#corrected: Fixing your errors on Twitter

I screwed up on Twitter yesterday morning. In the grip of nerd rage over a story about an Apple patent application–and without sufficient caffeine in my body–I tweeted that the Cupertino, Calif., company had received a patent on a feature that had debuted in a third-party app some three years before its 2012 filing.

Delete tweetThe problem was, Apple had only applied for a patent on a text-while-you-walk system that would overlay message conversations on your phone camera’s view of your surroundings. Oops.

So I tweeted something, um, transparently wrong. Now what? I’ve attended more than one panel discussion on this, and the answers usually get stuck on one of two conflicting imperatives: Don’t let the error go unfixed, but don’t look like you’re hiding the mistake either.

(See my earlier post about documenting changes to your story, if necessary in comments you leave yourself.)

Since you can’t edit the incorrect tweet or even flag it as wrong in the way you could amend a flawed story or blog post, letting it stand risks perpetuating the mistake. But if you delete it, then the evidence of your error vanishes.

What I decided to do was to delete the tweet, follow up by saying what I’d gotten wrong, and then redo the original tweet with a reasonably obvious hashtag, #corrected, to indicate that it was a “CX” for an earlier version:

Does that routine work for you all? Or am I once again seriously overthinking something that people with real jobs don’t worry about at all?

In other news, earlier this afternoon I was glad to see that the Ask Patents clearinghouse for prior art will include this Apple filing in an upcoming call for submissions:

 

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Snapshots from SXSW

It’s now been three days since I got off the plane at National Airport, officially ending this year’s SXSW itinerary, and it’s taken me that long to catch up on sleep, do laundry and edit and upload pictures. (The traditional post-conference LinkedIn binge remains undone.)  And maybe I’ve gained a smidgeon of perspective on the event too.

Attendees make their way through the convention center.Once again, my primary first-world problem was deciding which panels and talks to attend. I was more ruthless and/or lazy this time, deciding I wouldn’t even try to get to such relatively distant locations as the AT&T Conference Center at the University of Texas’s campus (where my 2012 panel drew maybe 20 people) or the Hyatt Regency at the other end of the Congress Avenue Bridge.

But then I wound up not watching any panels outside the convention center and the Hilton across the street. Of those, remote interviews with Julian AssangeEdward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald topped my list. But I was also fascinated by a debate about net neutrality in which law professor Tim Wu noted our own responsibility in putting a handful of giant companies in charge (“we don’t have a culture on the Internet of preferring alternatives”), a talk about wearable computing that pivoted to discussions of “implantables” and “injectables,” and an honest unpacking of the failure of tech journalists to break the NSA-surveillance story (TechCrunch co-editor Alexia Tsotsis: “We need to step back from our role as cheerleaders and give a more critical eye to the people we’re surrounded with”).

My geographically-restricted attendance led me to miss many other discussions that had looked interesting beforehand. Not only was this narrow-minded conduct, it stopped me from walking around more to make up for all the food I ate.

It would be hard to avoid putting on a few pounds while in Austin on a normal weekend, but when you don’t have to pay for most of your food, courtesy of pervasive corporate and PR sponsorship, the city becomes a thoroughly enabling environment. And a delicious one! For example: the brisket at La Barbecue (thanks, Pinterest), algorithm-driven cuisine at IBM’s food truck, and breakfast tacos at Pueblo Viejo (that was on my own dime, and you should be happy to spend yours there too when you’re in Austin).

Austin’s nightlife hub on the first night of SXSW Interactive.As for empty calories–um, yeah, they’re not hard to find at SXSW either. This is the single booziest event on my calendar. That can be an immense amount of fun (my Sunday night somehow involved both seeing Willie Nelson play a few songs with Asleep at the Wheel from maybe 20 feet away, followed by the RVIP Lounge’s combination of touring bus, open bar and karaoke machine), but waking up the next morning can be brutal. To anybody who had a 9:30 a.m. panel on Sunday, only hours after the time change cut an hour out of everybody’s schedule: I’m so sorry.

