Archive for the ‘Twitter’ Category


Context is everything

February 6, 2012

One of the problems with Twitter is that you only have 140 characters in which to deliver your message. That’s also an advantage because you have to hone your writing skills significantly.

However, honing your writing often means that the context of your message is lost, with the result that it can be misinterpreted. Badly.

The other thing with Twitter messages is that you don’t always know how your message will be interpreted by your followers in other countries, or who speak other languages. Some words (particularly words that are colloquial, vernacular, or location-specific) just get lost in translation or are misinterpreted in ways you can’t imagine.

All this is a preamble to a public Tweet I read from someone I follow the other day (no names, of course!). She lives in the US; I live in Australia.

Here’s her original Tweet:

Original Tweet

Within minutes, quite a number of her followers from the UK, Australia, and other parts of US, contacted her directly to see if she meant what we thought she meant, especially in relation to the second sentence. ;-)

Shortly after, she Tweeted this:

Clarification Tweet

As I said, context is everything!


Ten things not to Tweet about

February 13, 2010

Another great cartoon from Matthew Inman, over at The Oatmeal comics site, this time on things you shouldn’t Tweet about on Twitter. Hmmm… I have a conference coming up in March…

Here’s a taste:

(Click the image to go to the full cartoon, or click this link:

[Links last checked January 2010]


‘Twas the night before Christmas…

December 26, 2009

And the Tweets were flying in the Twittersphere. Well, not so much, but here’s a cute little story from a couple of technical writing colleagues whom I follow on Twitter.

The players

  • Kirsty: Lives in Brisbane, Queensland; I know her via US conferences, the Australian Chapter of STC, and the Author-it user community. Have met her ‘live’ a few times.
  • Hamish: Also lives in Brisbane, Queensland. Have never met him, but I introduced him to his current employer and he took over my technical writing job with them (I worked remotely from Western Australia for that client). Very active in some of the technical writing communities I’m in, and a fellow Author-it Certified Consultant.

The situation

A few days ago, Kirsty (or her husband) dropped a heavy mortar (as in pestle and mortar) into the kitchen sink, breaking the sink in the process. She was able to purchase a new sink before Christmas, and had lined up a plumber to install it on December 24. She had Tweeted about it.

What happened on Christmas Eve

See the conversation below for what happened on December 24 (read from the bottom up):

The outcome

Unfortunately, the plumber Hamish had at his house didn’t do sink installations (a plumber who doesn’t install sinks? Then who *do* you get to install a sink???), so it didn’t turn out as well as it might have.

But it was a nice conversation to observe from the sidelines and a good example of the power of Twitter to bring people together and get things done. All this happened within a few minutes, and no phone calls or running around was required. Of course, if any Brisbane-based plumber had been monitoring Twitter at the time, he or she may have picked up a new job unexpectedly. I suspect that Kirsty would’ve paid whatever it took to have her sink installed before Christmas!


“You’ve come a long way, baby!” Really?

December 22, 2009

A slight deviation from my normal blog posts…

I’ve read some disturbing articles and blog posts recently, and as a result, I’m wondering just how far women have come in gaining parity with men in many aspects of the working world — at least in the so-called developed, democratic countries like the US, Canada, Australia, the UK and the like.

Each of these articles has made me question how much of this ‘equality’ is just lip service. There seem to be some deeper, underlying prejudices (even hatreds), beliefs and values at play here that thwart women from being equal members of society — even without us (women AND men) realizing it or being aware that it’s occurring.

I had thought that many of the barriers to women in the workplace had disappeared over the past three or four decades, but now I’m starting to question whether that’s case. I’m not sure we’ve come very far at all.

The articles and events that have led to this post are:

  • James Chartrand has gained an enviable reputation as an excellent copy writer and is one of the people behind ‘Men With Pens’ (, a Canadian web design and copywriting company with an international reputation. Recently, James revealed that he is really a ‘she’. She had to take on a male name in order to be taken seriously and to earn a decent wage to support her family. The comments on this blog post are also worth reading, but there are hundreds of them, so grab a cup of coffee before you start!
  • This article opens with: ‘Even near military bases, female veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t often offered a drink on the house as a welcome home.’ and goes on to describe what life is like for women returning from the frontline to a society that doesn’t acknowledge what they’ve done and gone through.
  • What happened to Danah Boyd when she spoke at a Web conference. This Twitter ‘backchannel’ issue is not just relevant to female presenters; however, female speakers may be subject to more sexual innuendo and outright sexual harassment in the remarks than men might be. After reading about Danah’s experiences, I wrote about this disturbing ‘backchannel’ phenomena here:
  • Death threats against Kathy Sierra in 2007, which resulted in her canceling all speaking engagements for a few years, and meant that she stopped sharing her brilliance by ceasing to write any more articles on her ‘Creating Passionate Users’ blog ( These threats put fear into her and her family that no-one should have to experience. You can read a little about this in the ‘Controversy’ and ‘References’ sections of this Wikipedia article:
  • Finally, this article came out in the same week as the first two, and I read it a day or so after those others. It  appears to be a ‘tongue in cheek’ article — but perhaps not. Normally, I would have found it funny. But after the events described in the earlier articles, I found this article quite sad, and just a little disturbing. I suspect it was written in good humor, and, under normal circumstances, I’d have taken it that way. But not after reading the earlier articles and remembering the Danah Boyd and Kathy Sierra incidents.

