Monthly Archives: June 2010

Twinfluence: A better measure of social capital at #DCWeek

A list of the most tweets from Digital Capital Week is making the rounds today.

The list, generated by the Bivings Group and “powered by TwitterSlurp,” does seem to accurately record the volume of tweets authored by individuals, as well as the number of @mentions generated by those tweets.

Over the course of the 10 day tech festival in Washington, there were 12,916 tweets by 2,425 people about Digital Capital Week or on the #DCWeek hashtag.

Well and good.

Unfortunately, these kinds of lists are akin to the measuring the influence of people on Twitter by the number of followers they have.

As Anil Dash put it earlier this year, no one has a million followers on Twitter. The “million follower fallacy” has since been validated by research, confirming the common sense understanding of many long-term observers of Twitter.

Instead of measuring tweet volume, looking at influence as measured by retweets, @mentions and click throughs is useful, along with trickier offline analysis that might include catalyzing people to do things offline. Charlene Li’s tweet that she was heading over to a keynote on open leadership, for instance, motivated some people to come see her speak.

To get a sense of influence, it might be useful to parse the list of “top #DC Week” Twitter accounts through TweetReach.

A rough “back of the envelope calculation” might compare the ratio of tweets to mentionsPulling from #DCWeek stats and using that ratio, it’s possible to generate a better list of the folks who had social capital during D.C. Week.

Andy Carvin (@acarvin), for instance, “only” tweeted 52 times but had 209 mentions.

Here are some other notable high ratios:

@frankgruber: 115 tweets, 259 mentions

@Jillfoster: 40 tweets, 104 mentions

@dcweek: 234 tweets, 767 mentions

@corbett3000: 96 tweets, 410 mentions

@digitalsista: 31 tweets, 82 mentions

@darthcheeta: 29 tweets, 82 mentions

@mikeschaffer: 33 tweets, 62 mentions

@noreaster: 46 tweets, 137 mentions

That ratio is confounded by the reach of an account, like @jeffpulver. 36 tweets, 462 mentions, but to more than 360,000 followers.

If you took that ratio and factored in reach of the user, it might come closer to reflecting a “top Twitterer” from a given event or #hashtag chat.

Have at it, math geeks.

The bottom line is that we don’t have terrific technological tools to assess the “best tweets” or top Twitterers after the fact, though tools like can help in the moment.

For those who think it’s all silly, fine. But measuring audience sentiment and journalists’ coverage at events is likely to be something of interest to politicians, businesses and media alike. Here’s hoping that the analysis relies upon more than volume.


Filed under social media, technology, Twitter

Dressing for success in Washington: Suits, shirtsleeves and shorts

Much was made of President Obama’s choice on day one of his Presidency to doff his jacket in the Oval Office. When the White House unbuttoned its formal dress code, it was a symbolic move that reflected a larger shift to more casual business attire in culture. While some may feel the President’s showed a lack of respect for the office, for many Americans, doffing the jacket in office and rolling up shirt sleeves to get to work simply reflected their own experience.

For many people after all, it’s about whether you can get the job done, not what you’re wearing when you do it. That issue came into sharp relief yesterday, when some speakers at the 140 Conference held during Digital Capital Week in the District of Columbia came under criticism for not wearing pants.

I wish I could wear shorts more often around Washington. It’s now officially moved into “absurdly hot season” and wearing a suit is miserable. That said, there’s often no way around it. This week, for instance, I wore a suit to the Center for American Progress for the workshop, since I knew I’d be meeting John Podesta and other lawyers who put stock in that kind of professionalism. I’ve pulled my suit on to go to the ballet at the Kennedy Center, to go to Congressional testimony or to attend a landmark event on community health data at the National Academy of Sciences.

That said, I wore linen shorts, sandals and a collared shirt to the Gov 2.0 day at Digital Capital Week, since it was damn hot, and that fit my vision of summer business casual in the District. And yesterday, at the 140 Conference, I wore jeans and an untucked dress shirt, since that fit the image of the tech journalist I am these days.

Mike Schaffer, a self-described social media strategist here in DC, focused on elevating the style of online communications professionals in public. Respectfully, I think he missed the point. In every situation above, what I wore mattered but, to my audience, was beside the point.

Peter Corbett may have worn shorts and a t-shirt, as seen on the left, but, in his role, it didn’t matter. Since I know him and have respect for the work he’d done for D.C. Week, at iStrategy Labs for Apps for the Army, and other initiatives, I know what he’s done.

I also believe that the informal nature of 140 Conference requires no more of us than that we represent ourselves as ourselves and share what matters, much like, perhaps, we might approach Twitter.

Representative Mike Honda (D-CA) may have come dressed in a suit, as you might expect from a Congressman in D.C., but what he said reflected that sentiment:

“It’s about sharing who you are, rather than trying to sell what you’d like to have people believe about you.”

