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Twitter – At a Glance

I’m taking a look today at Twitter, a popular online service similar to the “status box” implemented by Facebook. Twitter gives users the opportunity to post small updates on their life via a personal RSS feed.

Here’s the basics. Once you’ve signed up for a twitter account you’ve got your own personal little twitter feed. Anytime you want you can go to your twitter home page and type in a little blurb, 140 characters or less. Whatever you’ve entered will then show up in your feed for people to read.

There’s a few different ways folks can read your twitter updates, popularly called “tweets.” For one, they can go to your profile on the twitter website. This will display your last several tweets and give them an option to scroll through older ones. Also, if they have an account with twitter themselves they will also be able to subscribe to your twitter feed through the website. Referred to as “following” your tweets will now show up on their homepage when they log into twitter. You can also directly subscribe to the RSS feed of anyone’s tweets using any standard reader. Twitter is also easy to integrate with your personal website so that you can display your feed anywhere you like.

Created as a simple status updating service, twitter is rapidly evolving to encompass more uses. For one thing, it’s being used by many as a chat system, something akin to the “shoutbox” you’ll see on the occasional forum only a little more personal. If you’re following someone and they make a comment that you have some sort of response to, you can post a little reply in your twitter feed. If they’re following you as well, they’re going to see it. In fact, this way to chat got popular enough that twitter caught on and made adjustments to accomodate it. The standard way to let somone know that you’re responding to something they said is to start you response with the symbol ‘@’ and the person’s username on twitter. Once they picked up on this, twitter changed the coding on their site so that the ‘@’ symbol would automatically cause the following username to show up as a link to that users profile page.

So why should we care about twitter from a business perspective? I mean it’s neat, people have this great little tool they can use to communicate with their friends and even form a sort of community, but what does that mean for me? Can I find a profitable use for this tool? I ran into alot of questions about the possibility of twitter for business use while I was checking the service out, and I came across one viable idea that’s worth taking a look at.

I’m gonna segway for a minute to one of my personal favourite websites. It’s a webcomic called MegaTokyo that’s been around for quite some time now. The site has seen enormous amounts of success even to the point of several published collections of the comic being released and available in almost any large bookstore. Now there’s one thing that the author of the comic does that has caught my attention several times. He has a spot for his own personal twitter feed on the site, but also includes a second twitter feed that relates specifically to the comic. You’ll see updates there on the status of the next strip. Things like “drawings done, working on inking,” or “almost finished, should be up by 3:00.”

This is an excellent move in my opinion. Using a twitter feed this way is giving the site two advantages. First off, it’s a way for readers to feel a little more connected with the project. They feel more intimately involved in the process of the comic if they know what’s going on every step of the way. It’s that sort of connection that converts casual visitors to fans.

Secondly, it adds yet another little bit of dynamic content to the site. Most content-based websites require fresh new content to arrive periodically in order to be successful. Megatokyo, on a regular basis, updates with a new comic strip every monday wednesday and friday. However, it’s not always possible for the artist to keep to that schedule. People have lives and sometimes they get in the way of writing and drawing a comic strip. When a fan of the comic visits the site and sees no knew content, they’re dissapointed. With the addition of the Megatokyo twitter feed, however, they are at least able to check out what the progress is on the strip, how soon it will be up, why it got delayed, etc. Along with fostering a greater feeling of connection to the project, it provides something ‘new’ for the reader to be checking up on, one more little reason to come back to the site… and that goes a long way.

Twitter is more than a trendy little service. It’s an excellent business and networking tool the potential of which has yet to be tapped. Anyone with an interest in social networking, blogging, online communities, internet entreprenuership or even just a desire to keep their finger on the pulse of the web needs to get in on this.

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Anonymous: Cyber Vigilantes?

Blake’s Post about that bill against anonymous posting got me curious about things so I’ve been looking around, getting a feel for what folks reactions are online and checking out some of the legal issues. Anyway, in my curiosity I’ve stumbled across something that gives me pause and presents me with a bit of a problem. They’re a group self-dubbed “Anonymous” and I don’t quite know what to do with them.

From what I can gather, Anonymous is a rather decentralized group, there doesn’t seem to be any hierarchy or leaders or even qualifications for membership apart from deciding that you are one. My guess would be its a blanket term that covers a bunch of smaller individual group. Yet they still manage to act as a whole and have demonstrated on several occasions their ability to make an impact both on and off line.

