HSBC: The suckage never stops

Oh, HSBC, I can’t untangle my personal finances from you fast enough. After my last post about firing The World’s Most Incompetent Bank, I unfortunately still have a couple of credit cards with them because changing my credit cards might impact my credit rating, and Suw and I are hoping to buy a house in the next six months. Once that happens, I’m closing these cards. I have lost all confidence in HSBC’s security, and they need a root-and-branch review of their customer service and communication processes.

Coming up on two weeks ago, my HSBC UK credit card was declined on a routine purchase on Amazon, and then a couple of days later, it was again declined again when I tried to pay for my British citizenship ceremony. (Yay!) This was the first indication that there was a problem. I logged into my account, and there was no indication that anything was awry. No big warning that my card had been compromised or messages asking me to call the fraud department on the internal messaging system. Business as usual for HSBC, which means some level of inconvenience and incompetence.

I sent a message asking for clarification about the status of the card on the internal messaging system. They informed me that there was a block on the card and that I was to call the fraud department but otherwise, they couldn’t actually do anything for me.

The call was enlightening and infuriating in equal measure. On the 23 April, HSBC detected that the details of my card were “copied by a known fraudster”. This is at least the second time that this has happened with HSBC. Wah? I hadn’t used the card since the 15 April. Was it part of a massive credit card theft online? Dunno. They have special software that lets them know about such things but provides them with no other details.

After finding out that my card had been compromised and that yet another new card would be sent to me, I asked to speak to a manager. (I think I’m up to four of five compromised debit or credit cards with them in the seven years I’ve done business with them.) He said that they tried to call me on the 23 April when the software flagged up the issue. I was in the US at the time, and my phone registered no call or voice mail.

I suggested to the HSBC manager that they had an internal security problem, and the manager assured me that they abide by the Data Protection Act. Fine, but what are their internal security procedures?  I’m sceptical about the tightness of those procedures due to the high level of fraud that I’ve experienced as their customer. I told the manager that if I have serial fraud on cards with them that they might want to review their internal security protocols as well as investing in shiny anti-fraud software.

However, I also said that they needed to improve their customer communications. Put bluntly, I found out that they broke their own procedures. The manager said they should have tried to call me 10 days later, and if they couldn’t reach me, they were supposed to send me a letter. The call wasn’t made. The letter was never sent. There was no communication on the internal messaging system, which HSBC has but seems loathe to use. Instead, I found out my card had been compromised because it started to be declined. They assured me that a call was on their to do list today. Uh-huh, that’s nice to know. I have a lot on my to-do list today too.

As with so many of the issues that I’ve had with HSBC over the years, they didn’t solve my problem. I did. That’s what you can expect from HSBC, the world’s most incompetent bank. Customer service? Yes, absolutely, you the customer will have to provide your own service.

PS: This will hopefully be the last time I rant about HSBC. After heavy travel in May, we will return to our regularly scheduled media blogging immediately.

HSBC: Firing the world’s most incompetent bank

Dear reader, I’m going to beg your indulgence as I take a brief editorial detour from my normal writing about new media, journalism and innovation. I promise I won’t make a habit of it.

But, hey, blogging is about personal expression, and I need to vent about my former bank, HSBC. I promise to return to return to our regularly scheduled blogging after this.

Sorry it’s so long, but HSBC is just that crap. Skip to the bullet points, and if you’ve experienced horrible service with HSBC (or another bank), feel free to share. Retail banking customers deserve better than we’re getting, and it’s time for our governments to not just bail out banks but also to work with consumers to ensure we’re well served. Many banks are not just too big to fail but also simply too incompetent to survive.

To relevant regulators, I ask that you start doing your job and look out for retail customers too. Retail banking may not be a high margin business, but like or not, people need banking services. It’s long past time to clean up this industry.

Again, if this story or even parts of it are familiar, share this and share your stories. A little social media action might help. We need retail banking reform now.

Dear HSBC CEO Mr Stuart Gulliver:

I thought about sending this letter to relevant banking regulators, but I don’t have faith that they’d actually do anything so I thought that this public letter might be more effective.

HSBC, you’re fired. I wish I had the power to fire you, the CEO, personally and not just the divisions of your bank that I had the infuriating misfortune to bank with since 2005. I would have fired you long ago, but you know that switching costs are high. I actually thought about buying some HSBC stock and leading a shareholder revolt, but after my experience as your customer, I see you as a very bad investment. Besides, I’ve got better things to do with my time and my money.

Why am I firing you? Where to begin. If it were one branch of your global empire that was totally incompetent, I might write it off, but no, my experiences with HSBC UK, HSBC Expat and HSBC US (or what is left of it) were so uniformly bad that I came to believe that you have serious systemic service and security issues at your retail banking and credit card divisions. On that point, I’m not joking at all. I am completely serious.

I’ll try to make this brief, but it’s hard to summarise all of the crap I put up as one of your customers.

• Moving to the UK in 2005 for what I thought would be a brief work assignment, I opened up an HSBC US account. Things started off well enough, although as I would come to find out, the whole “world’s local bank” looks good on the ads at the airports but is actually nonsense.
• In 2006, I opened up an HSBC Offshore (now Expat) account because I needed an account quickly and needed multi-currency services. I had the money to open the account, and the minimum balance to avoid paying fees was better than your competitors. Then it started to go all wrong.
• You sent me my first credit card and cancelled it a few weeks later. You said that I must have used it online on an insecure site. Nope, and then when I asked how a card could have been compromised so quickly, your staff said it was “a known Milanese fraudster”.
• Several months after opening the account, you sent your customers a letter saying that “in order to serve you better” we’re jacking up the minimum balance required to avoid fees. You didn’t increase it a few thousand pounds, which would have been high. You didn’t double it. No, you increased the minimum fee-free balance 5 times to £25,000. The better service never materialised. As a matter of fact, over the next several years, your service got worse and your fees just got higher. I don’t mind paying fees, but I do expect good service in return. You didn’t hold up your end of the customer contract.
• In 2008, I was in the US on business, and my PayPal account was compromised. PayPal immediately snapped into action calling me on a Saturday. The thieves rang up purchases of $1800 in less than 24 hours. I called HSBC alerting you of the fraud and asking what I could do. The answer? Nothing unless I came into a branch. The nearest branch was a seven hour drive away. On Monday, I watched helplessly as my bank account was drained. You then you slapped an overdraft fee on me. World’s local bank my backside. Weeks later when I was near a branch, I demanded a refund of the overdraft fee. You gave me one, but I should have fired you then and there.
PayPal was excellent, and having been a customer of theirs for several years, they waived the fee for a security token to help me prevent this from happening in the future because I had been with them for years. That’s customer service and a business repaying customer loyalty. You didn’t help me solve my problems at all.
• In 2011, I was woken up in the middle of the night in Australia on business. I had an automatic payment scheme setup on my HSBC UK credit card to pay for my storage space in the US. For some reason, that stopped. Fortunately, Public Storage rang me, and I was able to process a one off payment. I still don’t know what happened.
• In 2012, HSBC’s incompetence was on full display. In January, my employer was unable to pay my wages. To be fair to HSBC, my employer’s bank, Lloyds, was pretty useless too, but HSBC really took the biscuit. You screwed up changing your sort code to the new faster payments system, and my employer couldn’t pay me. You didn’t inform your customers. Why not? You were so kind to allow my employer to pay me via free SWIFT transfers. Normally, you charged £20 a crack for that service. For emphasis, your screw up meant I didn’t get paid for a month. Most people don’t have that luxury.
• Despite the fact that I’ve travelled 310 days out of the last three years, for some reason, HSBC UK started blocking my credit card when I travelled outside the UK, even when I called or left instructions on the website. HSBC blocked my card after a flight to Dubai because the WiFi company on the flight had a US billing address, and I had only said I was travelling to Dubai and Indonesia. You’ve got those cute ads with the kids taking multiple currencies at their lemonade stand, but yet, you’re thrown by a US company providing WiFi on an Emirates flight? The reality doesn’t quite live up to your ads, does it now?
• Last summer, HSBC UK blocked my credit card while I was on a business trip to New York. I’m a US citizen. I travel there at least once a year, and I had an HSBC US account at the time. What would be suspicious about that?
• As my credit card was blocked, I then had to use my debit card, which was compromised. WalMart alerted you to the fraud, and you blocked the payment or so I was told. You might want to change the script that your foreign call centres use. They didn’t tell me that £400 would go out of my account for up to eight weeks until I called them up and asked them about it. I had totally lost my patience with you and your bank.