And then the night after I left, some drunk-driving idiot crashed through a police barricade and killed two people.

Even before that, the “do we really need this event now that it’s been overrun by marketing droids?” conversation about SXSW was louder than usual. I have to note that three of the most interesting panels–the Assange, Snowden and Greenwald interviews–featured subjects thousands of miles away; in theory we all could have watched those from home.

But this is also an event where you meet people you wouldn’t otherwise see and might not ever meet–a long-ago Post colleague from copy-aide days, Internet activists you should know for future stories, journalists who put up with the same problems as you, entrepreneurs with interesting ideas that might go somewhere, and so on. Maybe this is a colossal character defect on my part, but I enjoy those conversations–even the ones with the marketing droids. And that’s why I do this every year.

(After the jump, my Flickr set from the conference.)

(7:30 p.m.: Tweaked a few sentences because I could.)

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So long, Sulia: lessons from an experiment in compressed journalism

My time contributing short updates to the microblogging site Sulia wrapped up unceremoniously Monday morning when an e-mail–”ending our paid arrangement”–landed in my inbox. The site’s pivoting in another direction that doesn’t involve paying for my input or that of what seems to be most other contributors it had signed up (for example, my friend Rocky Agrawal); so it goes.

Sulia compose dialogThe departure of any one freelance client isn’t that big of a deal, but in this case it was a different sort of medium, and I learned some things along the way that seem worth sharing.

The basic idea here was to get paid a little for writing the equivalent of three tweets in a row–a minimum of 700 characters, a maximum of 2,500. On clicking the “Post” button at Sulia, those updates would appear automatically under my name on Twitter and at my public Facebook page–and that’s when I was met with confusion. Readers had no idea what the heck Sulia was or what I was doing there, leading me to post an explanation here after the first three weeks.

It took longer for me to pace myself so that I wouldn’t be rushing to finish my weekly quota of 10 posts in the last hours of Sunday–and to figure out what topics fit best into this pressurized container. In retrospect, holding off on live-tweeting interesting talks so I could post a longer recap on Sulia was a mistake, while it was smarter to use that greater character count to break some local wireless news in slightly more depthdo the cost-of-ownership math for a new smartphone, or recount my experience upgrading an operating system.

Overall, this site filled a useful void in my work by allowing me to share my notes in a medium slightly longer and less evanescent than Twitter while also getting paid (and without having to send an invoice first). I‘m not sure how I’ll replace that.

Among no-payment options, Twitter puts me back in a 140-character box, Facebook and Google+ have enough of my personal business already, LinkedIn seems too business-focused, and as for Medium–well, I already have a blog here. Alas, my WordAds revenue has been so minimal to date that it’s not worth thinking about the potential income from any one extra post.

Or perhaps the Sulia experiment was a mistake all along, and I should have put the time spent crafting those 40-some morsels a month into finding three or four good stories to sell elsewhere. Either way: on to the next thing…

Time-zone arbitrage

Spending the past five days in Barcelona, six hours ahead of the East Coast, has me thinking anew about the finer points of having different digits on your clock and those of editors and readers. 

World clockYes, jet lag sucked. I woke up Monday at 4:30 a.m. and then couldn’t get back to sleep, leading to a couple of naps in the press room. (A laptop does not make a good pillow.) But a day later, my eyelids no longer felt like they weighed 200 pounds, and I realized again that the time-zone gap can also be my friend.

Specifically, it turns the morning into—not an accountability-free zone, but at least a self-directed time, thanks to almost nobody in a position to direct my coverage being awake. Then it allows my copy to arrive early in an editor’s day for a change. If my editor is based in the Bay Area, I look even more prompt: The story sent at 5 p.m. arrives at 9 a.m.

At some point, this equation will flip and I’ll have an evening upended when an editor decides my copy needs another run through the typewriter. But so far, the worst that’s happened is me turning into that annoying guy who answers e-mails on his phone during dinner.

