Doing Something About Twitter User Name Conflict

January 9th, 2009

I have recently lamented the lack of clarity around user name ownership on Twitter and other social networks.  My friend Erik Heels has a proposal to do something about it- namely to create a uniform username dispute resolution policy promoted by the major social networking sites.

One of his main points is that trying to differentiate user name conflict from domain name conflict is wrong.  Companies have brands and use those brand names as domain names and user names.  E.g. yahoo.com is also twitter.com/yahoo.

User name policies have a Wild West feeling right now.  Businesses are just figuring out how to work with lightweight social networks.  It won’t take too long for them to get tired of fighting the same user name battles over and over.  Erik has a great proposal.  Heavyweight advertisers everywhere take note: start leaning on the social networks to get their acts together and set some clear rules for the game.

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A Twitter Name Conflict Resolved in Record Time

December 28th, 2008

Steve Poland’s open letter to Evan Williams last week hit Techmeme and apparently got widely read.  Another Twitter user name “dispute” sparked, caught fire and went out all in one Saturday- yesterday- on what is probably one of the slowest weekends of the year.

The Dispute
A school teacher named Colin adopted the user name @room214, which also happens to be the name of a social media agency.

I think the episode started with this tweet from the agency, using the name @room_214:  room_214

Colin responded that he likes the name and uses it in other places as well, so no.  From what I can tell the agency did not file a complaint with Twitter itself, though it sounds like someone might have sent Colin a nastygram threatening to do so.

The Speedy Resolution
The episode ended about 12 hours later when the co-founder of the agency posted a note saying that the note came from an overeager employee, and that the agency itself had no desire to push Colin off the name.

The name itself is totally banal- @room214.  There is no practical way for anyone to know that it is also the name of a business, and there is nothing famous or proprietary about it.  Twitter’s terms of service have two sections that might allow them to change a user name (“You must not abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate other Twitter users”; and “We reserve the right to reclaim usernames on behalf of businesses or individuals that hold legal claim or trademark on those usernames”) and Colin violated neither as far as I can tell, so by my reading the agency would be out of luck.

The Conclusion
This episode ended up a whole lot of nothing.  It does show that people get attached to their names and are starting to wonder how much to rely on them.  Steve’s suggestion is to create paid Twitter premium accounts that “protect” user names like telephone numbers or domain names.

Twitter is the biggest network that uses unique user names to identify users (I think) rather than email addresses or Facebook-style numerical identifiers, but the issue goes beyond just Twitter.  I probably have accounts as @park3 on 20 different services.  I would not pay money for that name on most of them, but I might pay a very small amount on 3-5 or so- probably not more than $10/year or so since I don’t make money from any of them (and i’m cheap!).  Would I use fewer services if I knew I had to pay to be guaranteed my preferred name?  Would I search harder to find a really “unique” name?  Probably not on both counts.  Do I just need to start a user name-reservation-and-arbitration business?   Hmm.

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Twitter Username Conflict and Password Function Creep

December 22nd, 2008

My friend Steve Poland blogged a few days ago about the experience of losing his @celtics Twitter account.  The story got picked up on Techmeme and made the rounds on the Internet, which was a wondeful thing.  It sounds as though the Boston Celtics decided they wanted to try out Twitter, saw that @celtics was taken and successfully petitioned Twitter to yank it from Steve.

I feel bad for Steve not so much for the fact that the name was taken from him as for the way it was done.  He posted the notification email from Twitter and it was blunt, unsympathetic and offered no recourse to someone who believed he had been wronged.  There are good ways and bad ways to convey a message and if ever there was one likely to inspire a rant this was it.

The consensus from around the Internet agrees here, and says that while everyone understands intellectually that Twitter owns user names (unlike phone numbers or domain names) there should be a fair review process.  Steve has a great example in @STP, his personal Twitter account and also the name of a brand of motor oil.  Steve never Twitters about motor oil that I am aware of, so by Twitter’s own rules there is no “impersonation” happening and Twitter should not be permitted to take the name away.

But what if it does anyway?  And what if Steve also has “STP” accounts on 17 other social media sites (or every one listed at Username Check)?  As the social media business figures out how to charge people for services I wonder if someone needs to step up as a global user name mediator so that individuals and companies don’t end up fighting the same battle in multiple forums simultaneously, where they might well win some and lose some.

Twitter seems to have jumped way up in the public consciousness recently.  I imagine they are dealing with a lot of these issues right now.  I bet they wish they could hand them off to someone else as well.