Saving the worst for last

By this time, I had already decided to fire you. I was tired of paying your exorbitant fees, which by this time seemed a perverse way of rewarding you for being utterly useless. Moreover, your serial incompetence and poor security were too much of a risk to my personal finances.

I did some research, and Citibank had a managed transfer service. They brought the switching costs down, and I couldn’t risk banking with you anymore. However, you still had a few opportunities to shine as the masters of suck, and you didn’t miss a single one.

It took me months to fire you. Citibank worked with me, and you did not. I had more communication from Citibank in the first month of being their customer than I did in years of being a customer of HSBC. HSBC Expat didn’t even mention that Citibank had requested information on my direct deposits and transfers. As a security issue, I would have expected that much.

When I was in the US on business, I fortunately was in one of the last remaining cities where HSBC US has a physical branch so I could close my account. I went to the branch, and you were going to charge me $12 for a cashier’s cheque. It shouldn’t be standard procedure to charge for a cashier’s cheque when closing an account. Lovely, I have to pay you to get my money so I did the very insecure thing and withdrew the cash. Fortunately, the Citibank branch was just across the street.

But wait for it, your worst is yet to come. Several years ago, my HSBC US credit card was compromised. Sigh, who runs your security operations? A known Milanese fraudster? The card was cancelled, but for some reason, it had a one cent balance. I had tried to pay it off several times, but you only allow payments of one dollar or more online. Knowing HSBC’s level of stupidity, I had the foresight to bring a penny to the branch with me when I closed my bank account. The teller struggled a bit with what to do because the credit card account was closed. Bless her. She tried to sort it out and meekly asked if I had a penny.

I tried to cancel the credit card too, but I was told that I couldn’t do that at a branch. Face palm. Was the mystery one penny balance sorted? Hardly. I now have a one cent outstanding balance on the old card and a one cent credit on my existing card. I’ll give you points for consistency, the consistency of never missing an opportunity to screw up. Seriously, this is a global financial institution?

Sir, I wouldn’t trust you or your managers to run that little girl’s lemonade stand in your ads. Let’s make a deal. You got an $11.1 m bonus last year. Flip me that penny, and we’ll call it even.

Your utterly incompetent service and your farcical security has cost me time and money. I’ve got a choice in banking, and you have come up wanting over and over and over again. You left me with no choice. You. Are. Fired.

Sincerely, your former customer,

Kevin Anderson

When commenting systems go bad

Just recently, one of my favourite blogs moved a new home on Wired and, in the process, moved to the Disqus commenting system. I’ve sat in many meetings where Disqus has been named as the desired commenting system. I have often found myself on the fence, preferring, say, the built-in WordPress commenting system over any third party system, but still understanding that the issues with managing very high volumes of comments can encourage companies to outsource them. Until recently, though, I hadn’t had any real in-depth experience of using Disqus as a commenter.

I have now. And I have discovered that Disqus kills conversation and frustrates users.

The problems with Disqus surprise me, because they’ve been around a while and I would have expected them to understand how online discussions actually work, and adjust their tool to facilitate conversation. Instead, Disqus quashes conversation. Here are the issues, and possibly a few solutions:

Comment display is broken
There has long been a debate in commenting circles about whether threaded comments or flat comments are best. The truth is, neither are better than the other, both have their strengths and weaknesses. But Disqus, or at least the installations of it that I have recently seen, do not provide an option to view comments in a flat, strictly chronological or reverse-chrono order.

When you have a rich and fast-moving conversation in blog comments, threading kills it because it is nigh-on impossible to know where the new comments are in the various threads. An option to show comments in a flat view would allow users to quickly see which comments are most recent. We are smart enough to thread the conversations we’ve read already in our memories, but wading through threads in order to find the one new comment is a chore no one will bother with.

This means Disqus kills conversation in big, complexly-threaded discussions.

Being able to easily switch between views would be even better, so that you can find the newest comments, but then switch to see them in context of their threads.

Comment paging is broken
If there’s one thing that drives me nuts about Disqus it’s that there is no “view all” option. On my favourite blog, I have to page through comments in chunks of 40 at a time and, once the thread gets over 80, it becomes very tedious on page reload to have to re-page through to the newest comments if I want to actually see them in reverse-chrono order. My only option is to then view them newest-first, which means I have to then find the join, which is again a pain in the arse, especially if when I last looked there were 100 comments, and now there are 200.

I recently saw a blog post with 900 comments, which were only accessible in pages of 10. If anyone thinks that people are going to bother to page through all those comments, ten at a time, they need a reality check. It’s already hard enough to get people to read comments before they write their own, but this just encourages drive-by commenting, which is very bad for conversation and community-building.

Disqus needs to have a “view all” option. I don’t care if it takes a minute or two to load, I just want everything, on one page, so that I can scan it at speed to pick out the comments I care about.

Other issues:
Login kills comments. On the train into London this morning I wrote a comment, then realised that I wasn’t logged in. I logged in with Google, as I usually do, and Disqus threw away my comment. WTF? Really? That’s how you treat logging in?

Newest first is weird: Newest first also does really weird stuff with within-thread threading which I haven’t get got my head round, but it bloody annoys me.

Page refresh breaks flow: On a lot of commenting systems, if I refresh the page in order to fetch new comments, the browser will remember where I am on the page and all I need to do to continue reading is, well, continue reading. Not with Disqus. Refreshing the page essentially resets Disqus, meaning that I have to re-page through everything and search for my place. A comment bookmarking system might help with this, or they could just offer a persistent single page view.

