Twitter hashtags; lots of curation but where’s the context?

Hashtags give me headaches.
Not the #somethinghasjusthappenedandIamtweetingit hashtag or the #iamaddingahashtaginanironicwayhere or even #myfootballteamisplayingandIwanttofeelpartofthetribe  – it’s the interesting hashtags that are being shouted into a void that perplex me.

Curation is an important word for journalism at the moment; we’re all about the curating of content and adding context around it.

But hashtags often do little add context, although they do add volume. I can get a sense of amplification – of importance – from how many (and who) is tweeting a hashtag but finding out what they are doing, where and why can be tricky.

I follow a lot of people on Twitter, and they go to a lot of events or follow a lot of sport, and they tweet about it with hashtags.
Sometimes I’m not interested (#F1 I’m looking at you) in which case the Tweetdeck filter or Proxlet extension on my Chrome browser is a godsend.
But sometimes I am interested and would like to know more; that’s when it can get frustrating, because finding out what a hashtag is can be a nightmare.

Occasionally this sort of thing pops up in a stream…

But often I just see interesting looking conversations happening around an unknown event with a #hashtag that doesn’t link to anything other than a stream of other people using the same hashtag.
If I know the people I can try to backpedal down their tweet stream far enough to see what they’re up to but it’s a hit-and-miss approach with no guarantee of success.

Brizzly has a ‘why?’ hyperlink next to the trending topics that explain why each is being talked about and it can be very useful; it adds a layer of knowledge that takes a hashtag beyond curation into explanation.  Trends Map is also great for spotting local trends, but there’s nothing around hashtags themselves that allows the creator to explain what they are.  

There is a site called Twubs which allows you to register a hashtag but it doesn’t really do what I need it to; ie. tell me what that hashtag is about. It does aid discovery by others in that it’s added to the Twubs directory, but mainly it’s to stop Corporates stealing hashtags off each other.

Ideal world scenario: When you write a hashtag you can select an option to explain what it’s for, which generates a comment box to enable a short description, like the name of the conference, or a football match or a breaking news event. Thereafter, anyone hovering over that hashtag sees a pop-up explanation.  

So, dear Twitter app developers (or just Twitter, God knows it would be nice if you actually did something for your own site rather) please could you build something that brings the endless game of What Is This Person Talking About to an end? 
Or, if something like that exists, will someone tell me and put me out of my misery?

An attempt to turn a newspaper inside-out

How do you turn a newspaper inside out? That’s been the question bugging me for about a week and I’ve found myself thinking about it more and more in the context of the Register Citizen Open Newsroom project.

I broached the subject with Glyn Mottershead and Neil MacDonald over a pint recently; this is how it unfolded.
Me: “You know, like, you have skin and, uh, it contains everything and you can’t see your organs and stuff…”
Glyn: “Er…”
Neil: “I’m going to the loo.”
Me: “Well, that’s like a newspaper. It comes out and it’s complete and finished and it presents this skin to the world. And it would be great to turn it inside out, show what’s underneath.”

Essentially, I wanted to be more public about how the paper came together. Glyn and Neil are social media nuts; they love the idea of media engagement and had lots of encouragement. 
So, last Wednesday, an experiment started from to show how Wales on Sunday is created and try and engage more with people.
I used Storify to track the start of the project (kudos to news editor Steffan Rhys for working so hard on it, and I especially love Adam’s video capture of his page design) 

[<a href=”” target=”blank”>View the story “Turning Wales on Sunday inside-out” on Storify]</a>

Using Twitter and a Facebook  page is the obvious starting point but I’m open to suggestions for developing it (and expanding it). These accounts aren’t about pushing links to the website or giving cryptic hints followed with a ‘buy Sunday’s paper’; I want them to be about what we’re doing. Or about what we should be doing as far as our audience is concerned. Or what we’re doing wrong/right/not enough of. Stories that are going in the paper will get discussed and displayed (but I’m not ready to put an exclusive splash in the public domain three days before publication – maybe this will happen but I’d like to keep my job for more than five months).
Right now it’s a journo echo chamber – especially Facebook (and why do Facebook pages have to be so complicated? I had to draft Ed Walker for assistance) – but that will change over time, I hope. 

It’s not a Citizen Register project – I’d like to work towards that but the logistics are beyond my ken right now – but it’s a toehold in something I feel strongly about. If I was doing this three years ago it would have been mostly journalists and early adopters getting involved – now it’s a much larger audience. That’s a good thing, of course, and also means we’re more likely to get told exactly what we do wrong in no uncertain terms. Customers – past, present or potential – have standards and expect them to be met or failures accounted for.
Of course it’s not all about growing engagement; it’s about fostering an audience’s emotional investment as well. 
How to develop it? All ideas welcome…
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Moderating comments on Facebook

How do you moderate a community on Facebook? Should the same policy exist as for a title’s website moderation or do the disparate fans and friends it has there require different handling?
I use Facebook for content, for sharing information, for instant polls, news gathering and just taking the temperature of the public mood on an issue but wall comments can sometimes be horrific. From wildly inappropriate link-sharing to libelous comments to outrageous Anglo Saxon to attacks on other users or writers… I’ve seen these shoulder their way onto Facebook pages associated with newspaper titles at one time or another and have had to sort it out – sometimes with an un-friending and a block.

