Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

Impressions of a novice Twitterer

The Birds I’ve been on Twitter for a few weeks now, so I should give some sort of account of it, especially as I said I would.

I have remained very wary about “following” too many people — with good cause. So far I’ve only added 24, but already when I logon in the morning there are pages and pages of back messages, mainly by a handful of scribes who tell me what they had for breakfast, how many cups of coffee they imbibed yesterday, and then list all the meetings they’ve got throughout the day, before embarking on a marathon to ‘n’ fro with obscure individuals with names like Plodoff, CrankyAss and LowFalutin’ (I made those up to avoid embarrassing real people).

I’ve taken to skimming deftly through those Tweetaramas now, allowing around 5 seconds per page.

The most valuable facility is the “Replies” folder which holds all messages aimed directly at you (@Syntagma) which are very much fewer than the general river of Tweets. I could easily get by with a few Tweets a day, plus references to the Replies cache.

However, I’ve also enabled my cellphone/mobile to receive mobile Tweets. I’ve no idea what they are, but suspect they are “direct messages” which are sent as texts. I seem to have a limit of 250. Maybe after that they will charge my account. Who knows? I’ll be sure to turn it off when they do.

I do have some rather prestigious “Web 2.0″ people following me. Check the list. Some of them are quite interesting in a Web 2.0 sort of way. So far no Web 3.0 followers — maybe they’re too busy semanticizing about the future.

The real problem with Twitter, as with all social networks, is its addictive qualities. It’s so easy to drown in the stuff. If you work for a living online, as I do, it’s vital to rein in your expressive tendencies. Tweets pay no bills (pun not intended).

Indeed, Tweeting will undermine your ability to post content on your sites as it can drain away your creative juices before you’ve even begun the day’s work. Faced with a long, detailed piece to write, the ease of a <140 character post spoils you for the harder task. Better to Twitter in 5-minute spurts two or three times a day.

If, as many do, you attempt to document your entire day as it passes, you are a gonna. As in "gone with the birds" -- no pun intended.

I'll stick with it for now, highlighting the occasional post, like this one -- using tinyurl.com to reduce the character count of the link -- and see where it takes me. As the numbers of my followers mount, I see dimly the name of Alfred Hitchcock materializing in my mind's eye.

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Saturday Snob House

Okay, I’m going to get a little bit snobby here. Unheard of, I know, but needs must.

YouGov the British online polling outfit has come up with a list of internet names which drive people up the wall. I’m climbing the wall just looking at them, especially as the list contains some of my very unfavourite terms, incuding “blog” and “wiki”. How can any serious person ever use the word, wiki? It sounds like a Tibetan yak.

Here’s the list in descending order of gruesomeness :

1. Folksonomy (groan, but it shouldn’t be top)
2. Blogosphere (okay, number 2 is about right)
3. Blog (now that should be #1 on anyone’s list)
4. Netiquette (pretty harmless, but what the hell)
5. Blook (now that is a bloody disgrace)
6. Webinar (hmm, doesn’t hit me viscerally)
7. Vlog (talk about mangling the English language)
8. Social networking (I’ve already run a mile just typing it)
9. Cookie (some things are just born to crumble)
10 = Wiki (should have been strangled at birth and higher in the list)
= Podcast (it sounds so insignificant, who let it live?)
= Avatar (Hindu holymen have got a long-standing option on this one)
= User-Generated Content (a mashup with almost no meaning).

The poll of 2000 internet users was done to mark the 10th anniversary of the word “weblog”. I wonder if any of them will last another 10 years?

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An Internet Cynic

I was asked the other day if I’m an internet optimist. My first reaction was to say, yes. After all, I make a lot of my living online. But on reflection I knew it was more complicated than that.

Over the years, I’m not ashamed to say, I’ve become something of an internet cynic. By cynic I don’t mean opponent, just wary of its claims, rushes to judgement and general enthusiasms.

I’ve found you can enjoy the internet better — and profit from it more — if you know its strengths and weaknesses, while always erring on the downside.

The upside of the internet is surprisingly slim, though occasionally explosive. Prudent people factor out the explosive aspect because it rarely happens.