And as long as I am on the subject of Twitter growing pains,  I am fervently looking forward to the day I don’t have to give my Twitter password to every site that wants to plug into my account.  Erik Heels recommends changing Twitter passwords regularly, probably for this very reason.  I am going to have to write down all the places that have my Twitter credentials so that I can start doing that.

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Microblogging and Effective Communcation Methods in the Enterprise

November 23rd, 2008

I have been on Twitter for about 18 months now and continually marvel at how it has helped me connect and re-connect with people I see infrequently.  I joined my new law firm, Virtual Law Partners, in August of this year and Yammer launched shortly thereafter.  VLP has no offices, so there is no water cooler around which people can congregate and socialize.  I created a Yammer network for VLP in the hope that it could serve that purpose virtually.

After two months on the network we have 20 members and I have posted 153 times.  The next-most frequent members have posted 60, 30 and 6 times, respectively.  It is fair to say that the idea of network was well received, but the network itself has not been overwhelmingly popular to date.  This is a data point for me rather than a success/fail metric.

We are a completely virtual business, and also a brand new, rapidly growing organization. We are going to try a lot of different communication methods before we find ones that work best, and we will probably find that different people have different favorites.  The NY Times has these quotes that for me encapsulate the appeal of microblogging- it can be pithy and valuable for both business and social matters:

“I’m personally learning about things I wouldn’t normally hear about until we’re getting ready for a monthly board meeting,” he said. His company, with offices on both coasts and soon in London, uses Yammer. “I’m constantly sending messages about what I’m doing,” he said. “The rest of the company gets excited, and they’re using that info to communicate with customers and partners.”

Companies with many employees who work from home or in far-flung offices may get the most out of internal microblogging, which can help fill the inherent social gaps among remote workers. Even simple updates like, “Going to the dentist” or “Mopping coffee off the keyboard” can make co-workers feel more connected to one another.

It isn’t for everyone, though, and never will be.  We have a host of other online tools to communicate intra-firm: IM, discussion board, internal blogs, phones(!) and a nascent social network.  I can’t wait to see how people use all these tools.  They each have their own set of benefits and drawbacks.  We are in the throw-things-at-the-wall-and-see-what sticks-phase. I bet that over time we will start using things in ways no one ever expected.

As a social web nerd, I really enjoy watching the process unfold.  VLP is a brand-new firm with a plan to do something no one else has done before in any industry: build a major business with no offices at all.  Communication is even more critical for us than for many other businesses.  I am really looking forward to seeing what works and what doesn’t over the next year or two.

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Twitter’s First-Mover Advantage and Disadvantage

August 2nd, 2008

Fred Wilson’s tumblog pointed me this morning to a post about why Twitter has been so successful and is so well loved despite all its problems and downtime.

Why Twitter Still Wins | chrisbrogan.com

Chris makes the point that Twitter’s openness has saved it.  He says:

One way to win in software is to make your application fertile for building upon. Open your API. Give people tools to build an ecosystem around it. And it becomes a lot harder to pull away and go elsewhere.

Unfortunately, in Twitter’s case the last sentence should be followed by the phrase “no matter how badly the service behaves”.  Twitter has definitely become successful despite itself.

A commenter on Chris’s blog made an even better comment.  Michael Durwin points out that Twitter created something completely new. This struck a chord with me.  I attended a social web event put on by Niall Kennedy in late 2006 or early 2007 where Twitter presented.  The company was still focused on Odeo, the product it launched around.  Biz Stone talked about staffers inside the company thought it was funny when people posted clever notes in their IM status- “hung over” or “shouldn’t have eaten the whole burrito” instead of merely “busy” or “available”.

The point is that Twitter arrived on the scene when the idea of micro-messaging was embryonic at best. (On hearing Biz’s talk my own response was that Twitter sounded like the dumbest, most narcissistic thing imaginable, and I continued to feel that way for about 8 more months until I completely fell in love with the service)

The title of this post is about Twitter’s advantages and disadvantages as a first mover.  As Michael Durwin points out, Twitter created a new genre of communication.  its advantage is that it is the first and best known product in its category and has the most users.

On the other hand, Twitter’s problem is that its developers had no idea how micro-messaging would grow.  Its architecture was apparently not designed to accomodate many of the things people would like to see, like threaded messaging, photos, video and comments.  Newer entrants in the field such as Friendfeed can use all this knowledge to build more flexible platforms (taking note as well of why rivals such as Jaiku and Pownce have largely failed to captivate). 

