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It’s not about the numbers. It’s about the connections.

Image by Amodiovalerio Verde via Flickr

Last night, I had a surprise:  my follower count on Twitter dropped by 148 in one fell swoop.

At first, I thought it was something I had tweeted – oversharing about the Forrester tweetup, or disinterest in sharing a clip of Supreme Court nominee Sotomayor. That didn’t jibe, however, with my gut.

What was inflammatory? What had I done that resulted in a huge loss of followers? As I drifted off to sleep, I thought: how important is this, really, in the grand scheme of things?

I’ve long since learned one hallmark of netiquette on Twitter (Twittiquette, if you will) was not to talk about one’s follower numbers. (If only I could retrieve some of the replies I received back in 2007 after doing so, I’d be thrilled. No good.)

A paraphrase of most of them essentially boiled down to this: are you here to get followers or here to connect?

It didn’t take long to see where the real value was. And, more than two years later, I’m elated to look back and see how many marvelous connections I’ve made, many of which have led to friendships offline. Why is that important?

For me, that’s a a simple answer: we live in a number-obsessed culture. Thinks about how many metrics we track, filter and can recall: poll numbers, net worth, MPG, CTR, Web uniques, 0-60 in __, GPA, APR, circulation, P/E ratios, DJIA, TCO, Mbps, R/W speed…on and on.

And, naturally, for those in the social networking world,we count subscribers,  friends and followers. I’ve received far too many messages and spam promising me thousands of followers if I use this software or that service.

Honestly, they all leave me with the taste of fermented cough syrup in my mouth, with a healthy side of cod liver oil.

It’s not about the numbers: it’s about the connections.

Every follower or friend I’ve made has been through a conscious choice or organic growth. I’m proud of that. I’ve done it in what I might term the “new-fashioned way,” using much the same approach that Chris Brogan describes in his Twitter FAQ: “be helpful, share, communicate, use @replies a lot.” I tend to attribute “by @username” or “via @” nearly as much as directly @reply these days but the sense is the same.

Yesterday, I met Josh Bernoff, co-author of Groundswell. I had dinner with Shava Nerad and her beau, “Fish Fishman,” with Laurel Ruma joining in a bit later. I saw dozens of other friends from the local social media scene at two different tweetups.

I shared some groundbreaking journalism tools and advice, like best practices for journalists curating the Web. I shared messages and stories with newsies at the New York Times, Guardian, Wired, Gizmodo, Slate, The Register,The Center for Democracy & Technology and many others.

I read Stephen Baker on what may become of BusinessWeek and Bernard Lunn on creative destruction in publishing

I shared a lovely bit of science fiction made real, via the irrepressible Steve Garfield, watching the latest in augmented reality:

I reviewed my sources, notes and interviews from a conference earlier this week and wrote an article. I enjoyed a two hour workshop with my colleagues, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of our journalism. I even enjoyed a late night cocktail with someone I love deeply.

In all of that, what does a dip in follower numbers mean? Not a helluva lot.

And, as it turns out, the scuttlebutt that Twitter is doing another purge of spammers and bots, a process that I recall from last year as well. My existential angst was unwarranted, my concern without merit – but the thought process and recounting it led me to was worth it.

I’m proud of my connections and my friends, of the social news network we’re all collaborating upon, and up the quality of the communication within it. I’m glad to bring it with me to Washington in a few short weeks.

The spammers can go live on whatever lower circle of digital Hades is reserved for ’em.

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@RichSanchezCNN was listening to #CNNFail: Did Twitter change CNN coverage?

I’m still mulling over an extraordinary discussion around newsgathering held here in New York City this morning. One pane stands out, however, and no doubt will continue to for years to come.

It’s not just that I had the chance to meet Ann Curry, who was passionate, thoughtful and deeply insightful.

'll always remember @AnnCurry reading @zittrain in the @NYTimes on #IranElection to @Scobleizer & me at #140conf

I’ll always remember Ann Curry reading @zittrain’s quote on Twitter’s impact on the election in Iran in the New York Times to Robert Scoble (and me) at the 140 Characters Conference

How can I not admire a television journalist who spoke with such passion and conviction about journalism, facts and getting it right?

She noted with considerable gravitas that she took her responsibility to “never Twitter something that is wrong” seriously.

