a bunch of smart people come together and try to get something new and cool built over a weekend.  When you consider how much we thrashed about, we got quite a bit done, which I think is a testament to both endless resourcefulness and dedication, and also the awesomeness of our tools.  I realize that I work for Twilio, but I am still learning about the API and I don’t code for a living, so I am happy to find it really is as simple as we say it is.  And we built something that works, and people can use it today!

    Give it a try!

    We also made our own video, which is quite silly and pointless but was good for a laugh:

    Don’t Forget the After Party

    I really feel I should mention that I have been so impressed with how welcoming the SF tech community has been.  Coming from Seattle, where we have a tight knit group of people supporting and participating in tech startups and entrepreneurship in general, I have been thinking about how I’ll make new friends and find my home in the community here as I make my move.  It is nice to go to events and see familiar faces, to find like-minded people to support you and give you a sanity (or reality) check from time to time.

    Here are pictures of some of the fun, interesting, fabulous people I spent time with last night:

    Tyler Willis - Startup Weekend SF 2Karen Hartline - Startup Weekend KaraokeAndrew Hyde - Startup Weekend SF 2

  • Posts

    This Disappearing World – David Gray

    I heard it’s snowing a bit back at home (again!).  I love this song, it captures a sort of restful melancholy that I feel as I reflect on where I’ll be living and what I’ll be leaving behind when I leave Seattle.

    Take a listen here: http://www.ilike.com/artist/David+Gray/track/Disappearing+World


    Slowly the truth is loading
    I’m weighted down with love
    Snow lying deep and even
    Strung out and dreaming of

    Night falling on the city
    Quite something to behold
    Don’t it just look so pretty
    This disappearing world

    They’re threading hope like fire
    Down through the desperate blood
    Down through the trailing wire
    Into the leafless wood

    Night falling on the city
    Quite something to behold
    Don’t it just look so pretty
    This disappearing world
    This disappearing world

    I’ll be sticking right there with it
    I’ll be by your side
    Sailing like a silver bullet
    Hit ‘em ‘tween the eyes
    Through the smoke and rising water
    Cross the great divide
    Baby till it all feels right

    Night falling on the city
    Sparkling red and gold
    Girl Don’t it look so pretty
    This disappearing world
    This disappearing world
    This disappearing world
    This disappearing world

  • Posts

    Kevin Is Leaving Microsoft

    I’m so proud of my husband, he’s finally quit his job at Microsoft and is already looking for new opportunities from Beijing.  He’ll be back in the U.S. in late April and then the job search will become full blown.  I can’t relate to what it is like to leave a company after being there for 10 years, but I know from our many private conversations on the subject that the decision was a challenging and emotionally complex one, that is the result of much soul searching and deep thought.  Here’s the announcement letter Kevin sent to his colleagues and professional contacts:

    With a mix of excitement and a bit of sadness, I am writing to let you know this June I will be leaving Microsoft.  After 10 years with the company, I decided the time is right to start a new chapter if my life.  One of my favorite things in life is learning, and I’m excited to get back to the days of being a bit of a newbie where every day is a new adventure.

    My wife and I will be moving to the Bay Area over the summer as part of the process.  In fact, she’s a step ahead of me and has already started working at Twilio.

    As I set out, I will carry with me a lot of great memories.

    I still remember my first day as an intern back in 1996.  I wasn’t old enough to have a car yet, so my brother dropped me off early in the morning and I spent some time walking around campus since no one was there to meet me yet.  As we all know, the campus has changed a little bit since then.  I had four great summers working on the IDE in Visual Studio.

    Towards the end of my fourth internship, I fell in love with Program Management.  I remember walking into my mentor’s office in August of 1999, about to tell him I wanted to leave college early and come join Microsoft.  To say I was a bit scared would be an understatement, but I was sure of my ultimate direction.  Two months later, I started full time on the Developer Division Setup team.  It was a bit funny at the time, because my manager’s name was Kevin as well, and his manager was also Kevin.  At the end of my first product cycle, I remember going to shiproom and seeing what it takes to really pull it together.  Some of my fondest memories are racing around trying to get all the analysis just right for shiproom.  Anyone who says Microsoft doesn’t care about customers has never been inside to see those times and just how far we go to make the right call.

    In my last two years on the Setup team, I worked as a lead.  I still remember all the great people I got to hire and every promotion I made.  It’s been fantastic watching them take off in the company.

    Having had many successes as a technical, release and lead PM, I wanted to get experience in the feature PM realm.  First as a PM in the sustained engineering team working on a new patching engine and in the past two years as a PM in SharePoint.  I learned just how tough it is to design great things.  Customers turn out to be pretty bad designers; they want every possible bell, knob and whistle you offer but proceed to curse you when you give it to them!

    I am a firm believer that as humans our work is where we can reach the highest, whether it be writing a compiler, building a skyscraper or raising a child.  I hear a common sentiment from people that they wish they just had a moment to relax, retire or somehow get away from all the bump and grind of life.  While it sounds alluring from time to time, I wouldn’t trade that hard work for one second.  Life was meant for filling with value, not to be left empty.  So all that intensity we seem to attract like magnets here: bring it on!  It’s stressful and sometimes even overwhelming, but it’s oh so thrilling!

    Thinking back to that fateful day in August 1999, I knew I was taking a huge risk and my dreams were on the line.  Well… they all came true, sooner and more brilliantly than I thought possible.  I am glad I got to live them in the company of such spectacular people.  Now it’s time to go imagine some new ones.

    Kevin’s story at Microsoft is an inspiring one, and I am so excited to see what he does next.

  • Posts

    Twitter Tools I Can’t Live Without

    Let’s face it, I’m on Twitter a lot. Between @DanielleMORRILL, @RafetheDog, @Twilio, and @Seattle20 I’ve got my hands full. You might think, because I’m on Twitter constantly, that I use a ton of tools. I’ve tried a lot, but only a handful of truly useful things have stuck.

    A desktop application for publishing, shortening links, tracking terms, and grouping Twitter follows based on various things; for example I have a “Seattle startups” group and a “brands to learn from” group. I still do a lot of my Twitter publishing directly from the website, even with Tweetdeck. The only downside that I’ve found so far is that it doesn’t, to my knowledge, allow you to manage multiple accounts – so I might be switching to Twhirl soon.

    Schedule tweets to go out at future dates/times. This is great if you suddenly have a deluge of things to share, but don’t want to drive your followers nuts.


    Auto-create tweets from an RSS feed – like your own blog – so that you don’t have to remember to promote manually it every time you post.

    An iPhone application for reading and following along with your Twitter account. A lot of people are recommending Tweetie, but I haven’t switched over yet.

  • Posts

    John Galt is Smiling

    TIA Daily tipped me off to a column by Caroline Baum at Bloomberg, which opens with the provocative sentence: “somewhere John Galt is smiling”.  Baum points out that the portion of Atlas Shrugged where the businessmen of the world walk away from their enterprises is still fiction — for now — and discusses the fact that government needs business, but business does not need government.  I couldn’t agree more.