Social media also highlights that temporal shift: Twitter and Facebook look a lot quieter than usual until lunchtime, to the point where I question the wisdom of tweeting out observations that will get lost in the timelines of most of my usual audience. But then I  have my phone pinging with notifications until I go to sleep myself.

Back at home, the three-hour gap between the East and West Coast should also benefit me when dealing with editors there. But it’s too easy to waste that advantage until it’s 6 p.m. here and I have a different deadline looming in my own time zone: cooking dinner.

Flying to the West Coast, meanwhile, permits jet lag to work for me: On the first couple of days, I usually snap awake not much later than 5 a.m., and I am never more productive than in those hours before I finally get breakfast. And if the event I’m covering won’t have people committing news after lunch—for example, Google I/O keynotes usually start at 9 a.m. and run until about noon—my workday will also end earlier than usual.

But then I also have to deal with the 7-9 p.m. keynote that opens each CES. Not only does it throw a wrench in my scheduling machinery, it ensures I can’t eat until a time that feels more like 11 p.m. At least I don’t have to write stories about those things anymore.

Follow you, follow me: Twitter and a scaleable attention span

A few days ago, I learned something new about the social network I’ve been using almost every day since the spring of 2008. As I belatedly followed somebody on Twitter whose input I’d been enjoying for years in retweeted form, it struck me how rarely I’d had reason to regret following people on the service.

Twitter follow buttonMost of my unfollows have involved read-only accounts that I found a poor substitute for RSS. As for actual people–and organizational accounts that interact as if there are actual people behind the keyboards–I have to discover that you’re a far more obnoxious or uninformative tweep than I’d thought to unfollow you.

(FWIW, I don’t think I’ve blocked anybody on Twitter for anything besides spamming and don’t quite understand “ending” an argument by blocking somebody who has remained civil throughout the debate. I suppose enough pointless jackassery sent my way could drive me to that step, but it hasn’t happened yet.)

And yet when I started out, I was unrealistically afraid of having too many people’s words cascade down the screen. Each new follow involved a careful consideration of how often this person would tweet, and how relevant those tweets were to my work.

I mean, I didn’t even follow the guys I shared a group house with at a NASA Tweetup. How weirdly snobbish is that?

That was dumb. I missed out on a lot that way.

I now follow more than 400 users–still far less than many other people I know–and don’t feel close to overwhelmed even though I have far more to keep up with. In retrospect, I seriously underestimated how my attention span could scale up.

It’s true that reading Twitter on the go on a phone has gotten more pleasant since 2008, and that this service imposes no visual penalty for falling behind–no messages piling up in an inbox, no RSS items asking to be marked as read.

But the most important change is in my own head. I’ve gotten better at reading Twitter quickly: recognizing the varying signal-to-noise ratios of people and skimming their output appropriately, noticing retweets from users with particularly good taste, ignoring waves of banter about pop-culture topics I don’t care about.

Twitter has become one of those specialized tasks–typing on phone keyboards comes to mind–that I’ve done enough times to have essentially reprogrammed my brain.

That could still turn out to be a tragic waste of cerebral capacity. But it is more fun to surround myself with more interesting and creative people, even if they don’t all neatly fit into a People Relevant to Tech Journalism spreadsheet.

This weekend provides an unfortunate reminder of our collective innumeracy

An Asiana Airlines 777 crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport today, leaving two passengers dead and more than 100 wounded. That is terrible news all around, even considering how many of the 307 people on board seem to have walked away from a hull-loss accident, and upsetting in particular to this frequent SFO flyer.

OS X calculatorBut the really awful news about travel this weekend most likely happened Thursday–when, if recent trends continued, more people died on American roads than any other day of the year. That comparative statistic, or maybe just the average daily toll of 89 people, will get some mention as useful context in every story about the SFO crash, right?

Of course not. News coverage, political debates and popular consciousness tilts overwhelmingly toward the big and unusual disaster and away from smaller-scale but vastly more frequent calamities.

This mismatch is obvious in transportation policy–would that driving had a culture of safety close to what’s made commercial aviation the safest form of travel in America–but the effects may be worse in national-security issues.