On the one hand, they seem to be doing some good things. On December 7, 2007, Global News ran a story on the arrest of an alleged child predator by the name of Chris Forcand. The story said that the police investigation of Forcand began when detectives were contacted by a “self described internet teen vigilante group called anonymous,” who had already been tracking Forcand. Apparently Forcand had approached some members of the group and they began a campaign against him. Eventually Anonymous was able to dicover Forcand’s identity and location and contacted Toronto police, who set up a sting operation and arrested Forcand.

Global News Footage Story in Toronto Sun

At the other end of things, Amonymous hardly seems to be an entirely altruistic group. Anonymous has reportedly been behind less benevolent movements, including the Hacking of MySpace pages, “raids” on several forums, online gaming networks and other sites, and a massive campaign to spoil the ending to the Harry Potter books. (Okay… that one makes me laugh… but it’s still copyright infringement!)

Fox News Ran a story on Anonymous referring to them as an “Internet Hate Machine” and “Domestic Terrorists.” A writer for “Wired News” however calls the group nothing more than “Supremely bored 15 year olds.” And claims that the fox new story is the best prank the group has ever played.

In any case, these don’t always seem to be the nicest of guys. One of the groups slogans reads: “Anonymous: Because none of us are as cruel as all of us.”

The biggest notice Anonymous has gotten by far has been for it’s recent self proclaimed “war” against the church of Scientology dubbed “Project Chanology.” On January 12, 2008, a video produced by the Church of Scientology was leaked to the Internet and uploaded to YouTube. The Church of Scientology claimed copyright violation and requested that YouTube remove the video. Soon after, Anonymous released a YouTube video declaring their campaign against the church of Scientology. Anonymous attacked the church of Scientology with DOS attacks, prank calls and black faxes. In a subsequent YouTube video they called for protests outside of Scientology centers and on February 10, 2008 some 7,000 people world wide showed up to protest outside of Scientology centers in 93 cities worldwide. Cities in which 100 or more participated included Dublin, Ireland, Atlanta, Georgia, Dallas and Austin, Texas, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, Australia, Toronto, Canada, Clearwater, Florida, St. Louis, Missouri, New York City and London, England. Another rally is scheduled for March 15. Beware the ides?

This gives a pretty astounding picture of what this underground group is capable of. So the question is, how do we react to this? Yeah, the group is certainly responsible for some good things, no one likes a pedophile, but from what I’ve seen they can be pretty volatile as well, and is it really a good idea to encourage online vigilantism? At the same time, I can’t help but think of that bill against online anonymity. I don’t want my full name showing up places online, and if a bill like that managed to actually gain some support… well I’m pretty sure these Anonymous guys would fight it and fight it hard. That’s good for me, so I kinda want these guys around. But maybe it’s groups like this that inspired the bill in the first place.

Or am I way off base? Are these just supremely bored 15 year olds? Tell me what you think.

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"All the Charm of MySpace without all the Suck."

I can’t for the life of me remember where I read that little blurb, but it’s a pretty good evaluation of the still young social networking site VirbĀ°.

The folks behind the site call themselves Virb Inc. and are the same gang that created PureVolume back in 2003. (By the way, if you’re into the indie music scene and you haven’t ever heard of PureVolume then you need to go there now. I mean right away, forget the rest of this article for now, it’ll be here when you come back I promise.)

At first glance, Virb looks like just another MySpace clone, but upon closer inspection there’s plenty that sets it apart.

Virb breaks down its profiles into three categories at the moment. They are: personal, music, and organization. This comes in handy because, for example, I can choose to allow friend requests from personal pages, but block requests from bands. This brings back memories of spam-filled MySpace inboxes full of requests from guys who make techno in their basement. I can also choose to display my personal friends, band friends, and organization friends independently on my profile.

Virb has a couple other useful little perks like the ability to upload video with no quality restrictions and the option to link you profile to the rss/atom feed of your blog and have the posts automatically copied onto you Virb profile.

What Virb really does an excellent job with is customization. Virb provides you with several options to tweak the looks of your profile page. For the everyday user, there are two basic editors. One allows you to change some basic formatting options, simple things like fonts and colors. The other allows you to arrange the position of “modules” on your page. More on Virb modules in a moment.

editsample.jpg<- Basic Syle Editor

For those who are a little more web savvy and want a higher level of customization Virb also allows you to directly edit the CSS and XHTML for your profile page. And the addition of Virb modules makes the editing even easier. Virb breaks down every aspect of your page into modules. They have several basic modules already set up for you, one for displaying comments, pictures, meta, etc. Now say I wanted to add a little RSS feed widget to my profile page. I could go to the advanced editor and code it in there, but I could also make a custom module and place the code there. That way, when I go to the editor I have the option of simply referencing that module rather than typing out the full code. This keeps the code incredibly organized and makes things easy to re-arrange.