So to sum it up, Twitter’s situation today is basically this:

Advantages: best known, well developed community/social graph, lots of great third-party extensions

Disadvantages: needs to rebuild platform now that we know what people want from micro-messaging platforms

I’m rooting for Twitter.  I sure hope they can rebuild fast enough, but people aren’t going to wait forever.

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Twitter is My FriendFeed

June 6th, 2008

I don’t totally get the point of FriendFeed- or maybe I just don’t like it. I consider it a meta-social network because it doesn’t do a lot that is totally new. It aggregates my contributions across the web (and those of people I follow), but there isn’t very much to actually do on the service.

At the same time, I would love a social web “home base”- a place I where I could both aggregate and contribute. I use Twitter and Brightkite a lot, but one friend might post often to Flickr and another to Yelp. Home Base would be a single place from which I could both keep track of my friends’ activity, and also interact with their photos, tweets and reviews.

Friendfeed lets me post to Twitter, but still isn’t as dynamic as that platform and it ends up being just another place for me to check, but not to post from.

In the end, it comes down to where most of my friends are. I have the most contacts on Facebook currently, but interact with people less there than any other other social network I’m on. That’s just me, I know. Plenty of people have entirely fulfilling internet social lives on Facebook.

I’ve realized that the place I interact with friends the most is Twitter. In addition, many other services feed into Twitter easily, so I can add a new service and not have to rebuild my social graph there before it becomes useful.

I’m close to the point of putting my Twitter ID on my email signature because it’s such a good way to get in touch with me, but at the same time I’m afraid of getting any more attached to Twitter because of its reliability problems. It’s really a shame. The service is so easy and so valuable. I sure hope they can overcome their “we built the wrong platform at the outset” issues and become the powerhouse they deserve to be.

twitter.com/park3

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Same Issue, Different Worlds

May 22nd, 2008

There has been a dust-up in certain corners of the Internet recently over Twitter’s alleged failure to deal appropriately with interpersonal conduct on the site. The relevant tweets have been removed, so none of the facts are easily verifiable. To summarize the story quickly, though:

*social media consultant Ariel Walden complained to Twitter that she was being stalked and harassed on Twitter by a specific user.

*Twitter declined to take action several times over several months, citing a desire not to filter content appearing on the platform, and also saying that the alleged conduct did not, in Twitter’s mind, violate the site’s Terms of Use.

*Twitter recently made several public comments on the matter, including one to say that it is reviewing its Terms of Use to more clearly say that it will not actively monitor content.

I spent a little time looking at this and came away interested much more in the issue as a study of human behavior than anything else. Specifically, comments on Twitter’s official blog post contain nothing but glowing praise for Twitter’s approach. In contrast, the thread on Twitter’s support forum is filled with nothing but condemnation of the company. Literally in each case- the comments are 100% pro-Twitter in one venue, and 100% pro-Walden in the other.

Is there a point to this? Possibly not, except that even within Twitter, finding “community” depends on how you turn the coin- look to the official outlet and find Twitter diehard supporters; look to the support forums and find a completely different view. Fascinating.

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Just When I’d Concluded that Twitter is Utterly Banal (Not that there is anything wrong with that)

March 31st, 2008

Moira Gunn’s Tech Nation podcast covers a lot of ground and has some great interviews. One of the most interesting I have heard in a long time was with NYU professor Clay Shirky, who wrote a recent book on social media.

The best part of the interview was where he talked about the use of social web tools for political purposes. Starting with a reminder that Chinese students used fax machines in 1989 to obtain Western reports on the Tiananmen Square protests and crackdown, he went on to discuss several examples of social media being used to record things that matter to the world- as opposed to everyday events that matter to specific individuals. My favorites:

* A flash mob convened in October Square, Minsk, Belarus in May 2006 (in Belarussian(?) with lots of pictures) to eat ice cream. Mass gatherings in October Square are illegal and security forces monitor the same social networks as the activists, so plainclothes police were ready and arrested a number of participants. Photos document the entire episode, including the arrests.

*Twitter used by Egyptian activists to let the community know their whereabouts, esp. whether they have been arrested. Shirky pointed out that when the fact of a person’s arrest is widely known, the likelihood that the person will be seen again increases dramatically. In this case, Alaa was able to Twitter the circumstances of his detention from his mobile phone.

Shirky opines that tools like Twitter and SMS mean that connectivity is an all-or-nothing proposition for repressive governments. I don’t think he has it quite right- China and other countries manage to screen web sites effectively. The point is well taken, though- lightweight communication tools can find ways through the walls. This is really inspirational stuff.

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