Unreasoning fear of terrorism can lead to all kinds of silly rules, like the National Football League’s prohibiting fans from bringing all but the smallest non-transparent bags to games. (I had to observe that the statistics to date show that its own players represent a bigger threat than terrorist acts at NFL stadiums; that was unfair on my part, considering how many people drive to games and what state they might be in afterwards.)

But it can also lead us to accept the slow, silent erosion of our rights.

How else can you explain how politicians and pundits in or aligned with both parties keep defending the National Security Agency’s minimally-accountable surveillance of domestic communications–sometimes with a waving away of even the public’s need to know? Because 9/11, that’s why! Because we choose to view a hateful, contemptible and exceedingly rare crime as the existential threat it is not.

I don’t mean to get into a rant here, so I’ll close with what I hope is an uncontestable recommendation: Drive safely, please.

(Updated 9/7 with correct numbers about the SFO crash, another number about road safety and a few rephrased sentences.)

Respect the vacation

I did something a little crazy two Tuesdays ago, which was board a plane without a laptop. That strange behavior–the last time it had happened might have been Christmas of 2010–was the result of something almost as out of character, my taking a vacation.

iPad not at work

If you define that term as meaning a trip out of town that runs at least a week, which does not involve more than a tiny fraction of your usual workload and which is not listed on your taxes as a business expense, our last one had been a pre-parenthood jaunt in Montana in 2009.

The next summer saw entire weeks of time off, courtesy of our daughter’s birth–but that period  lacked the essential vacation ingredient of sleeping in. In 2011 and 2012, we had some great long weekends, but nothing matching the traditional definition.

(Some of my work trips have had vacation-like qualities–SXSW absolutely comes to mind–but if you’re on e-mail and Twitter all the time, your laptop is in use every day and all of the expenses will wind up on your Schedule C, the obnoxious term “workcation” is unavoidable.)

This year, however, things finally lined up. Our tenth wedding anniversary was approaching; we could leave our kid with her parents then; we both had enough time freed up in our respective work schedules. I even committed to avoid booking any business meetings in the tech-friendly cities we visited–that’s Portland in the above shot–even though that could have easily converted my airfare into a Sched C line item and allowed me to sell a story or two from the road. But I still had to force myself to unplug from my usual online outlets.

I used to be a hard-liner about not checking any work-related communication on vacation. That got harder to do as the pace of tech journalism accelerated, but many of our vacation destinations still enforced some disconnection. (Have you ever tried checking your e-mail in the middle of Glacier National Park? Would you be excited about doing that from the shared computer in the lobby of a hotel in China?)

This time, however, I figured I couldn’t skip telling people about just-published posts I’d written in advance (the last ones filed at around 3 a.m. the morning of our flight out of D.C.) or answering tweets mentioning me. And not checking my work e-mail at all also seemed like a freelance foul. It didn’t help that major tech-news events happened while I was out: Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference and the revelation of massive phone and online surveillance by the National Security Agency. But even so, I found myself checking Twitter less and less after the first few days, to the point that I spent at least 48 hours without tweeting anything, and I felt zero guilt about letting unread e-mails and RSS items pile up.

There’s probably something to be learned from that experience. And yet: Here I am typing this on a Saturday evening.

Feed me, see more (The Magazine meets BuzzFeed)

This story originally ran in issue 15 of The Magazine. You can now read it here by virtue of that publication’s impressively author-friendly contract.

One of the Web’s most popular sites — and the exceedingly rare media property soaking up tens of millions of dollars in venture-capital financing — gets much of its content without asking permission to use it, much less paying for it.

The Magazine BuzzFeed coverThat’s not news. But if you talk to some of the people whose images wind up in BuzzFeed’s endlessly clickable and heavily clicked-upon photo galleries, you may have your expectations overturned, as mine were: most say thanks for the exposure.

BuzzFeed at first looked like an appropriator that took value without returning it, irritating professional photographers who find their work both increasingly valued and increasingly used without compensation. But on closer inspection, BuzzFeed may be finding its way toward a safer course — a careful combination of conventional licensing and curatorial selection.

