n Degrees of Twitter

This week on ATP (or was it the after show?) the gents accidental discussed Twitter, frustrations with the crowd there, and strategies for dealing with what they politely called “negative feedback”.

It’s a great discussion, and as they spoke my mind wandered to technical solutions to the problem (as a programmer’s mind often does).

I’m calling my solution “n degrees of Twitter” (based on the six degrees of separation theorem). In this solution, I would choose a number (n) that represents the number of degrees of separation that I will allow in my @-replies. Sounds weird, but here’s how it would work:

  • At 1 degree, my @-replies would only be people who I follow.
  • At 2 degrees, my @-replies would only be people followed by people I follow.
  • At 3 degrees, my @-replies would only be people followed by people who are followed by people I follow.

And so on. Presumably, I could select a number 1-5, and then, “anybody”. At each degree, the “sphere” of people that can reach me via @-reply grows significantly.

The important part is the follow chain: you’re essentially using yourself and your choices in who you follow to filter out people who are outside a sphere. When you select a degree above 1, you’re also putting faith in those that you follow to also follow worthwhile people.

It’s also important that it work in that direction: somebody who follows me should not automatically be able to @-reply me. Nor if they follow any of the people I do, or the people at the next level. What’s important is that somebody in my sphere has validated them.

There’s a number of positives to this solution:

  • Assuming you set the degree higher than 1, you’re putting some faith in the people you follow to help you see interesting stuff.
  • You’ll be holding people accountable (and you’ll be accountable yourself) for following interesting people, while hopefully shunning trolls. This gives follows much more meaning than simply “I can hear you now” – you can hear them anyway, if they @-reply you in the current system.
  • You are actively vetting the people who can “drive by your porch and shout stuff” simply by following and unfollowing people.
  • You’re absolutely destroying spam replies. They can @-reply all day; you’ll never see it because junk accounts generally only get followed by other junk accounts (assume that this parenthetical is filled by irrefutable evidence of the above statement).

I would wager that even if you set your degree to 5, you’d rarely – if ever – get spam. Ideally, if Twitter did build this, they’d be able to show you the follower chain for any @-reply, allowing you to know exactly who’s letting the spam in and alert them. Well, if you’re in their sphere, anyway.

There’s also downsides (reminder: it’s opt-in):

  • You’re potentially losing out on serendipity. There’s always the possibility that some really great, smart person out there is going to @-reply you, and their genius never recognized because nobody (in your sphere) follows them.
  • It makes Twitter potentially less interactive for a lot of people. In fact, this would be taking a giant step in the direction of Facebook in terms of personal privacy. (Don’t worry, eventually they’ll merge, right around when iOS X ships on the 0-port MacBook.)
  • If you only follow people that think and talk like you, and share your politics, religion, and worldview, Twitter is just going to be a custom 24-hour news network of stuff you want to hear, and nothing that challenges your assumptions. Yes, that’s bad. Shut up, Donny.
  • There’s a pile of technical edge cases for when somebody @-replies more than one person (and many other situations), that could lead to confusion if not implemented well.
  • It’s probably a major technical challenge (pfft). But they’ve got people, I think they could figure it out.

I don’t have high hopes that Twitter would actually implement something like this. Mostly because I don’t think they care about this problem that much. But even if they left the default setting as it is – anybody can @-reply me – the majority of new and existing users would be unaffected, and folks like John, Casey, and Marco would have a way to shoo people who come by their porch.

Oh, and you can shout at me too if you like. For now.

A Podcaster is Me

So I’m podcasting much more frequently now – since the original run of I Like Juice I’ve started a fresh podcast with Chris called Montreal Sauce.

For I Like Juice, I posted episodes here on the blog, which for simplicity is using WordPress. For Montreal Sauce, however, I wanted to do some experimentation.

This is going to get technical. Continue reading

Define “Web”

John Gruber, in response to Chris Dixon:

It’s possible that the word “web” is too tightly associated with HTML/CSS/JavaScript content rendered in web browsers — that if I want to make a semantic argument, I should be saying it’s the internet that matters, not the web. But I like calling it the web, even as it expands outside the confines of HTML/CSS/JavaScript. The web has always been a nebulous concept, but at its center is the idea that everything can be linked.

This is the important part. Apps aren’t inherently competing with the web, usually they’re complimenting it. If your app can follow – better yet, respond to – a hyperlink then it’s just as much a part of the web as any website.

Apps will, for the foreseeable future, make more efficient and impressive use of the underlying hardware. HTML/CSS/JavaScript are a complicated bag of hurt (it’s OK, I have friend who’s JavaScript), and just because Mobile Safari and Chrome do it well doesn’t mean mobile and responsive websites are going to reverse the trend any time soon.

Coincidentally Jarvis

From Christopher Mims, writing for Quartz:

The result is a prototype wireless headset called “Jarvis” that sits in the wearer’s ears and connects to his or her smartphone. (Perhaps coincidentally, Jarvis is also the name of the voice recognition and artificial intelligence software in the Iron Man franchise.)