Just say No to Disqus
I have to say, I would now actively militate against clients using Disqus if they have any desire to create conversation and community. Disqus frustrates passionate readers, drives away interested but less committed readers, and makes genuine conversation difficult or impossible. It seems to be a great system for collecting comments to be ignored, but it’s terrible if you actually care about your comments or your commenters.

Given that Disqus has been around since 2007, the fact that it hasn’t cracked comment display yet is shocking to me. I honestly thought they of all people would have nailed it. Quite the opposite, in fact: Their design can only be described as user-surly.

Unbalanced coverage in the US balanced budget debate

I almost never, ever write about politics. I steer well clear of it. However, I’m going to risk it because I’m not sleeping well right now because it looks like my country, the once United States of America, is about to drive itself off a cliff.

When I say the coverage of the almost entirely self-inflicted US debt crisis is unbalanced, I don’t mean lacking objectivity or prejudiced, I mean insane. Balanced coverage would quote Tea Party darling Michele Bachman saying that there isn’t anything to worry about and Tea Party darling Jim Demint saying this is “manufactured crisis” on one side and then queuing up economist after economist, the ratings agencies, major financial companies, Fed chief Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and just about every other credible economic and business voice on the other side. As Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote in referring to 20 Tea Party Republicans as the Default Caucus:

So far, the Default Caucus is disregarding the advice of the Wall Street Journal editorial boardwarnings from Standard & Poor’s, the record of Ronald Reagan and even the permission of Grover Norquist, the conservative loyalty enforcer who said that ending the Bush-era tax cuts would not violate lawmakers’ anti-tax pledges.

Not to quote too liberally from Milbank’s column, but this is the problem:

Pew Research Center poll last week found that 53 percent of Republicans, and 65 percent of Tea Party faithful, believe that the Aug. 2 default deadline can be ignored without major problems.

A responsible press would be driving home the point to all who cared to listen that this will have consequences. Dire ones. It’s not just another government shutdown like 1994. No, even if a default doesn’t happen immediately because the US can’t meet its obligations, the ratings agencies will downgrade the US debt rating almost immediately. That may be abstract to most Americans, but it will have real and immediate consequences. Doing nothing is not an option, and it may already be too late to convince the ratings agencies that the US government isn’t broken.

I couldn’t agree more with US National Public Radio’s On the Media, when they criticised the US media for covering the political drama while almost entirely missing the point. They interviewed Rick Newman of US News and World Republic, not exactly a liberal publication, who said:

the Republicans are digging in their heels and saying no tax increases. And President Obama has basically said he will accept something that is about 75 percent spending cuts and 25 percent tax increases. That is a moderate position, based on the whole range of recommendations we’ve seen, but the media is struggling with how to re – relate to that. So they have to say Obama, on one hand, and these Republicans, on the other hand. And that’s where I think people get pretty confused.

As an American journalist, I was trained in objectivity. It is not a violation of objectivity to accurately portray what is at stake here. With a downgrade, borrowing costs will be higher. Overnight, the cost of serving the US debt will rise because it will be more expensive our basket-case government to borrow money. Recovery? Buh bye! Some economists estimate that for every 50 basis points (half a point of interest) rise in borrowing costs, you can kiss 600,000 US jobs goodbye. (A post by Ezra Klein at the Washington which will be quickly dismissed by conservatives as from a liberal rag.) Interest rates will rise making borrowing for average Americans higher. Americans, who like me, want to buy a house, will find it harder to finance. The already fragile housing market will take another knock. These are on the mild end of predictions. It goes rapidly downhill from there.

A few years ago, I chaired a panel about journalism and the financial crisis. A good friend, Kate Mackenzie from the FT, expressed some justified frustration when time and again the audience asked why journalists didn’t warn them of the coming debt-fuelled financial crisis. The general press mostly missed it apart from a few. However, Kate was right in pointing out that the business press had been covering this for at least two to three years before the crisis hit. I remember reading a Bloomberg magazine cover story titled Toxic Debt, all about CDOs and how they hid ridiculously risky assets including sub-prime mortgages. I read that in the summer of 2007, and I came home telling Suw that this could be 1929 all over again. It nearly was, and now, this crisis is entirely created by childish leaders who want it all and won’t compromise. As for the anti-compromise brigade, I hold Huffington Post liberals almost almost as responsible as the Tea Partiers. Both have made compromise a dirty word in Washington. Compromise is a sign of maturity. You never get everything you want. Most of us learned that on the playground as children.

With this balanced budget debt debacle, we can see this one coming. We can do something about it. We will have no one to blame but ourselves.

As a journalist, I’m paid to pay attention, and I’ve been paying attention from the start. This is serious. The clock is ticking on the US. There wasn’t any time to waste a month ago, and the political posturing has to stop. The Republicans are now accusing Barack Obama of playing politics and looking to his re-election. As if they aren’t. As if the half of the Republican Party queuing up to take his job isn’t looking to 2012. Don’t be silly.

The US is about to face a debt downgrade and possibly a default. It could take us back to the stomach-churning autumn of 2008 when the global economy hung in the balance. This is serious, and it needs some maturity and some compromise. I’d really like to come home, but I won’t be able to move back to the US if the Tea Party wrecks the economy. Man up both Republicans and Democrats. Too much is at stake to pander to those who won’t accept reality. My fellow Americans, get on that phone now. Call your Senator. Call your member of Congress. Your future, our future is at stake.

Zephoria Inc.: About to find out how social media really works

Dramatis Personae

Zephoria Inc.: An “internet marketing consulting company based in New York focused on helping companies maximize their online exposure through search engine optimization, web analytics, and marketing focused web development” who don’t have a clue about how social media actually works.

Zephoria: danah boyd’s online nickname which she has been using since 1998.

Tumblr: A sort-of blogging platform with staff who have really put their foot in it this time.

The Chorus: Bloggers, Twitterers and other random persons who will show Zephoria Inc and Tumblr just how social media really works.

The Story

danah blogged this evening about how she had been using Tumblr as a place to collect random bits of stuff, with the URL Zephoria has been her ID online for ages:

I’ve been using the handle “zephoria” online since around 1998 when I started signing messages with that handle while still at Brown. It’s actually a funny blurring of two things: zephyr and euphoria. Zephyr was the name of the instant messaging service at Brown and the name of the dog that I lived with in 1997, two things that I loved dearly. And talking about euphoria was a personal joke between me and a friend.

But suddenly, her Tumblr blog has been moved to, seemingly without any discussion or permission given on her part. Her original is now used by Zephoria Inc, whose main home is (compare and contrast to danah’s

Zephoria Inc say that they named themselves after “Greek mythology’s west wind”, though they seem to just have a problem spelling ‘Zephyr’:

zephyr | ?zef?r |

1 poetic/literary a soft gentle breeze.
2 historical a fine cotton gingham.
• a very light article of clothing.

ORIGIN late Old English zefferus, denoting a personification of the west wind, via Latin from Greek zephuros ‘(god of) the west wind.’ Sense 1 dates from the late 17th cent.

So they can’t even get their name right.

It seems that Zephoria Inc asked Tumblr to release danah’s subdomain, and Tumblr did just that. danah says she didn’t get any sort of notice from Tumblr, although David Karp, who appears to be in some way related to Tumblr although his Twitter profile doesn’t state as much, said on Twitter:

Hi Danah. We never reassign domains w/o notifying users first. Our support team reached out two weeks ago and didn’t hear back.