Amidst all this customization, Virb threw in another little goodie that I just love. Remember all those MySpace profiles that burned your eyes with their bright colors, unreadable font, and general feeling that someone had up and vomited random HTML all over the place? (And by one I mean one in five…) Well guess what. Now you don’t have to look at it! At the top of every profile page Virb gives you a “remove customization” option that allows you to view the page with the default layout and settings and avoid any annoying colors you may encounter.

sample-profile.jpg <-CustomĀ  Removed-> samplenoncustom.jpg

Overall, Virb seems to have taken something old, kept what worked, fixed a few things that didn’t and added their own unique feel. It might never be the leading social networking site, but it’s a great place to advertise a startup band, get a new organization noticed, or just have an extra place to show your blog and get a little more traffic. I wouldn’t be surprise to see some real growth there in the near future.

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That's My Mouse!

This is an incredibly neat little widget I stumbled across today. It's only been live for about a month now so I figured it was worth a little write-up.

"ThatsMyMouse" is a tool that allows users on your site to see not just their own cursors, but the location of anyone else's cursor who happens to be browsing the site simultaneously! Users have the option of enabling or disabling ThatsMyMouse and are even able to chat with other users on the page via a little chat window and little word bubbles that appear above their cursor's marker. If a users cursor does not move for a certain amount of time the user will be designated as idle and the marker will show a little "zzzz." The novelty of it all is certainly fun. You can check it out for yourself with a little demo here:

ThatsMyMouse Demo

I'm not really sure if this is actually something that will catch on. It brings to mind visions of popular sites cluttered with cursor markers, and I'm not sure how this would effect a sites performance. Of course there is always the option to turn it off, so if you don't want to see those cluttering markers you don't have too…

Something like this could perhaps have place if integrated with a network like digg or stumble upon. Sort of a "real time tagging" sort of thing. I'm interested how you guys think this will fit into the web 2.0 trend, so throw out some comments if you've got an idea!

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Everything Must Go

And we do mean everything. Or at least Australian philosophy student Nicael Holt did when he put his entire life up for sale on eBay early in January of 2007.

That’s right, in an entry titled “New Life for Sale” Holt stated that his name, phone number, all worldly possessions, social life, and training in his “skills” were going to the highest bidder.

In fact, the only things Holt specifically listed as not included in his life package were his passport, driver’s license, academic qualifications, legal identity and the future rights to his inheritance. Holt also promised he would transfer debt to the buyer, but said that he would throw in $20 and a sixpack of beer.

Among Holt’s worldly possessions were listed a surfboard, skateboard, a lamp “which your ex-girlfriend bought you,” childhood photographs, 300 CDs, a backpack, his clothes and bed, several piercings “to the value of $180,” and one bicycle described as having “wonky handlebars.”

Holt also offered a four week training course that would cover his personal history, tastes in fashion and food, “style of seduction,” interests, general lifestyle and six jokes. He would also instruct the buyer in the performance of his “skills” which included surfing, skateboarding, “fire twirling,” and a handstand. Additionally, the buyer would have “access to a cruisy job delivering fruit.”

Hot’s social life was also included as part of the deal. The buyer would be introduced to Holt’s circle of “15 close friends and 170 other friends,” and also to several potential significant others, which he counted at “around eight which I have been flirting with.” Holt claimed his friends would treat the buyer exactly as the treated him, which included “take me running, surfing, climbing and cook for me.” He did warn however that he had “2 nemeses.”

The bid on Nicael Holt’s life closed on the 24th of January, 2007 at AUD$7,500 (about USD$6,661.) I’ve yet to find any information about how serious the buyer was and if he or she (known to me only as “ridder-strade”) has actually assumed Holt’s life, friends, skills and possessions. It has also been reported that Holt had been talking to ABC about a documentary on the event. Again, I have found no information on whether this documentary was or ever will be made. I’ll certainly try to keep you posted if you I come across more information.

Sources:

Check out the original news story Here and Here.

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