So what are we left with? Quite a lot as it happens.

Unlike Dick Whittington’s London Town which was said to be paved with gold — an unlikely story — the internet is paved with slime. Were it a game of snakes and ladders, it would be 95 percent snake. The key to success is distinguishing the very few ladders from the endless serpentine slopes.

There are some things on the net that work, and many more that don’t. For example, although the main niches for content and advertising are crammed full of competition, they still work their magic — if you can get ahead of the crowd.

The so-called long tail — which gladdens the hearts of sentimental neo-Marxists — is a myth which only the likes of Amazon can make pay. Whipping a dead donkey delivers more than operating in some micro-niches.

I’ve learned never to heed the words of enthusiasts who don’t care about financial returns. If that sounds cynical, just put yourself in the place of someone looking to make an income online. “Try knitting or quilting,” they’re urged, “historic trains or Victorian ballads. There’s a huge audience out there.”

“Out There” is about as useful as “Tham Thar Hills” where the gold was supposed to be.

This is not really cynicism, but stoicism. Cultivating the art of effectiveness by cutting away all that wastes time and doesn’t work. Why expend effort on that which drains.

Syntagma’s advice? Get into the mainstream, but be different. Compete on quality, but be distinctive. Don’t listen to anyone without practical online experience. And, above all, filter out the white noise and the useless information.

It’s not difficult. It just takes a stoical outlook — and a little bit of cynicism.

So what’s new?

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How to launch a Web 2.0 business for peanuts

Well, $12,107 to be exact, but believe me that is peanuts for a working, potentially-profitable business. What’s more, the owner, Guy Kawasaki, is also promoting it in the process of explaining how he did it. It doesn’t get much better.

The deal is to cut out as many operators as possible, with the exception of the tech guys to design the site, and some lawyers. Without those, it could have been done much cheaper, but probably not without anxiety.

Here are a couple of his 26 bullet points that caught my eye :

* 0. I wrote 0 business plans for it. The plan is simple: Get a site launched in a few months, see if people like it, and sell ads and sponsorships (or not).

* 0. I pitched 0 venture capitalists to fund it. Life is simple when you can launch a company with a credit-card level debt.

* 4. I learned four lessons launching Truemors: There’s really no such thing as bad PR. $12,000 goes a very long way these days. You can work with a team that is thousands of miles away. Life is good for entrepreneurs these days.

So-called Web 2.0 businesses can be set up for peanuts — we did that with Syntagma Media because we weren’t sure if it would ever make any money. Our lack of faith has been amply rewarded in monetary terms ever since. Why invest money in something unpredictable if you can bootstrap the business from a credit card? A good idea is not more of a good idea because it has been funded by VCs, and you might just be selling chunks of a very good idea indeed.

Kawasaki is a shrewd guy, and not very experienced in technical terms. In fact, he’s quite like me really, minus the rough edges. So it’s great to see him make a go of Truemors. We wish him well and great fortune to come.

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The Calacanis Link-bait Machine

You just gotta give it to the guy. Genius isn’t in it. Jason Calacanis has just written not only the funniest post I’ve read in a while, but also the smartest traffic-hoovering machine in years. I’d call it the industrialization of backlink aggregation. Google watch out — Professor Moriarty is on the case.

Now, if you think I’m doing this post to get a link back from Jason, get a life! His post tickled me puce, that’s all.

Oh, and did I mention he is former Editor of Silicon Alley Reporter, “once profiled in New Yorker piece…,” former GM of Netscape, Brooklyn born, or “his trusty bulldog Toro by his side.”?

His injunction, “DO lie and say we hung out one night back in the Silicon Alley days or after a conference and that I’m actually a really cool guy once you get to know me.” is not possible since I NEVER lie. I once sang a duet with Elvis though.

He ends : If you follow these “Calacanis Link Bait” strategies I will link to you. If you just come out and beat me up I probably won’t… so, there you have it “how to get a link from Calacanis.”

I suspect this is a clever way of using his campaign against SEO, which I totally agree with in an unflashy sort of way, to practise a little of it himself.

Darren at Problogger take note, you have serious competition.

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