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SXSW 2013 by the numbers

Modern science provides an extraordinary number of ways to quantify one’s participation in the South By Southwest Interactive festival that wrapped up Tuesday (its sleep debt is still with me, to judge from the hour-long nap I just woke up from). Here are a few:

  • SXSW 2013 badgeSteps taken, as recorded by a Jawbone Up: 98,610 steps, adding up to 51.64 miles. This includes mileage at home Friday morning but leaves out my walk to the bus that took me to the airport Wednesday morning.
  • Tweets sent while in Austin: 178, excluding retweets of other people’s thoughts but including tweets about non-SXSW news.
  • Data usage on my phone from March 8 through March 13: 739 MB, 192 MB of which came from tethering my laptop to my phone.
  • Food truck check-ins on Foursquare: seven
  • Bar check-ins on Foursquare: 14. (Some of those stops were mainly for food. Don’t judge me!)
  • SXSW sessions attended, or in one case watched from an overflow room: 11. Sadly enough, this is considered a pretty good showing in some circles. There are least as many that I seriously regret missing.
  • Business cards collected: 33. Yup, still waiting to see some app make this printed product obsolete.
  • Business cards handed out: not enough to exhaust my supply, fortunately.

After the jump, a Flickr slideshow from the festivities…

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My Sulia experiment, three weeks in

If you follow me on Twitter or you’ve liked my Facebook page, you may have spent the last three weeks wondering “What is this Sulia site and what is Rob doing there?”

Sulia logo

Fair enough. Sulia bills itself as a “subject-based social network” that “connects you to the top social sources on subjects you care about,” both by curating links to postings elsewhere and inviting contributors to post their own short updates.

The New York firm also provides curated feeds to news organizations; I first encountered it as a source for the “Live Topics” section in the Washington Post’s iPad app. It’s gotten some coverage from places like AllThingsD and Mashable but otherwise hasn’t risen to an “oh, that” level of recognition.

Anyway, back in August I got a pitch from Sulia inviting me to become a technology contributor. Its mention of compensation intrigued me, but then I spent most of the next month and a half traveling and I forgot about it until Sulia showed up in this blog’s stats in December. I inquired further; after some negotiation and the realization that I might need an extra outlet for my CES coverage, I signed on for a one-month trial.

Sulia posts should fill a gap between tweets and blog posts: you can’t write anything longer than 2,500 characters, headline included, and you can’t format it beyond adding an  image or a YouTube embed.  The headline and a link to the rest of each update then go out automatically on my Twitter and public Facebook feeds. It’s not Twitter’s microblogging but more along the lines of Tumblr-style mini-blogging–except that unlike those sites, Sulia pays contributors.

It’s not a huge sum. As a per-word rate, this stipend represents the second-worst I’ve accepted after my paltry WordAds income here. (Another Sulia contributor described it as “a bit of extra bourbon money”; I’m doing a little better than that each week, unless we’re talking seriously high-end hooch.) But it’s also infinitely more than the $0.00/word Twitter pays me, and I don’t have to bother with invoicing either. Hence my motivation to post a thought on Sulia that might otherwise require serializing over three or four tweets.

For example, I have used Sulia posts to:

Few of those items would have merited a story of their own for my clients at the time. Some could have surfaced here, but that would have involved more work–I can’t resist the urge to tinker with prose and its presentation using the tools available here–and even less income.

So in that sense, it’s worked well and slotted neatly into my workflow.

I’ve been less happy to see glitches deprive some updates of images I’d uploaded (it seems I found a Safari compatibility issue) and, less often, strip out line breaks or even some of my words. With no editing after posting, my only recourse is to delete an update and rewrite it.

I also need to work on my own approach: I’ve often found myself fiddling over Sulia updates as if they were mini-articles instead of really long tweets, and that same inability to focus has also led me to miss chances to jump on breaking news.

Three weeks in, I can certainly attest that I’m still figuring this out.

What about you? Do you find this exercise in compressed prose worth a click over from Twitter or Facebook?