Transient v Persistent data on Twitter

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Presentation about Transient v Persistent data on Twitter and how it relates to twitter app development. Delivered on April 30th 2009 in London

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  • Hi! My name's Paul Johnston.
    I am a “Web Entrepreneur, the Founder of Vida, a Social Media Consultant (with experience!), Web Business Strategist, Innovator, Techie, Geek and Christian” - at least, that's what it says on my Twitter Bio.
    [NEXT SLIDE]
  • My background is in web strategy and application development and as such when Twitter came along, with it's open API and it's simple idea “what are you doing right now?”, it captured my imagination.
    It has also captured many other people's imaginations too...
    [NEXT SLIDE]
  • (You know most of this stuff, but I'll say it anyway)
    There are 5 to 10 million users on Twitter (at least, that's what TechCrunch thought a few days ago) and even if 60+% of them do not return after the first month, when there are large numbers of people using a service, there is always a large amount of data.
    The firehose has tens of thousands of tweets an hour, and hundreds of tweets/minute. In peak times, this can get even higher.
    With twitter, you pick and choose who to follow - it's one of the joys of twitter that you don't have to read everything – but when you have that much data, you get questions like:
    Who should I follow and why?
    How much should I tweet?
    What should I tweet about?
    To answer some of these questions, you have to understand something about the transient nature of tweets...
    [NEXT SLIDE]
  • This image of traffic is often what people perceive when they look at twitter from the outside.
    Quick definition: Transient means "Passing especially quickly into and out of existence" or "passing through or by a place with only a brief stay or sojourn". I think this is an almost perfect description of a tweet.
    It's easy to understand that twitter is made up of lots of little pieces of information and the overwhelming amount can mean that a new user or a casual observer is bombarded with so much information, it begins to become a single entity in their mind, instead of lots of separate entities.
    Twitter is generally only understood from within (and not always well understood even then). From the outside, this picture is just traffic, but if you place yourself in one of those cars, you would see a completely different perspective. It's still traffic, but you are mostly aware of the people you're following, and in your rearview mirror, you'd be aware of who is following you. (If you want to take the analogy a step further, traffic reports might be twitter searches and twitter trends)
    If you, as a user, are primarily aware of those you are following and less aware of those who are following you, how much attention does an individual tweet actually get?
    [NEXT SLIDE]
  • Tweets live for approximately 5 minutes. At least, this was the conclusion drawn from a simple test done using a tweet with a tracked link. A user with 2500 followers was asked to tweet 3 tracked links in 3 separate tweets. The significant majority of clicks came within the first 5 minutes. Very few came after that.
    What this tells us, is that attention from your followers to one of your tweets is pretty much immediate. After a few minutes (or moments if you don't have that many followers), there is little or no attention for that specific tweet content.
    Of course, different users will have different types of followers and the content of the tweet will always have a big effect on how much attention it deserves, but the one thing you can take out of this is that...
    The essence of Twitter communication is “NOW”
    [NEXT SLIDE]
  • (Cleveland Indians Theme Song)
    However, given that tweets are transient and that twitter is a NOW communication tool, there are aspects of twitter data that can persist.
    Just tweeting regularly creates some persistence. No tweets (or rare tweeting) means you are effectively invisible on the network.
    Another Quick Definition: Persistent “constantly repeated”
    There are a few things that when you tweet regularly are repeated. These are:
    [NEXT SLIDE]
  • ... your avatar and your username. Psychologically they are highly important to other people's perception of you. These two pieces of information, especially the visual information in the avatar, mean something to those that follow you. When you see a tweet from someone who's avatar you recognise, you often have a good idea what they will talk about. There's a context given to your tweets by the username and the image.
    Your avatar is much more than just a picture. It's a strong identifier to other users that can be used to gain attention and can (if chosen well) provide context.
    Remember that “Constantly repeated” is what persistent means, although don't make the mistake that this is about repeating content yourself.
    Twitter is inherently about attention. Without it, the service can be quite pointless and egotistical. To get more attention and the right kind of attention, it's very helpful to move from a transient mindset to a persistent mindset.
    [NEXT SLIDE]
  • There are 2 simple ways in which you can get yourself and your tweets persisting in the minds of others - @replies, and retweets.
    These methods mean that another user on twitter has placed your persistent data (your username) into their followers attention. They are causing your username to persist on twitter. If they retweet, your content then persists.
    These ideas make your followers much more important than you may think and having large numbers of followers (so long as they retweet and @reply) is a big positive.
    That's why conversation is everything. It's not even wrong to ask people to retweet – although not too much.
    To go from transient to persistent, you have to understand and grow your follower base. Just large numbers isn't helpful. The right kind of followers are those that retweet and @reply.
    But the other (and possibly more important) major tools in the arsenal are the twitter search and the trend tools.
    [NEXT SLIDE]
  • Trends are fast becoming the key to twitter.
    Following trends via search or via tools such as tweetmeme or twitscoop shows you what twitter users find interesting right now.
    As people are always watching different trends, it's quite simple to write tweets that non-followers will pick up on (so long as your tweets aren't private), and therefore gain attention and possibly followers. It's a simple way of finding people to follow and prospective new followers.
    However, there is a problem with global twitter trends... and it's an issue of Twitter's own making unfortunately.
    If (as twitter has done) you generate large numbers of followers for a specific user, that user has the ability to control tweets and skew the trends. Those with large followings have more control over the global agenda.
    This is why getting on the twitter suggested follow list is such a big issue. It generates greater immediate attention than most other forms of communication, and as such, gives great power to manage and control an agenda.
    [NEXT SLIDE]
  • Big Brother was in control of the agenda. Is it going to be the celebrities or news agencies who control twitter's agenda? Surely part of the power of twitter was that you didn't have to follow anyone you didn't want to.
    Controlling the agenda on twitter is a powerful position to be in. It means you have the ability to influence the trends and the conversation. The more people that follow you, the more likely a retweet or conversation will happen. How many times recently did you see @aplusk or @oprah as a trending topic?
    The difference between transient and persistent data on twitter is attention. The amount of attention given to persistent data – that which is retweeted and that which is conversational - is so much higher than that of the transient data, that transient tweets are virtually meaningless except to those that tweet them and those who follow and happen to be online at the time.
    [NEXT SLIDE] – But, why am I talking about this?
  • Twitter Apps have the ability to enhance the twitter experience for users. That includes newbies and power users and everything in between. Each type of user has different needs and requirements.
    I haven't yet found my perfect twitter client – I still haven't yet found my perfect email client! - and so I do think there is always room for improvement.
    I use tweetdeck for tweeting mainly, but have tried others and would move if I found one that better suited my needs.
    There are many different sites that utilise twitter data for various things, such as stocktwits.com for stock market news. Again, I think we're only just scratching the surface on this. Getting and providing niche data is the one of the keys to future twitter applications.
    I think apps should do more than just allow you to tweet or provide a simple interface to data.
    At this point, I'm going to open it up to a bit of discussion, as some of the things I've been thinking abot regarding app development are:
    [NEXT SLIDE]
  • If a tweet lives for 5 minutes, how should that change the interface for a twitter client?
    If one of the keys to persistence is retweeting and conversation, is there a better visualisation of that data that we can place into a client?
    If some data already persists, such as the user's avatar, is there a better visualisation that can be made for that specifically?
    Utilising trends in other websites is very useful, but is just a keyword search over the public timeline useful enough? Is there more that we can do there? Is there data we can provide “in-client” that might help?
    Given that 60% of users aren't coming back after the first month, is there a better client that could help them to utilise the service better?
  • If a tweet lives for 5 minutes, how should that change the interface for a twitter client?
    If one of the keys to persistence is retweeting and conversation, is there a better visualisation of that we can place into a client?
    If some data already persists, such as the user's avatar, is there a better visualisation that can be made for that specifically?
    Utilising trends in other websites is very useful, but is just a keyword search over the public timeline useful enough? Is there more that we can do there?
    Given that 60% of users aren't coming back after the first month, is there a better client that could help them to utilise the service better?
  • Transient v Persistent data on Twitter