Stretched newsrooms with small digital teams have to juggle the management of website comments, as well as the importance of participating in conversations on Twitter and managing @ replies and Facebook wall posts. 
I’ve had a few Twitter mates DM-ing me recently for advice/thoughts/verbal chicken soup over dust-ups with members of the Online Community on Facebook (usually football or crime related, where emotions are running high), and I sympathised and offered some thoughts on what to do.
The new e-guide from Buddy MediaHow Do I Respond To That? The Definitive Guide to Facebook Publishing and Moderation is useful; once you get past the corporate language and the fact that it’s not written for newspapers but for business it contains some helpful advice. 
The Buddy Media report highlights, in a nutshell, are:  

  • Forget to check your Facebook page regularly – you have a space where users are commenting in all sorts of language and ways that may or may not be appropriate
  • Turn a volatile thread into a back-and-forth argument with someone
  • Respond to one person but not others
  • Ignore requests for information 
  • Automatically get rid of negative comments – respond and give the community a chance to engage as well
  • Respond to comments on accuracy/ability of journalist 
  • Take advice on brand value/stance before you respond on issues (eg. political) 
  • Block haters; life’s too short 
  • Moderate by communication; encourage the Facebook community to flag inappropriate posts
  • Have a clear strategy so all page admin know how to respond in situations 
  • Create a written policy about what types of posts you don’t want to receive, and place it prominently on your wall or page 
To which I’d add

  • Turning Facebook chat on gets you lots of interaction
  • There’s nothing wrong with auto-posting links but do also show there’s a human, not a bot, behind status updates
  • Indulge in a little curation and share things from other media
  • If you have breaking news in your status update, FBers will expect you to update them there too as it progresses 

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Attribution: It’s not just for quotes

I was thinking about the importance of attribution today after reading Mike Glover’s take on the issue in his post on the coverage of Bin Laden‘s death and the “outrageous gullibility of the media in the wake of the Bin Laden incident“.
It’s a thought-provoking piece of writing and  well worth a read. (Also, incident is a great word, isn’t it? Covers everything from the reported death of the world’s most wanted man to a pub brawl). 

Anyway, attribution of information when constructing a story is vital; journalists tend to be the questioners of eye-witnesses, rather than eye-witnesses themselves. Sometimes we’re several links down the chain, and sometimes the report of several statements gets prosed into appearing as a presentation of stone facts. 
Tempering a slew of facts with acknowledgements that the information has come from a third party is helpful for readers, I suspect, but attribution with regards to content is an equally thorny issue.
YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo, Twitpic, Facebook, Twitter, Storify, ManyEyes visualisations… just a tiny fraction of created content that lives on the internet, in the wild, that journalists can use to source or display information. But when it comes to reusing this work – the attribution – it’s so important to show genesis, or at some point the accusations of making a smash-n-grab raid on social networks will come.
I’m probably a little obsessive about attribution, or showing source as a) I would hate to be accused of pillaging other people’s content and b) it’s easy to get permission or show original ownership. Things like a quick tweet exchange over the use of an image on Twitter, a link back to the video owner’s YouTube page, a link and a nod to the person who made the Storify you’ve embedded or the ManyEyes vis – so quick, so simple. So courteous.
Flickr is a different matter; I wouldn’t use a Flickr photo on this blog without checking the Creative Commons licensing and giving clear attribution. Professionally, I wouldn’t consider a Flickr photo unless the owner had given me express permission (either by joining a group with a consent form – like the Liverpool Daily Post’s Flickr group has – or through direct contact. 

I had my own little attribution incident (see? such a handy word) recently when I made a photo-montage for WalesOnline and it got reproduced, without attribution.
But when I say I made, that’s incorrect attribution; to be accurate, I used Microsoft application software to create a photo-montage, and then something happened…

Have a look at this screengrab:

and this one from WalesOnline:

They are actually the same one. I’d made a Photosynth for the website on Friday – it took a quite bit of time to find photos that would allow a sort-of panoramic (only 87% in the end) embedded it and went on with the next task of the day.
The next morning a tweet showed up in my stream

and then another one

I’m not usually precious about this sort of thing; I enjoy using online tools like Photosynth and I support the idea of sharing content as widely as possible. Also, I could see Rafael’s point as Microsoft had allowed me to create that content in the first place.
The downside was that WalesOnline was missing out on a pretty decent traffic opportunity. And that a really simple bit of attribution had been skipped.
I’ve seen people nick other people’s tweeted jokes, and even pass off photos of their own on Flickr; this wasn’t in the same league but it still didn’t feel great. I worked hard on that thing, dammit!

But it didn’t end there, as it turned out. Tom took it up with Bing pr and look – a change of heart, thanks Bing.

How cool is that? Almost as cool as this: someone I didn’t know took up cudgels on my behalf to see attribution was properly made. I thought that was really decent; how often have complete strangers stood up for your rights in real life? Nope, never happens. Except, sometimes it does.

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