See also:

[Links last checked December 2009]


Conferences and Twitter backchannels

December 1, 2009

I first heard the word ‘backchannel’ at the 2009 WritersUA Conference. I didn’t really understand what it meant then (I first signed up for Twitter while I was at that conference), and I’m still not 100% sure what it means now. But recent events have brought up all the ‘Why?’ and ‘What for?’ and ‘What the…?’ questions I had then.

The explanation I was given some 9 months ago was that attendees at a conference session might be Tweeting snippets of a presentation so the rest of those who can’t attend the session get the benefit of the speaker’s wisdom. (As I understand it, this is the ‘backchannel’.) And in some conferences, this ‘backchannel’ is projected onto a screen for all to see — including the presenter.

While I can see that this might be a useful and positive thing, at the time I was skeptical that those Tweeting during a session would really be focused on the message (after all, they were focusing on sending a text message via their laptop, iPhone etc. not on the presenter, the presentation message and the presentation visuals — that’s a lot to concentrate on, and a lot of multi-tasking!). I didn’t even consider that the messages they’d be Tweeting might be negative — perhaps I’m too naive and believe too much in the inherent goodness of people.

Skip forward some 9 months, and all the negative things that could happen with this sort of activity have come to fruition. And in spades. Danah Boyd spoke at the Web 2.0 Conference last week. From what I’ve read, she was publicly panned and derided on Twitter. And all the Tweets were displayed on the huge screen behind her while she was speaking — without her knowledge. You can read her version of what happened here: Please take some time out to read this if you attend conferences, and especially if you speak at them.

Had the Tweets just been about her presentation and what she was saying, then maybe they might have had some value. But it sounds as though the thin veneer of ‘civilization’ that separates us from our primal selves went missing as some of the comments became very personal. All I could think of when I read about this public humiliation was “Lord of the Flies”.

I admire the guts and bravery of Danah Boyd for speaking out. If more and more conferences adopt this new world of social media, it won’t be surprising if some long-time, quality speakers drop out. Who’d want to volunteer to be subjected to this sort of rude and brutal — and totally uncontrolled — behavior? Feedback’s one thing; lynch mob mentality under the guise of Tweets is another thing altogether.

On a related note, Olivia Mitchell has written a terrific eBook for conference presenters on ‘How to present with Twitter and other Backchannels’, available for free from here: Her advice is timely in light of Danah Boyd’s experiences. Perhaps if the Web 2.0 conference organizers had read some of the advice in this eBook, the situation she faced may not have occurred.

Related commentary on this topic:

[Links last checked November 2009]


Everything you wanted to know about Twitter

September 25, 2009

Well, perhaps not everything, but a lot!

If you’re still new to Twitter or are thinking about setting up a Twitter account but aren’t sure what to do, why you would use it, how to use it, etc. then take a look at the various articles — arranged by chapters — pulled together by the people over at Mashable into The Twitter Guide Book.


And the Twitter people have also put out a ‘Twitter 101’ for businesses:

[Link last checked July 2009]


Book review: Conversation and Community

August 26, 2009

Anne Gentle, Book Sprint maven, long-time blogger, regular contributor to the technical writing profession, and mother to a couple of young children has somehow found time to write and publish a book. And what a topical book it is.

Her book, Conversation and Community, is almost up-to-the minute (surely a first for a printed publication — some of the references were to blog posts I read just a few weeks ago). She has some really useful, helpful and very practical tips and strategies on how technical communicators can get involved in ‘conversational’ documentation with users, and how they can lead the charge for using social media in their organization. This may be scary territory for those technical writers who don’t even subscribe to email discussion lists, let alone blogs and forums, but Anne’s book is a helping hand to guide you through the maze.


However, her ideas are also very pragmatic — Anne has obviously worked in several organizational cultures, so she rightly advises against jumping in feet first. Her advice is to take it slowly, a little bit at a time, starting with listening to what users are saying about your product, then branching into commenting, before going all out with technologies and tools such as Twitter. And all the way along, getting buy-in from management and setting the ground rules for the interactions.

This is a well-researched book and Anne has provided numerous footnotes with references to books and URLs, as well as sample style guides etc. in the Appendices.

She’s also listed all links and footnote references for each chapter on (see for links to the Chapter lists).

For other reviews of this book, see Sarah Maddox’s blog post where she reviews the book, then links to further reviews at the end.