    1. 1.     Transient v Persistent Data  on  @PaulDJohnston Twitter Developer Nest ­ April 2009
    2. 2.    
    3. 3.     Twitter: 600+ tweets/minute Photo: flickr user @big­ashb
    4. 4.     ` Tweets are Transient Photo: flickr user Nrbelex
    5. 5.     Tweet life ~ 5 mins (Source: fuelinteractive.com ­ http://is.gd/lrhc) Photo: flickr user Andreas Sueda
    6. 6.     Photo:  flickr user Eddie~S
    7. 7.     Avatars and Usernames are Persistent
    8. 8.     Conversation is Everything
    9. 9.     trends
    10. 10.     1984 Big Brother 2009 @aplusk @oprah
    11. 11.     The Future of Apps? Photo: flickr user Great Beyond
    12. 12.     Things to Ponder when Developing: •  ➢5 min tweet attention ­ transient ➢  ➢Visualisation of retweets and   Conversations ­ persistent ➢  ➢More visual clients – avatars persist ➢  ➢Better trend/data monitoring and  Visualisation ➢  ➢40% retention rate after 1 month...  newbie client needed?
    13. 13.     Who on Earth Am I? Paul Johnston Bio: Web Entrepreneur, Founder of Vida  and Aristos Social, Social Media  Consultant (with experience!), Web  Business Strategist, Innovator, Techie,  Geek and Christian Twitter: @PaulDJohnston Email: paul@aristossocial.com Location: Milton Keynes, UK Inside Leg Measurement: 34” Number of Dogs: 2 Favourite Colour: Orange

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