By focusing on what people wore instead of what they said or have done, I’m not sure Schaffer honored the hard work of the organizers, nor the quality of the experiences that, say, Justin Kownacki shared.

Kownacki, whose cargo shorts drew attention at the D.C. 140 Conference, tweeted afterwards that “I don’t believe in wardrobe labels. I judge words and actions, not packaging. I’m amused by the #140conf attendees who think my wardrobe ‘killed my credibility.’ Who knew packaging dictates truth? Wardrobes provide a shorthand by which we can exclude & ignore. Makes life easier for traditionalists & streamliners, I’m sure.”

I’ve been to dozens of tech conferences, many of which featured people dressed to the nines with little substantive tactical or strategic value.

I can frankly say, as someone who has overdressed on occasion, that sometimes wearing shorts and a hip t-shirt is absolutely the right choice.

Tools and Togs both matter

Schaffer wrote that “a carpenter is known for getting the job done, not which saw he uses.”

That’s both true and untrue. Master builders who can afford to work with Bosch or DeWalt tools do so because of the quality of the tools and the precision product they allow. It’s true that someone with lack of knowledge to use them will fare far worse that a worker without, just as a rube with an expensive composite fly rod might be outfished by a boy with a cheap piece of bamboo and string, if the young man knows where and how to apply his simple rig. What you do with the tools matters more than their quality, but don’t overlook the fact that those tools do matter.

If someone contracts with a professional videographer to create a broadcast-quality ad and she showed up with a disposable camera and a vintage iBook, what would the new client think?

Consider the building example again. Carpenters are known for building things out of wood. Getting the job done is dependent upon the general contractor who employs him or her, or the reputation of the master builder that is hired. I have some familiarity with carpentry, after working as an apprentice for 18 months in Massachusetts. In that role, I wore shorts when it was hot, Carhardt pants when it wasn’t and many layers of fleece and polypro when it was frigid. We dressed as needed to get the job done. If someone showed up on the job site improperly dressed, or without boots, a belt, gloves and a full set of tools, he couldn’t get the job done without a loan of same.

Working in digital media is no different, in the sense that what we wear what we need to to accomplish a goal, in the context of the social mores of the space we move in.

Virtually, that might mean creating a well-designed website that is standards compliant. Or developing a mobile app for a conference or service. In the social media world, it means adding an avatar, bio, link and other elements that fill out a profile before sally forth. Dressing to impress can mean many things, but in the end, it’s what you can do and have done that will matter most to your clients, customers and audience. Did I get the story right? Will the house stay sound for decades? Is this a sustainable business? Does the app work?

Given the monumental challenges that lie ahead for government officials in Washington and around the nation, I suspect many citizens would rather they focus on getting real results, narrowing budgets, passing effective legislation and developing effective regulations that address issues in the financial, technical and environmental space, rather than any wardrobe choice.

As for me, I hope I can wear shorts more often around Washington.


Filed under article, blogging, friends, journalism, social media, technology, Twitter

Supreme Court rules on workplace sexting, upholds 1987 decision on electronic privacy

The Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court released an important decision on electronic privacy in the workplace today, which I’ve embedded below.

In the case of City of Ontario, California v. Quon, the court unanimously upheld a 1987 decision that recognized the workplace privacy rights of government employees.

“The case involved the use of text pagers issued to officers by the city police department,” said Jim Dempsey, the Center for Democracy and Technology’s vice president for public policy.

“When one officer consistently went over the allotted limit on messages, his supervisors obtained stored text messages from the service provider and found that many were personal, not work-related.  The officer claimed that the search violated the Fourth Amendment.  The Supreme Court held that the police department’s actions were reasonable, and thus did not violate the constitutional rights of the police officer.

“What is significant about the Supreme Court’s opinion is what did not happen,” said Dempsey. “Faced with an opportunity to curtail workplace privacy (or electronic privacy generally), the Court noted, applying a 1987 precedent, that government employees generally retain their Fourth Amendment privacy rights, and it assumed that government employees may have a reasonable expectation of privacy even in communications they send during work hours on employer-issued devices.

The case could have had very far-reaching implications because of the way in which work-related and personal communications have become so interwoven, in both the government and the private sectors, as employers expect workers to be always available by cell phone, text and email.  The Court recognized this trend, but declined to set any new rules.”

The New York Times also has published analysis of the ruling,” Justices Allow Search of Workplace Pagers.”

“This ended up as a workplace privacy case for government employees,” said Dempsey. “The message to government employers is that the courts will continue to scrutinize employers’ actions for reasonableness, so supervisors have to be careful. Unless a ‘no privacy’ policy is clear and consistently applied, an employer should assume that employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy and should proceed carefully, with a good reason and a narrow search, before examining employee emails, texts or Internet usage.”

The Supreme Court opinion is online at

CDT and other privacy advocates filed an amicus brief, cited by the Court in its opinion, urging the Court to tread carefully and avoid casting any doubt on the privacy of new communications technologies. PDF:


Filed under cyberlaw, technology

Why is Twitter hiring a government liaison? Thoughts from @SG and more. [#gov20]

Twitter goes to Washington

Twitter goes to Washington?