Per your last msg, your login/account are NOT dead. It looks likes you registered with a secondary email address?

Our team sent over the details. Please let me know if there’s absolutely anything I can do to help. I’m sorry for the trouble. 🙁

So it’s unclear exactly what went down… however, given that Tumblr have pulled this kind of stunt before it isn’t entirely clear that Tumblr actually did go to what one might call reasonable lengths to get in touch with danah.

Furthermore, Zephyr Inc… sorry, Zephoria Inc, have not been playing nice regarding other usernames/URLs according to danah:

A few years ago, I learned that there is a technology consulting company called And apparently, they’ve become a social media consulting company. In recent years, I’ve found that they work hard to block me from using the handle of zephoria on various social media sites. Even before the midnite land grab on Facebook, they squatted the name zephoria, probably through some payment to the company.

The irony is that Zephoria Inc not only does SEO (hm, how does “Zephoria Inc are a bunch of bullying fucktards” work for you guys?) and web dev, they also say that they do social media. Well, here’s a tip for you: If you stomp on one of social media’s most intelligent, dedicated, beloved people, you can expect to get stomped on back. Not just by danah, but by all her friends and everyone who holds her in high esteem.

A search for ‘zephoria‘ on Twitter right now shows just how much people resent bullying fucktards who think they have a right to a username just because they want it. (Hint: you don’t). More people will have heard of Zephoria Inc now than ever would have without this kerfuffle, and they all think that it’s a company that they would never do business with because they don’t play fair. It’s like a variant of the Streisand Effect, where a company does something utterly stupid which serves only to draw attention to its own stupidity.

Hopefully, Tumblr will come to their senses and give danah her URL back. And hopefully Zephoria Inc will either apologise and mend their ways, or go out of business. I’m hoping for the latter, because I just don’t need yet more fuckwits bringing social media into disrepute.

But there are two main lessons here:

1. If you are a service providing users with username-based URLs, be very, very careful how you handle requests to free up usernames even if they are dormant. You need dialogue and to come to a fair agreement which isn’t simply based on “Biggest bully wins”.

2. If you are a business and someone else has your username, suck it up (unless they are username squatting). If you are starting a business, do make sure that your business name isn’t already in use by someone else, or be willing to use a variant. if you’re going to rely on your ability to bully others into submission, you may find out that you have bitten off more than you can chew.

Zephoria Inc. have made a major error in bullying danah, as the very social media they purport to understand will now ensure that their Google search page turns up lots of content that discusses just what a bunch of dishonest, bullying charlatans they really are. Well done, chaps. Couldn’t have done better SEO if you’d tried.

UPDATE: Some more info via Betabeat.

UPDATE 2: danah has updated her blog with what has now happened. This is the key excerpt from that update:

10:39PM: I just got off the phone with John Maloney [President of Tumblr]. We had a lovely conversation which began with him apologizing for what he described as a human error in customer service and saying that he looked into the issue and has reinstated my account. He explicitly stated that they are working hard to have strong customer service processes where things like this don’t happen and that he feels terrible that it did happen. He said that Tumblr has only had four issues like this in the past and that they are committed to making certain that legitimate active users do not face these issues. He did say that they work hard to not allow squatting (and he argued that the Pitchfork case was one of squatting, not active use by the individual).

Twitter: Building a business-critical tool, then breaking it

I remember four years ago, when Twitter was still a blossoming new service, the outages that they used to suffer. Within just a few weeks of joining, I realised what a great tool it was and how important it was to me. Like many others who endured ongoing disruptions to Twitter’s service, I publicly stated I was willing to pay. Indeed, people were begging Twitter to let us give them money, to have some sort of way of paying for a service we had so quickly learnt to love. Twitter, inexplicably, pooh-poohed the idea, much to our frustration.

Over the last four years I have watched Twitter grow and fail to find any sort of business model that you could hang a hat on. Unlike Flickr, or Viddler, or Dipity, or WordPress, or LinkedIn, or countless other services, I can’t choose to give Twitter my money through subscribing to a premium account. For four years, Twitter have failed to earn any money from me, despite my willingness to pay.

i still have no idea what Twitter’s real business model is. Promoted Tweets and trends seem like a weak and risky ad-based model. I had thought they were going to let the ecosystem grow some awesome apps, add-ons and clients, buy the best, and then use sales of that as one income stream, but instead they bought Tweetie and then killed it dead.

For a while I thought they’d spot the popularity of services like TwitPic or TwitVid and build a premium offering around media sharing. Or maybe they were going to archive the world’s Tweets and use them in some clever way to research market demographics or something. But no. Not only have they trashed their archive, their search is useless.

And now they are slowly killing off the very developer community that made them great – indeed, made them at all usable – in the first place. Many have written about Twitter’s Ryan Sarver telling developers not to bother working on new clients already, so I shan’t dig further here. But it’s another nail in the coffin for all the goodwill and love that had built up around Twitter.

Whether deliberately or by accident, Twitter has created a service that people, businesses, NGOs, governments and grassroots groups now need in order to communicate with their constituencies. And many organisations, and many different types of organisation, rely on Twitter in one way or another. They also rely on a number of 3rd party services to help them understand how well they are doing, and what they are doing, on Twitter.

But Twitter’s rate limits – which stop 3rd party apps from abusing their API – are now starting to affect the use of Twitter as a serious communications tool. I am in the process of writing a research report, and yesterday I wanted to do a bit of research into the usage of Twitter by some well-known organisations. One of the tools I was using was Twitalyzer, and I came across this error:

Twitter is refusing to process any more of our requests right now! Twitter imposes certain rate limits on all partner applications and we have hit one of those limits.

Now, when I check, I get this message too:

The Twitter Search API appears to be largely OFFLINE today. On Friday, March 18th we started seeing a dramatically elevated rate of search-related errors during our processing. We are talking with Twitter but have not found resolution yet. All accounts and account processing appears to be affected. We are doing everything we can to resolve this issue but for now it appears out of our hands.

Now, it’s one thing to get errors like that if you’re doing an ego search, but if you’re using Twitter for professional purposes you need it to be up and running all the time, and that means that up and running for 3rd party tools as well as for That means having an API that is reliable, that people can depend on not to die or get rate-limited into oblivion.

It’s not just Twitalyzer that’s having problems. Tweetstats had problem with a massive queue (which I guess is their way of getting round the rate limiting), and Kevin has reported problems with Nambu, a desktop client. Slowly, it seems, Twitter is killing off its ecosystem with API changes, rate limiting, poorly developed clients/apps, annoying new features (the ‘dickbar’) and restrictive API policies. Whether this is deliberate or not, I wouldn’t like to say. But it is shortsighted.

There is still an opportunity for a premium Twitter account, one that I and, I am sure, many businesses would happily fork out decent cash for. A Twitter account that guaranteed me reliable service, some way of ensuring that I don’t get rate-limited when using 3rd party apps, and perhaps even some additional premium services that I haven’t dreamt up yet. That, yes, I would still pay for.