Coincidentally? I’m pretty sure these names get picked by engineers who occasionally get to leave work and see movies.

If I were a super-smart hardware and software engineer, you can bet that I’d build a bunch of voice-activated robots to do my bidding.

Cool stuff, Intel. Here’s hoping it works into our smartphones sooner than later; Siri needs all the help she can get.

Pesky Freedom of Speech

In my life, I’ve seen maybe one full episode of Duck Dynasty. It’s a well-made show about people I couldn’t give a crap about, doing something I am not interested in, and having fun doing it.

Suffice to say, I didn’t feel compelled to watch it again. I can see how it is entertaining if you either understand them and think their success is compelling, or if you are completely flabbergasted by their way of life and don’t understand their success at all. I think I “get” the show and the people and I don’t find their success surprising or compelling.

So then this whole Phil Robertson thing blows up. Continue reading

Web and Native, Sitting in a Tree

Last night I read the delightful “Web Apps vs. Native Apps Is Still a Thing” by my he-doesn’t-know-me internet pal John Gruber. It’s a great piece, in response to this article from Wired.

The most salient point here:

Andreessen does have a solid point in the fact that app stores are in some ways a pain in the ass — particularly Apple’s App Store, with its deliberative and at times opaque approval process. But app stores are mostly only a pain in the ass for developers, not users.

I don’t think this can be overstated. App stores are incredibly convenient as a computer user. Even as a developer, the fact that I don’t have to think about collecting money when I make an app is – for 99% of apps – worth any pain endured in the opaque approval process.

I’ve had the opportunity to develop a large number of apps and websites at my day job. We build custom apps and websites for clients. So we get the “what should we build” question all the time.

Here’s how I break it down for them.

  • Apps are great if you want your customer to take ownership of and be connected with your brand. They are giving you space on their phone. My dead grandfather is always in my heart; your app is always in my pocket. It’s that big a deal.
  • Websites are great if you need a communication platform that can reach the largest number of users at any moment. There are hundreds of tools that let you get in somebody’s inbox, their text messages, their feed reader, and draw them back to your website, where you can communicate whatever you want to them.
  • Apps are an investment in your end user – you’re giving them a tool that is literally a piece of your business, whether it’s a service component, a calculator, a visualizer. You’re giving them the tool and trusting them to use it for something great.
  • Websites are an investment in your public relations and marketing departments. You’re giving them a tool to communicate effectively and play offense.

This doesn’t mean you can’t use apps to communicate marketing messages – and it doesn’t mean you can’t put tools on your website. It’s just where the two platforms shine. Ultimately, they are different things, and I don’t see them converging in the same way that Andreessen does.

Yes, the opaque approval process is a pain in the butt – especially when you are guiding a client through the process, and managing their expectations – but if the problem you’re trying to solve is better solved by a native app than a website, then it’s something you live with so that your users love you.

I Made an App

A few of my friends and co-workers already know this, but I’ve been working on an app in my off hours.

Why? Continue reading

Year New Happy!

Hello, Friends!

It would be hard to say that this year will be different and not mean it. Teeny, Evie, and I will soon be joined by DeLeeuw Family Member #4. That won’t be the official name. I’m thinking “Bertrand”. Bert.

Teeny produces some amazing stuff with her sewing and craft room. Evie’s twin cousins – also due in the coming months – have inspired her to take on some new projects, and she’s come a very long way on some incredible tactile goods.

Evie is amazing and adorable. Her listening vocabulary is incredible; she can form pretty complex phrases with sign, and she’s starting to verbalize a number of words as well.

I’ve got a few personal projects that I’ve been putting together over the last six months. My hope is that they’ll be released as well this year – ideally before June 30th, Bert’s due date.

Okay, maybe not “Bertrand”.

Anyway, all I’ll say right now is that one of my projects is a website, and the other is an iOS app. Both are nearing completion, and I’ll be spending the next few months polishing one of them for release (although I’ll need to flip a coin to decide which to focus on). Tina’s artwork will also heavily play into the iOS app.

We’re looking forward to the new year, new babies, and new opportunities. I hope all is well with you, and I’ll write you again soon.

Innovators Dilemma

So, hey, Andy Ihnatko is a smart guy. So’s Marco Arment.

I don’t know that I entirely disagree when Andy says that consumers lose due to the results of the Samsung / Apple litigation. Maybe I do disagree simply from the fact that it’s not particularly provable, and that there are so many choices in this space that Apple has chosen not to litigate against – at least not yet. Perhaps this is a slippery slope, and Apple will chase others now that it has the taste of victory? On the other hand, I believe Tim Cook when he says he doesn’t care for litigation. Whatever that’s worth.

Continue reading

Tragedy of the Commons

I can’t say I’m an unbiased voice in this, because I worked (several years ago now) at WCET-TV, a public access TV station that serves the Hudsonville, Georgetown/Jenison, and Grandville communities.

But this is something that has been going on for years, and I think given that there’s real video of the discussion within Georgetown now, it’s a good time to properly comment on the township’s lack of funding, and, frankly, ownership of the station.

Continue reading