Tag Archives: Twitter

Secrecy, Troop Movements and Social Media

13 May

Reading the Pulitzer-winning (1931) memoirs of General John Pershing recently, I am struck by many things, including the horrifying first use of chemical weapons, the unprecedented loss of life (700,000 dead at Verdun alone), and some unexpected ‘walk-on’ cameos including the Zelig-like appearances of a youthful, high-energy captain on the General’s staff named George S. Patton, Jr. (who later would return to his own fight in France).

But perhaps most interesting, given the unbelievable progress in communication technology since Pershing’s time, is the commander’s genuine shock and horror that the arrival and movements of the U.S. Expeditionary Force on European soil was extensively covered in the press of the time. “To my utter surprise” Pershing noted, the arrival of the Doughboys was thoroughly documented including “port of debarkation, the designation of units and the number of men.”

Pershing called on his aides for an immediate and total censorship lockdown, which was mostly successful. “Secrecy gives a commander the possibility of surprising his opponent,” Pershing writes (pg. 89) “The surest road to defeat would be to let the enemy know all about one’s plans and preparations.”

Fast forward to about a year ago, when a blogger in Abottabad, Pakistan started tweeting about the unusual presence of helicopters in the night sky of the city. Those helicopters, of course, were carrying the U.S. Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden. Had the local blogger been a little earlier, or a little more aggressive, he might have alerted the entire Bin Laden compound to the presence of the commandos.

How long will it be before the casual tweet or Facebook post will actually directly lead to a botched rescue mission, assault or other incident? It is hard to imagine anything else.

What’s even harder to imagine is how to put this particular genie of social media back in the bottle. When I was running Yahoo! News, there was light editorial oversight of social comments. But there really is no mechanism that has the footprint or scale to have any sort of pre-publication review. Hard to imagine that even being possible.

Which leads solely to this conclusion: Had social media existed in ‘Black Jack’ Pershing’s time, there’s no question that the arrival of the US forces in France would have been tweeted and blogged. Probably the arrival would have been recorded and streamed on YouTube.


Finding the ‘I Love Lucy’ of the Internet….

27 Mar

The pursuit of a creative format that would result in massive online audience has been like the chase for the Holy Grail, or the Ark of the Covenant. Many have failed, or given up in frustration. Does such a thing even exist? Or is it Hollywood ‘Legend’?

I have an inkling a new programming format that may succeed where others have failed is literally unfolding daily on our screens — in the online laboratory of actors Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore.

First, some background. This idea — stumbling on a new creative form that would result in a massive single-form audience driver — has long been a focus of many in the online content-creation world. The business theory underlying this is pretty straightforward: Massive audience means massive money (in terms of advertising revenue and audience engagement).

But it has been virtually impossible to find the gripping narrative that would lead to massive breakthrough audience akin to the early days of television, when Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz effectively created the whole ecosystem of TV ‘prime time’ with their long-running husband and wife series.  Sure, many web businesses have massive traffic. But no one has yet been able to point to originally produced programming with massive traffic (such here-today-gone-tomorrow wonders as Obamagirl and the video life of the so-called Real Life chick who was actually a marketing ruse don’t really count).

Well, Ashton and Demi may be cracking the code.

Perhaps you are not yet following the trials and tribulations (and fun) that the actors (and real-life husband and wife) are having with Twitter, video upload site Qik and photosite Twitpic. But I have an inkling that they are weaving the ‘I Love Lucy’ on the internet, or something like it, as we watch. And one reason they are succeeding is they are using web tools (hyperlinking, retweeting, real-time photo and video uploads and the like) with great energy and originality to do it.

Both Ashton and Demi have a very active Twitter following (hundreds of thousands of followers) only a handful of whom they must actually KNOW. That said, both are being supremely generous with their time, answering many followers directly and immediately, as they update folks about their ups and downs, comings and goings, etc. (As it happens Ashton is very deeply involved with several new media initiatives, including one involving a friend of mine, Sarah Ross, who was one of Yahoo!’s most talented marketing people. Hiring Sarah was a great move. But I digress….)

If Seinfeld was a show about nothing, then the chronicles of Ashton and Demi are Ionesco-esque in their nothingness. Today’s non-episode is a case in point.

It seems Ashton is filming a movie somewhere on the French Riviera, and Demi seems to be in LA, missing her husband but planning some sort of trip to reunite with him. Whatever.

A while ago, Ashton posts a funny video showing him getting his chest hair shaved (Don’t ask why) that had technical troubles (the video, not the shave). (This is after Ashton apparently slugged his stunt double and knocked him out, but that was another episode).