Now, you might say that Twitter is caught between a rock and a hard place: They don’t have the scale of Facebook, and they don’t have the income streams either. With no credible business model, further scaling could be difficult, and investors may be militating for some sort of return by any means possible. This could be pushing them into shortsighted strategies to scrape some dosh in any way they can. Now that’s speculation, of course, but I’m still struggling to make any sense out of what they actually are doing, or see how it translates into a decent business model.

Certainly, I have to think that Twitter are playing a dangerous game with their users’ goodwill. People keep saying that they have lock-in because there’s no credible competition, but where is Friendster now? Or MySpace? Yeah, they still exist, but as shadows of their former selves.

Twitter can’t take their users for granted, because they can and will go elsewhere. Twitter have made a phenomenal tool, one that both businesses and individuals find useful enough to want to pay for, yet bit by bit they are breaking it. Not big. Not clever. And not a strategy for long term business sustainability.

Betrayed again: NME Radio goes the way of Xfm

In 2007, Xfm ditched its daytime DJs, then axed all the remaining DJs in a shift to a fully automated playlist solution. I had been a loyal Xfm listener since day one in the mid-90s. I had listened on FM, via satellite TV when I left London and was out of signal range, online when I was abroad and then on DAB when Kevin bought me one for Christmas.

When Xfm fired all its DJs I felt betrayed, hurt and disappointed. A station I has supported for years had got rid of the very people who made it special. At the time I said:

The loss of real human DJs – people who care, people who are passionate, funny, interesting, exciting, cute, intelligent, informed, connected – will diminish listeners’ feelings of loyalty to the station. People react most favourably to other people. We like it when a human answers the phone instead of a machine. We prefer to be treated as individuals, not en masse. We want to have conversations with people we like and care about, people that we feel some sort of fellowship with. We don’t connect with people who pop up with an intrusive message for their own little social circle, we simply aren’t wired to care all that much about strangers.

In 2008, NME Radio began. By then I knew Iain Baker, who had been one of my favourite DJs on Xfm, personally and was excited to hear that NME Radio had hired him. Iain is a great DJ with a taste in music that matches mine and a warm, friendly manner that makes him a joy to listen to.

I finally had a replacement for the enfeebled Xfm. NME Radio was fun, full of great music played by great DJs. My radio listening needs were being fully met, even moreso when NME Radio moved on to Twitter so that I could interact with the DJs in a medium that I found convenient. (Although I must say that their use of social media in general was lacking and they could have done a lot more with it had they been bothered to find out how it can all work.)

But today I discovered, several days late due to having guests, that NME Radio have fired all their DJs and are pulling back to become an internet-only radio station. DX Media, who had licensed the NME brand, have decided not to renew that licence, thus leaving NME Radio as a shell of its former self. Says Brand Republic:

The live NME Radio station, launched under licence from IPC Media by Xfm founder Sammy Jacob’s DX Media, is to close after DX Media decided to terminate the arrangement.

NME Radio will stop broadcasting on national DAB and on digital television on Sky, Virgin Media and Freesat, but an automated service will continue online at while IPC reviews the next stage of development.

Perhaps they weren’t doing well, one might think. Well, it’s true that there weren’t as many ads as you might have expected, but according to Brand Republic, audience size was increasing:

According to the latest Rajar audience-measurement figures for the first quarter of this year, NME Radio had an average of 226,000 listeners a week, up 16.5% year on year and 27.7% quarter on quarter.

Today (14 June), media agencies expressed disappointment about the decision, citing the gold award the station won in the best use of branded content category for its Skins Radio work for Channel 4, as evidence of the station’s progressive approach.

So it would seem that DX Media simply didn’t have the patience to wait for NME Radio to read critical mass, despite the fact that the signs were good. If anything, it looked lie NME Radio was well on the up. The Guardian says:

NME Radio went nationwide on digital audio broadcasting (DAB) radio at the end of last year and also broadcast via Sky Digital, Virgin Media, and Freesat.

The station had an average weekly reach of 226,000 listeners in the first quarter of 2010, and just two months ago announced the signing of former Xfm DJ Alex Zane. It launched with a show presented by Ricky Gervais.

Once again, a great radio station has decided that the human voice is unnecessary or too expensive, and that us little sheeplings will continue to listen to an automated service that has all soul and personality of a brick. Well, I for one shan’t. If I want music without interruption, there’s Spotify,, my iTunes folder, and a bazillion music blogs and podcasts that can keep me busy.

What I want is to be able to listen to Iain and his colleagues. Their voices gave shape to my day. Like the old town cryer calling “11 o’clock and all is well”, the sound of Iain’s voice was a reminder that I had better be getting on with my morning lest lunchtime creep up on me.

I feel betrayed by NME Radio. Hurt. Angry. I’ve been through the loss of my favourite radio station before when Xfm turned to shit, and this hurts even more because of it.

The strange thing is… just before Xfm lost the plot, it started broadcasting some really dodgy station idents that were repulsively puerile and insulting. They upset listener and DJ alike. I remember being quite shocked when I heard them or heard about them.

Only a few weeks ago, NME Radio started broadcasting dodgy station idents that I found repulsive and insulting. One featured a woman trying to ask her boyfriend to marry her, casting her as a needy, silly, unrealistic bimbo and him as an uncaring, selfish, emotionally unavailable twat more interested in his radio than the feelings of his girlfriend. That’s insulting to both men and women alike, frankly.

So now I’m lost. 6Music seems to be the place that refugees from Xfm and NME now go, but half their DJs bore me and the others drive me up the wall. I am again in the radio wilderness, searching for an indie alt rock home with charismatic and entertaining DJs to keep me company.

UPDATE 18 June 2010: I was pretty cross when I wrote this post. I think NME Radio’s fate reminded me so much of what happened at Xfm and opened up some old wounds. I’ve had an interesting conversation with someone closer to the action than myself, and reading this post back in the light of that additional information, it does sound a bit harsh.

Ultimately, DX Media and IPC were in a tough spot. Starting a new radio station just before the ad industry tanked and global recession set in was a piece of bad luck no one could have foreseen.

I have no reason to doubt the intentions and capabilities of the people at DX Media and IPC who worked on NME Radio. I do still think they could have done better at social media, but these have been testing times for all businesses that rely on advertising. I hope IPC figure a way to continue NME Radio, and perhaps even find the budget to hire back some of the great talent they were forced to let go. Indeed, I shall continue to listen, as they do still have the best playlist in town, and perhaps by remaining loyal through testing times I might help the station survive. One can but hope.

Google Buzz: Not fit for purpose

Please see update at bottom of post!

There has been, ahem, quite a bit of buzz about Google Buzz since they started rolling it out across the Gmail network a few days ago. I first saw an invitation to it when I logged into my inbox yesterday evening. Being curious, I accepted Google’s invitation to try it out, but fairly rapidly started to think that perhaps it was a bad idea.

My problems with Buzz are twofold: Firstly, it sits in Gmail, both as a menu item under my inbox and as live messages in my inbox. Secondly, there are some serious privacy implications that Google appear to either have ignored or not thought about. Either explanation is a poor show, frankly.