Curry suggested to citizen journalists covering global stories that “I want you to shoot that story like it’s your sister, brother or mother.”

She also offered a perspective I can appreciate, based upon my own experience:

“My followers are my own newspaper.”

Aside from Curry’s comments, all of which I hope become available online as soon at the conference videographers can manage it, there’s another story to tell.

Last Saturday, CNN anchor Rick Sanchez noticed something happening on Twitter.

That’s nothing new: @RickSanchezCNN has in many ways bet his show, even career, on his integration with social media.

His use has paid off, according to the remarks Sanchez made at JeffPulver’s 140 Characters Conference, and not just in terms of his 95,000 followers: social media, particularly Twitter, has pushed CNN to cover the existence of fraud or overall validity of the elections in Iran.

After his comments on the panel, Sanchez described to me and others how his email about #CNNFail on Twitter went up to the highest levels of the network. And, after the network’s business, PR and marketing staff was pulled in, coverage the next day shifted.

In other words, just as the audience here in New York grew restive after hearing Sanchez and Robert Scoble talk about #CNNfail and asked to hear from Curry, CNN’s online audience on Twitter pushed the network to cover the news differently.

I wasn’t watching CNN on either day — I was focused on tracking Twitter, YouTube and other online sources — but I’m now incredibly curious about how Sunday’s broadcasts on CNN were different.

I do know that Sanchez said to me that CNN stayed with Ahmadinejad’s speech on Sunday much longer than they would have otherwise.

During the panel, Sanchez that “at no time did CNN drop the ball” — based upon his remarks following, however,  I have to wonder whether there was an appreciation in the C-suite at CNN that the online backlash on Twitter was a hint that Amanpour reporting live from Tehran wasn’t capturing the whole scene, and that US citizens were hungry for more information about what was happening on the streets and rooftaps of Iran.

I know now that, on some subtle level, there were changes — and that’s a win for all of those in the US who wanted CNN to cover events in Iran more closely. There’s a long road for newspapers and cable news networks to travel yet as they adjust to the real-time Web and its audience gathering information and publicly critiquing coverage decisions of network.

Even digital natives are still working out the standards for validation, attribution and information sharing. Old school publishers and broadcasters, by and large, are behind. It could be that the events in the Middle East this weekend could change that.

Sanchez was honest about the economic realities there, including the competition with Fox. Unfortunately, given the existence of a profit motive and ratings driven by celebrity stories and natural disasters, there are real barriers to the cable news networks shifting their airtime to just serious news stories.

In a public company, after all, ratings rule when shareholder value must be maximized.

Ann Curry suggested another, more sobering root cause: “It’s hard to get Americans to care about international issues.”

If journalists can frame, analyze and convey the stories of our collective humanity, whether it’s in Darfur, North Korea, Iran, China or some other global spot, perhaps that will change. Nick Kristof won a Pulitzer for his coverage in the New York Times.

Here’s hoping others follow in his footsteps.


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Shadow, at least, is glad to see the country ‘going greyhound’

As I looked over the Sunday New York Times today, surveying the economic carnage of the past week, assessing the different perspectives on the stimulus legislation and examining the state of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, one particular story jumped out at me: What’s Your New Plan B?

Why? Simple — the Jaguar and Greyhound graphic at the top of the article.

Buy Jaguar or Go Greyhound? (by Ji Li at the New York Times)

Buy Jaguar or Go Greyhound? (by Ji Li at the New York Times)

The metaphor has particular resonance with me because of my own hound, Shadow, who has been a faithful companion for almost seven years.

Shadow in the creek

Shadow in the creek

I never expected to have a greyhound growing up; we had a wonderful Basset hound/border collie cross, a Great Dane, a Doberman and a Labrador, each of which set a particular standard for both canine excellence and outrageous behavior.

I’m glad he and I found each other at the Animal Rescue League in the South End in the spring of 2002.

If you’re looking for a dog, I hope you’ll consider a greyhound — they’re quiet, loving, biddable and the fastest couch potatoes you’ll ever find.

(Photo courtesy S. Josselyn)

(Photo courtesy S. Josselyn)

All things considered, I’d prefer the conditions that are forcing my fellow citizens and me to tighten our belts change, and quickly.

If, in the near term, that means that more of us adopt the greyhounds that need a new home instead of a pure bred, I’ll call that a silver lining.

Or, perhaps, a grey one.

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