Back to today: Demi pings Ashton, via Twitter and passing across the computer screens of her 300K+ audience (BTW, that’s nearly double the daily audience of CNN’s Wolf Blitzer) that she wants to see the video of her half-naked husband. Half a world away and apparently frustrated by her husband’s technical mishap, Demi tweets this:

“mrskutcher@aplusk baby this is to complicated 20 vids are there with no title or order ready to lmao so get it worked out for our viewing pleasure.”

It took Ashton a while (does the film ‘take 5’ so he can twitter?), but he responded with this: “aplusk@mrskutcher HI baby love you so much. here babe, http://tinyurl.com/djtkr2″

It didn’t work: Back in LA, Demi said: “mrskutcherThe video is no longer there boo hoo !” (BTW, how many of us watching this have been on the receiving end of a ‘honey do’ list such as the one Ashton got? To me, the authenticity resonates, driving more audience and engagement).

Ultimately, Ashton got the video working, and their tweets moved on to other subjects.

Gripping theatre? Not exactly.

But my point is simply to say this interchange is just part of the evolving plot of their lives, which thus far has included: an Oscar-night party with winner Penelope Cruz and lots of photos, Ashton taking a shot of his wife’s rear-end in a hotel bathroom while she was steaming the wrinkles out of his suit (a photo that appeared on the evening news in half a dozen countries), a trip to Miami, jet lag in Frankfurt and dozens of other twists and turns….

Now, some may say the detritus of two celebrities’ daily lives is about as boring as anyone could imagine, and I am certain they would agree. This ‘show’ is unscripted, and only edited by the 140-character count of Twitter.

Regardless, this evolving programming, including comments and re-Tweets (RT)s from friends (the musician John Mayer plays a frequent guest-starring role, as does another friend, P. Diddy — who apparently is himself tweeting when he replies to Demi and Ashton; it isn’t his ghost-twitterer…) is growing daily (which few can say about the audience for some other programming types, such as daily print newspapers or most prime-time series).

No one has yet figured out the business model here. How will the advertising be sold? Is it Ashton’s revenue? Demi’s? Does the program belong to Twitter, Twitpic, Qik or your ISP? Is there even a business model?

But one thing is certain: in the pursuit of this holy grail, the first step is creating a big audience. And in that, Ashton and Demi appear to have taken a great leap forward. As of today, their combined total audience is over 850,000. And rising….

That’s not a bad number to start with…

April 3 2009 Update: This morning, a woman in the Bay Area twittered about her possible intent to commit suicide to @mrskutcher. Demi and many others monitoring her feed apparently called the San Jose police, who brought the woman in for observation. More on this incident here http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/AheadoftheCurve/story?id=7248406&page=1

April 20 2009 Update: Ashton Kutcher ‘beat’ CNN to the million follower mark. http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/04/17/ashton.cnn.twitter.battle/

When Does Communication Become Information?

9 Feb

Virtually immediately. But — this just in — not all interesting communication is valuable information.

I’ve been thinking about this question as I have gotten increasingly involved with Twitter (and its various plug-ins, cousins and competitors). Use is growing fast of the status message (Facebook) or its real-time Twitter-ish equivalent (Tweets, etc.). These messages are rapidly transitioning from quick update resource (“So-and-so just arrived @ ATL”) to headline alert (“USAir 1549 ditched in Hudson; photos here“).

What got me thinking about this issue of the value of these updates is the current debate over whether the rise of this communication is a ‘Brave New World’-ish event that puts at risk the very mission of a current leader of the Web world (Google) and its very mission: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Or whether something a little less earth-shattering is at work.

Here is the debate: Google and other search engines are great archival resources, finding all the information one could want; but they are not doing such a comprehensive job with the real-time, “crowd-sourced” web, and searchable Twitter, Yammer and FB status updates are the next new thing and the incumbents will fail to get a grip on the new ‘borg-sourced hivemind” of the distributed internet. Etc., etc. (Note: I just saw Kara posted on this at allthingsd.com).


It is an interesting argument. But so far, the rise of the status update feels ‘more, better, faster’ to me. In the news business, the same challenge of tapping the value of real-time information has been around for generations: Baron Paul Reuter’s famed carrier pigeons bearing news of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo were an earlier form of ‘tweet.’ The information carried by those birds was actionable financial intelligence that made some folks wealthy, and in many respects created the Reuters news brand.

If the pigeons had simply been carrying word that ‘Wellington arrived Waterloo’ there would have been less value.

There is often a bit of a feeling of deja vu. Only a few years ago, there was some enthusiasm that blogsearch (Technorati. Sphere) would help with monitoring the real-time web. While no doubt helpful, they did not exactly set the Earth spinning on a new axis.

The value of real-time status will be a function of the value of the content of the update, I suppose. Until we come up with some new tools to better infer content, and context, from those updates by some other means, we are going to have to rely upon one another to make sure we are providing some real information in our communication.

As it has always been…..