Buzz off out of my inbox!
I have written and spoken before about the problem with email, but for those of you unfamiliar with my views I shall summarise: Email is causing significant problems for people, not just because of the volume of email we get these days but because dopamine circuits in our brain encourage us to seek new information and cause us to check our email more often than we realise. Every time we check email, we waste about 64 seconds getting back into doing what we were doing before. Some people check email every 5 minutes. That’s an 8-hour day each week that we waste in mental limbo. Email is a significantly counter-productive tool yet it’s our default for almost all communications.

By adding in a new source of random reward – Buzz – Google have made their inbox even more addictive and unproductive. Not only do you have a new unread Buzz messages count to lure you into checking and rechecking, Buzz also tangles up Buzz replies with your email in your email inbox. Whilst that may seem sensible from an engineering point of view, or for someone whose inbox is quiet or beautifully organised, for me and the many people like me for whom inbox is a daily struggle, this is a disaster. I just do not need extra fluff filling up my inbox.

Privacy issues
For me, this mess of an inbox would be enough to put me off Buzz, but it gets worse. Google have historically not been great at doing social stuff. They are really great at their core business, which is search and serving ads against those search results. They also excel in some other areas, such as document sharing. And yes, I even appreciate the use of labels instead of folders in Gmail. But social stuff seems to be a bit beyond them.

Google Buzz lays bare Googles social weaknesses, illustrating the lack of thought given to potential social problems caused by their design and engineering decisions.

Privacy problem 1: Google Buzz exposes your most emailed contacts
Nicholas Carlson pointed this out in his Silicon Valley Insider piece, WARNING: Google Buzz Has A Huge Privacy Flaw:

When you first go into Google Buzz, it automatically sets you up with followers and people to follow.

A Google spokesperson tells us these people are chosen based on whom the users emails and chats with most using Gmail.

That’s fine.

The problem is that — by default — the people you follow and the people that follow you are made public to anyone who looks at your profile.

In other words, before you change any settings in Google Buzz, someone could go into your profile and see the people you email and chat with most.

This is a significant problem. I use my Gmail account for business and personal email, so many of my most-emailed people are not my friends but my clients. It’s not appropriate for Google to expose my clients like that. I maintain a client list on my site, but that’s at my discretion and doesn’t give away individual names and email addresses. Google Buzz could.

My email contacts list is not a social graph. It is not a group of people I have chosen to follow, but is instead full of people with whom I have a (sometimes very tenuous)professional relationship, as well as my family and some of my friends. Interestingly, my best friends don’t email me very often, so they do not show up as a part of my Buzz following list.

This answer to this is to go to your Google Profile and uncheck the tickbox next to “Display the list of people I’m following and people following me”.

Didn’t know you had a Google Profile? Nope, me neither! God knows when it was set up, or whether I agreed to it at some point in the past without realising what I was doing, or what. My friend Kevin Marks reminded me that he nagged me into creating a profile when Google first got them, which explains why I forgot all about it! But still, now I know I have a Google Profile I can give it the information I choose to.

Privacy problem 2: Poor default settings and no central control panel
Carlson goes on:

A Google spokesperson asked us to phrase this claim differently. Like this: “In other words, after you create your profile in Buzz, if you don’t edit any of the default settings, someone could visit your profile and see the people you email and chat with most (provided you didn’t edit this list during profile creation).”

This is appalling behaviour by Google. It’s well known that users tend not to edit their default settings. The people currently playing with Buzz may well be early adopters, more experienced in the ways of the web and more curious about settings and defaults. But you can guarantee that most people will accept the default settings as they are, without realising how much information that they are exposing to the world.

When you first join up to Google Buzz, you get a screen that shows you the people you’re automatically following, and who is following you. It doesn’t make clear that this information is visible to others, nor is it clear how to change the settings. If you go to your normal Google settings (at least for me) there is no ‘Buzz’ tab where I can manage all my privacy settings. Instead you have to ferret about in the interface in order to find the different privacy settings.

This is just not good enough. Right now, I can’t even find half the settings that I saw earlier. I found them through clicking on all the links I could see until I got to the page I wanted: This is the sort of usability mistake that Google should not be making.

Privacy problem 3: People can hide themselves from you
One of my followers is anonymous to me.

Google Mail - Buzz - Followers

This is completely appalling. I should be able to see exactly who is following me, and not have them be able to hide themselves from me. The opportunity for abuse here is huge – ex-boyfriends stalking their ex-girlfriends, bosses spying on their employees, random internet trolls watching their victims.

Anyone can get my email address – it’s out there on the web. It has to be, because I’m a freelance consultant and people have to have a way to get hold of me. This means that anyone can hide their profile and I won’t know who they are or why they are following me on Google Buzz. This is creepy in the extreme.

It also means that I can’t block that person. In order to block someone, you need to go to your follower list, click on their name and then click ‘Block’.

Blocking someone on Buzz

If I can’t see a follower’s name, I can’t go to this page and I can’t block them. Huge fail.

Privacy problem 4: Mobile Buzz can publish your precise location, but gives no option to make it fuzzy
If you have a browser on your phone, you may be able to use the mobile version of Buzz. When you open it up, it asks if it can use your location. Say yes to this, and your precise address will be published at the bottom of every Buzz you create. It doesn’t give you a choice in terms of how detailed you want to be, you can’t say ‘London’ or ‘UK’, it just determines your street address to the best of its ability and uses that.

This issue was highlighted by Molly Wood over on Cnet, and is as unhappy about it as I am. Molly has an Android, and her experience was this:

When you first visit the mobile app on your Android phone and attempt to post something, you’ll be asked whether you want to Share Location or Decline. The “Remember this Preference” box is prechecked too, so be sure you’re ready to have everyone know right where you are, whenever you post to Buzz. At minimum, uncheck the Remember button so you can decide whether to reveal your location post by post.

On the iPhone, there’s no “Remember this Preference”, so you are asked every time you open the site. You can turn location on or off on a per-Buzz basis very easily, so it’s not as bad as it sounds like the Android is, but the lack of choice about level of detail is dreadful.

If you do publish your location, you are not just publishing it to those people following you on Buzz, you are also, by default, also publishing it to everyone who is geographically close by. The ‘Nearby’ tab on the mobile Buzz site gives you a list and map view of everyone who has published a location that is within a certain distance. Again, this is fine if that’s what you want, but it shouldn’t be the default. You can, on a per post basis, set your privacy settings to “private”, but you don’t seem able to set that globally via the iPhone.

Once you have published your location you have to delete the Buzz in order to delete your location. You can’t just strip the location off the Buzz.

What’s also annoying is that it asks to use your location every time you open the site up. And every time you open up the Buzz Map. Every time. Lord, that is a real buzz killer.

(Molly flags up some other issues too: The use of photos from her Android that she hadn’t uploaded, and the revelation of her email. Her post is worth reading.)

Privacy problem 5: The opportunities for spammers and PR hacks
Jennifer Leggio has already had PRs spamming her via Buzz (on page 2). Oh dear lord, what a grim thought.