A job posting for a government liaison has ignited plenty of controversy in the blogosphere, Twittersphere, and, one might imagine, in the halls of Twitter HQ out in San Francisco.

The Department of Human Services’ new media guru, Andrew P. Wilson, offered up a thoughtful “Top 10 Requests for the New Government Liaison at Twitter.” Adriel Hampton, a former Congressional candidate and a leading voice in the government 2.0 community, wondered if Twitter could reimagine democracy.

And earlier today, Mark Drapeau, the director for innovative engagement at Microsoft, considered whether government 2.0 had passed Twitter by.

I don’t disagree with Mark that it would be useful for Twitter’s staff to be more of a part of the Gov 2.0 community, as Jack Dorsey has at times been, but I was surprised to read Drapeau write that “the help is really not needed.”

Given how lawmakers are tweeting, with many mistakes, lack of engagement or misunderstanding of conventions, some guidance would seem to be of use. More to the point, the fact that they’re not tweeting at all is no doubt of interest to Twitter HQ.

After all, for every Claire McCaskill or Darrell Issa, there are a dozen Congressmen and women who aren’t using the service well – or at all. Many others have staff do it for them. Focusing on the role of Facebook’s Adam Conner here on Capitol Hill is spot on; hiring someone who understands the lingo, conventions and effective communications strategy for this role would be useful for both government and Twitter itself.

I found Drapeau’s selection of Kawasaki as a model to be particularly surprising, given the polarizing effect his use of Twitter has had, particularly with respect to “ghost tweeting.” Using Twitter authentically and personally is precisely what has been effective for politicians like Cory Booker. The blowback that came from people learning @BarackObama wasn’t tweeting himself should be instructive.

My own comments aside, Twitter’s VP of communications, Sean Garrett (@SG), shared more insight on Drapeau’s post into the microblogging juggernaut’s thinking in posting the job opening. I reproduce his comment below:

I’m Twitter’s head of communications and I have spent very little time ivory towers in my career. You?

Before Twitter much of my career was devoted to building bridges between the technology community and the policy world. Did things like helping start TechNet in 1997 and worked with them for a couple years to creating the first technology-policy focused communications consultancy and serving as a partner there for 6 years. This is all to say that I have a pretty decent view how policymakers and political types view and use technologies, tech policy issues and where gaps remain.

We’ve done a lot of research and talked to a lot of people in Washington (including members of Congress and staffers, administration officials, think tank folks, etc) and elsewhere about what would be a good first step for us as we build a policy presence. That step is this position.

I also think it is important to recognize that when you say that this is a type of position that should have been filled one or two years ago that in January of 2009, we had 22 employees. As recently as last October, we had 70 employees. We just crossed the 200 barrier and now have the ability to do things proactively as opposed simply fight to keep the service up and do the basics everyday.

Do you think that Twitter should have made employee number 23 a DC-focused position or a network engineer?

Finally, and most constructively, thanks to the great work of the Gov 2.0 crowd that you mention, this hire won’t have to start work on day one with a blank slate. There’s a whole community that he or she could tap into to become more effective faster. They can attend the right events and get involved in the existing conversation that promises exciting transformation.

At the same time and in just one example, there are real live members of Congress who at this very moment are wrestling with whether to open a Twitter account and, if so, how to get the most out of it. Having someone being able to walk over to their office and sit down with their team is going to be more helpful than telling them to just follow Guy Kawasaki or absorb the collective wisdom of the “countless consultants working inside the Beltway” through osmosis.

As the relationship of lawmakers, citizens and technology companies evolves, one thing is clear: there will continue to be plenty of discussion about how social media disrupts the playing field here in Washington and beyond.

UPDATE: Steve Lunceford of GovTwit posted an interview with Sean Garrett this morning that provides more detail on Twitter’s search for a government liaison. It’s worth reading the entire post but two answers will be of particular interest to the government 2.0 community:

Q: Is this U.S Federal-focused only, given that you’re hiring in Washington, D.C.?

@SG: Twitter is not just interested in government from a U.S. federal standpoint, but [also] outside the Beltway in states and localities. We’re obviously global as well, and this new role will look not only to U.S., but also how other governments use or don’t use Twitter; how campaigns work/don’t work and how they translate from one level to another.

What need is Twitter trying to fill here?

@SG: We believe Twitter will be better off having a direct dialogue with public officials who use our service. And I would say that yes, the “Twitter 101″ conversations are still important. Many in D.C. are eager to engage on Twitter and we want to help them maximize this experience. And, there are some who don’t understand how to use it or where the value is. We’d like to change this where we can. Having a point person that can help verify government IDs, someone that can be down the street to meet with officials in their office, or serve as an overall point person for government outside the Beltway is the initial goal here.


Filed under social media, technology, Twitter