Related: Learning is Social article about how the Net Generation learn through Web 2.0 technologies and social media:

[Links last checked August 2009]


How Twitter deals with suspended accounts

July 9, 2009

Since signing up for Twitter back in March/April 2009, I’ve had a few strange ‘follow’ announcements from Twitter — strange because the user name was not familiar or just plain weird. Typically, you can look at the account and see if you want to block the user from seeing your updates, or follow them, or just let them remain a follower of yours without doing anything else.

I had notifications about two new followers last month. And both times when I clicked on their Twitter user name to check them out, I got this message:

How Twitter deals with a suspended account -- nice message delivery!

How Twitter deals with a suspended account -- nice message delivery!

I like how Twitter has dealt with this! ;-) The message doesn’t out and out say that the user appears to be a spammer or some other person who has not followed the Twitter rules, but if you dig deeper (the ‘juicy details’ bit at the bottom) you can find out why an account may be suspended, though not the juicy details about the specific account you’re trying to view.

Update 9 July 2009: It seems Twitter suspended a LOT of accounts recently. Charlene Kingston has the details and how to get off the suspended list if you get on it:


Dictionaries starting to recognize Twitter terms?

July 5, 2009

In the past few weeks, several news reports have documented how some  mainstream dictionaries are monitoring Twitter terms, perhaps for future inclusion in their online and/or print publications. Does this mean that Twitter is morphing from ‘new shiny’ to ‘mainstream’? Or is it just part of the normal role of lexicographers who watch how language is being used? I guess only time will tell if Twitter is just another flash in the pan.

For example, “RT this: OUP Dictionary Team monitors Twitterer’s tweets” from the Oxford University Press USA blog ( where they discuss some of their findings from monitoring close on 1.5 million Tweets since January 2009.

And Twitter has made it into the 2009 edition of the AP Stylebook:

Aside: For a list of some of the abbreviations used on Twitter, see this Twitter FAQ from Brent Ozar:

[Links last checked June 2009]


How to annoy 22m people

May 6, 2009

Actually, here’s how you p*** off 22 million people… Ignore them!

David Pogue, the technology writer and blogger for The New York Times, whose opinion I respect and whose blog I read regularly (but whose Twitter feed I had to turn off as it was too busy!), was the keynote speaker at the STC annual conference in Atlanta on Monday. From the people Tweeting about his speech, it was excellent. No surprises there — I’ve seen some of his TED Talks, for example, and he’s an entertaining speaker.

However, one of the Tweets from Kirsty — a fellow Australian and friend of mine who is at the conference (I’m not, so this is second hand) — said that in his keynote Pogue had suggested that drop-down lists of countries on web forms and applications start with the US, followed by the ‘most popular’ countries, then the rest. (Update: Char gave me context for this — it seems he said something to the effect that if 90% of your respondents come from, say three countries, then put those countries at the top of the list. I don’t have a problem with that.)

In her Tweet, Kirsty disagreed with him saying it depended on the audience. Kirsty then Tweeted a link to a page that I presume Pogue had used as an example of his recommended structure (someone correct me if I’m wrong about that). The page is

If you look at the Country list on the left of this web page you’ll see that the field is populated with USA by default.

Default country is USA

Default country is USA

Then if you click the drop-down arrow, you’ll see that someone has decided which are the next set of  ‘most popular’ countries.

'Most popular' countries

'Most popular' countries

After that, the rest of the world’s countries are listed alphabetically by continent/region, then alphabetically by country within a continent.

Doing it this way is interesting, but smacks of ‘we are better than them’. Who chooses which country is the default? Who chooses which countries are the next ‘most popular’? On what basis? Population? Internet usage? Political alliances? Eye color? (see Update above)

And who chooses which countries belong to which continents? Africa and the Americas are easy as they are defined by ocean boundaries, but what about Asia and Europe? The various countries of the old USSR and the Middle East might not be happy with their placements in the list.

But the BIG one for me with this list is that my country — Australia — is NOT in the list! Not only is Australia a country, but it’s an entire CONTINENT! With some 22m people, we may not be the biggest country in the world as far as population goes, but I’d take a guess that we’re bigger than the Maldives, Kiribati, and many other countries in this list.

Below are screen shots of the entire country list on this website as at May 5, 2009. I have not doctored these screen shots in any way. There’s no mention of Australia at all — not by itself, not under Asia, nor under Oceania, nor under any other continent. (The reason I took the screen shots is that it’s possible that by the time you go to the website, someone may have fixed this glaring oversight.)

countries03 countries04
countries05 countries06
countries07 countries08
countries09 countries10
countries11 countries12

So here’s how you annoy 22m people — ignore them!

Of course, it’s possible there are even more who are annoyed — has anyone noticed any other country that’s been missed? If so, add it via the Comments.

Oh, and the real kicker? This site states that they have the ‘largest database of free and EPS maps’!! They deal with maps every day, yet leave off an entire continent… (actually, two if you include Antarctica as a continent). (And they are some interesting spellings of some country names too, especially for a company that deals in maps… Cambodja, Srilanka anyone!)