[T]he brand spamming and public relations pitching has already started. It’s bad enough that a lot of these people have my email address, but now they can buzz me just by adding me. (Whether I add them back or not, I found. Was this a glitch?)

The idea that Buzz is going to make me more available to PR people and to spammers, against my will, is not one that fills me with joy. I already get heaps of crap press releases in my inbox, I do not need more of this stuff cluttering things up. The true spammers aren’t there yet, but they will so find a way to abuse Buzz and make the whole thing a horrible experience. And right now, Google seem to be making it easy for them.

Privacy problem 6: Buzz automatically links you to other Google properties like Picasa and Google Reader
Jennifer says:

If you are using Google Picasa and Google Reader yet are not wholly aware of Buzz, you may not realize what you are publishing and promoting to your Buzz stream because you may not know it exists.

Again, would it be so hard to hold off automatically publishing stuff to people’s Buzz streams and make them go through a configuration process before they start publishing anything? Of course, that wouldn’t suit Google, who want as many people to be using Buzz as soon as possible. They don’t have a new tool here, they are just integrating Jaiku, whom they bought in Oct 2007, into Gmail. (Wait! What? It took them over two years to think of this?) So they don’t have a really compelling reason for people to change from Twitter or Facebook or FriendFeed. Buzz is not a killer app, it’s a mess. A TGF.

In conclusion
I haven’t even begun with the usability problems Buzz has. How poorly considered the interface is. How annoying it is when your Buzz stream is flooded with someone’s Google Reader output. But I do have a cure:

Go to the bottom of your screen and click “Turn off Buzz”.

turn buzz off

That should pretty much solve the problem. Google can get back to me when they’ve hired someone who actually understands social functionality and, y’know, people, and has fixed the awful usability and privacy problems. As Steve Lawson said:

There’s a reason why I don’t keep a ‘who I’ve emailed this week’ page going on my blog, and it’s not just cos it would be dull as shit.

UPDATE: 12 Feb 2010, 10am
Google have responded very rapidly to users concerns regarding Buzz. In a blog post on the Gmail Blog comes the news that they are making changes to the way that Buzz works and will be rolling those changes out soon.

The changes they are making are:

1. More visible option to not show followers/people you follow on your public profile
2. Ability to block anyone who starts following you
3. More clarity on which of your followers/people you follow can appear on your public profile

My advice to all new Buzz users would be:

  1. Edit the default list of followers that Buzz suggests when you first join the service. Make sure that you are only following people you want to follow.
  2. Decide if you want that list to be public. If you are in any way unsure, make it private.
  3. Keep an eye on who is following you, and use the block functionality if you find someone following you who makes you uncomfortable in any way
  4. Edit your public profile page and make sure you are happy with the information it displays. The minimum Google will accept is a name.

Having used Buzz already, I can’t check what the defaults are on initial sign-up now, but I’m hoping that Google has made some better choices about default levels of privacy. It would be better if Google doesn’t automatically tie Buzz into its other properties, but asks people to choose that up front. It will certainly be good to be able to see (and block, if I choose) everyone who is following me, not just those with public profiles.

There’s still no word on fuzzy location on the mobile app. My personal preference is not to use geolocation apps, but that’s just my own squickiness. I might use it more if I could set the level of detail in my location, e.g. “London” as opposed to a street address.

Now, if Google gives us the option to spin Buzz off out of our inbox and into a separate app, I might be more inclined to give it another go. But keeping it in the inbox is still a dealbreaker for me. I have enough problems managing my email already, I don’t need Buzz to add to the cognitive load.

I doubt that Google will separate them, though. Just read their opening paragraph where they coo over how many users they have. That’s why they did it like this: It gave them an immediate user base that they probably would not have got if they had launched it as a stand-alone service. My friend Max said to me on Twitter yesterday:

Wave is a separate app that should have been part of GMail, Buzz is part of GMail and should have been a separate app…

And I think he pretty much nailed it there. Buzz still feels uncomfortable in my inbox, but at least Google are making some progress towards clarity and better privacy controls for users. Here’s hoping the solve the other problems soon.

UPDATE: 12 Feb 2010, 1pm
Jessica Dolcourt of Cnet has put together a very clear guide on how to opt-out of Buzz. Turning it off doesn’t purge your profile or stop people following you, so a few more steps are needed.

Killing straw men

Paul Carr has written a post for TechCrunch about citizen journalism and social media entitled After Fort Hood, another example of how ‘citizen journalists’ can’t handle the truth. Normally I ignore TechCrunch, but so many people I know were impressed with the post that I had to read it. Sadly, it’s riven with poor logic, straw men and factual inaccuracies.

Paul starts with a straw man:

…after two weeks of me suggesting that social media might not be an unequivocally Good Thing in terms of privacy and human decency, the news has delivered the perfect example to support my view.

The discussion about the impact of social media on people’s privacy, behaviour and ethics has been going on for years, and there have been many, many examples of people using social tools in ways that can only be described as foolish.

This is not, however, a reflection on social tools so much as it is a reflection of human nature: Some of what gets done with social media is good and some is bad. This is not news, nor new.

We do need some proper studies to see just what sort of effect these new social technologies are having, but going off on a moral panic about social tools is neither smart nor helpful.

Carr goes on to say:

And yet, the first news and analysis out of the base didn’t come from the experts. Nor did it come from the 24-hour news media, or even from dedicated military blogs – but rather from the Twitter account of one Tearah Moore, a soldier from Linden, Michigan who is based at Fort Hood, having recently returned from Iraq.

[…] In reality Ms Moore’s was tweeting minute-by-minute reports from inside the hospital where the wounded were being taken for treatment.

It’s no real surprise that people who use Twitter might use it during such an event. And most people who use Tweet have a relatively small community. Moore now has her Twitter stream set to private, but even now she has only 29 followers, so she most likely thought that she was speaking to a small number of people and it turns out that’s pretty much true: If you search for her Twitter ID, you can see that she was retweeted a little bit, but not massively. I know Twitter search isn’t the most reliable, but there are only 8 pages of search results for her ID, starting 8 days ago. That hardly speaks to a huge retweeting.

Furthermore, whilst Twitter lists were used by the media to collect Tweets related to Fort Hood, Moore is on six such lists, which between them have a grand total of 67 followers.

Carr goes on:

That last twitpic link was particularly amazing: it showed a cameraphone image – of a wounded soldier arriving at the hospital on a gurney – taken by Moore from inside the hospital. Unsurprisingly, Moore’s – [sic] coverage was quickly picked up by bloggers and mainstream media outlets alike, something that she actively encouraged by tweeting to friends that they should pass her phone number to the press so she could tell them the truth, rather than the speculative bullshit that was hitting the wires.

Carr claims that the bloggers and mainstream media outlets picked up on her tweets, but I just can’t substantiate that. I have searched Google News and the only mentions of “Tearah Moore” are people reposting or quoting Paul Carr’s article. Searching for “MissTearah” brings up two articles, neither from a mainstream news outlet. One is from a German blog, the other from The Business Insider, which runs her photo.

Further digging does reveal that the Houston Chronicle in Texas ran her photo (no. 52) with the caption “MissTearah submitted this photo to Twitter purporting to be from the emergency room in Killee.” Australia’s Herald Sun does the same but uses the caption “This Twitter image from user misstearah, claims to be from inside a hospital near the shooting.”

Technorati and Icerocket show the same pattern amongst bloggers: A few people are talking about Carr’s post, not Moore’s original Tweets.

When I mentioned this on Twitter, Carr responded:

@Suw I linked the Independent in the post Here’s NYT and AP trying to ctct:

The Independent post that Carr links to is actually a post by Jack Riley, a tech writer, that he’s written on his own Independent Minds Livejournal. Independent Minds is the Indie’s user generated content platform, it’s not a part of the Indie’s journalistic output. The other two are links to Tweets by the New York Times and the Associated Press trying to get in touch with Moore, which is what you would expect from journalists who think they may have an eye witness to talk to.

Let’s just look at Tweets from the MSM to Moore (oldest to newest):

@robertwood: @MissTearah give me a call if you can. I’m a reporter and wanted to do an interview. 512.474.5264

@DavidSchechter: @MissTearah Please call WFAA TV in Dallas 214-907-5964

@vietqle: @MissTearah I’m with National Public Radio in DC. We’d like 2 talk w/ people at Ft. Hd. Can you contact me? or 202.513.3999. Tx.

@waldon_m: @MissTearah please call me at 2022157069 or email

@waldon_m: @MissTearah i am a reporter with The Associated Press. Please contact ASAP

@waldon_m: @MissTearah please contact the AP 202 641 9807

@waldon_m: @MissTearah please contact The Associated Press if you can 202 641 9807- thank you.

@BBC_HaveYourSay: @MissTearah Hello, it’s James at BBC News in London. I saw your picture from Fort Hood. It would be great to talk to you today. Are u free?

@BBC_HaveYourSay: @MissTearah Thanks for letting us know. We thought the email was suspicious. I’m glad we did not publish your pic. I’m sorry to trouble you.

@xocasgv: @misstearah – Hi, this is Xaquin G.V., Graphics Editor at The New York Times, read you witnessed the event. Any cha [sic]

So, six journalists get in touch, with Michael Waldon not appearing to have much luck in getting hold of Moore at all. The brief exchange with @BBC_HaveYourSay is also interesting – make of it what you will. As Moore’s account is private now, there’s no way to see what her response was and thus tricky to interpret that tweet.

But other than the three posts mentioned above that use Moore’s photo, I couldn’t find any other mainstream media news outlet that quotes from or mentions Moore by name, nor do any bloggers that Technorati or Icerocket can find. Equally, the number of retweets are negligible.

Carr’s assertion that her tweets were “quickly picked up by bloggers and mainstream media outlets alike” just isn’t supported by the facts.

Now there is a discussion that could be had about the content of Moore’s Tweets. She did not have access to completely accurate information but from reading through some of the reTweets and the few Tweets that Riley archived, Moore seemed to feel that the information she was getting was coming from relatively reliable sources. She was also Tweeting what she was witnessing, which is information there’s no reason to doubt.

In the middle of a shooting, in a lock-down situation, is it really any wonder that your average eye witness actually isn’t all that well informed about the bigger picture? People caught up in events can tell us what they see and what they hear, but they can’t necessarily fact check right there and then and I feel it’s rather unfair to expect them to.

Carr also talks about a picture Moore took – a blurry image of someone on a gurney further down the corridor:

Rather than offering to help the wounded, or getting the hell out of the way of those trying to do their jobs, Moore actually pointed a cell-phone at a wounded soldier, uploaded it to twitpic and added a caption saying that the victim “got shot in the balls”.

In the caption to her Twitpic, Moore says that she was at the hospital for an appointment. She doesn’t appear to be a member of medical staff, so would have no role to play in that situation. Whether it is reportage or poor taste to take and upload such a picture — given that there is no way to identify anyone in the picture and you can barely see the wounded soldier — is a matter for debate.

(Carr mentions HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects patient confidentiality in the US. I’m not clear how HIPAA privacy provisions would apply in this case and would need an expert to advise.)

But to insinuate that it’s pure selfishness and that Moore should have been ‘doing something’ is misrepresenting Moore’s situation.

Carr himself, though, did appear to have a problem with Moore’s conduct, if his tweets are anything to go by:

@paulcarr: By the way, doesn’t @misstearah have a fucking job to do while all these people are dying? Just wondering.

@paulcarr: Looks like @misstearah’s twitter account has been taken down. Only took the army an hour to respond to that particular threat.

@paulcarr: Also, Twitpics from inside the hospital? From a cellphone? Really? Precisely how many moral and legal rules does that break?

Carr then goes on to talk about the Iranian elections:

For all of our talk about “the world watching”, what good did social media actually do for the people of Iran? Did the footage out of the country actually change the outcome of the elections? No. Despite a slew of YouTube videos and a couple of thousand foreign Twitter users turning their avatar green and pretending to be in Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is still in power. It’s astonishing, really.

What is astonishing is Carr’s arrogance. Whilst the election wasn’t swayed, it is wrong to think that the social media action around the elections achieved nothing. I’d like to hear from Iranians on this, but I would imagine that just knowing the world was listening, that people out there cared, that normal Iranians could be heard outside of their own country would be an empowering experience. We might not know for some years what the full effect was, but to write it all off because the election wasn’t swayed is just shortsightedness.

Carr goes on:

And so it was at Fort Hood. For all the sound and fury, citizen journalism once again did nothing but spread misinformation at a time when thousands people with family at the base would have been freaking out already, and breach the privacy of those who had been killed or wounded. We learned not a single new fact, nor was a single life saved.

Another straw man. Eye witness reports have never been focused on saving lives, but on reporting what someone’s experiences. And as for misinformation and breaching privacy, the mainstream media is just as good at spreading that as anyone else, if not better.

A further straw man is Carr’s complaint that social media is making “our humanity […] leak[…] away”. It’s a meaningless statement, on a par with the anti-electricity rhetoric from the late 19th Century. Ethics are not tool-specific, they don’t change from technology to technology. If that were so, all the positive, constrictive, humanity-affirming actions that are taken through social media would simply not be possible.

Finally, Carr mentions the video of Neda Agha Soltan’s final moments:

Even if you’ve seen the footage before, you should watch it again. But this time bear in mind the following: the cameraman was not a professional reporter, but rather an ordinary person, just like the victim. And what did he do when he saw a young girl bleeding to death? Did he run for help, or try to assist in stemming the bleeding? No he didn’t.

Instead he pointed his camera at her and recorded her suffering, moving in closer to her face for her agonising final seconds. For all of our talk of citizen journalism, and getting the truth out, the last thing that terrified girl saw before she closed her eyes for the final time was some guy pointing a cameraphone at her. “Look at me, looking at her, looking back at me.”

This is totally disingenuous. Neda was on her way to a protest in Tehran and was shot in the heart when she got out of the car to get some air (the car’s air conditioning wasn’t working well). Several people attended to Neda, including Dr Arash Hejazi, who said this about the incident:

A young woman who was standing aside with her father [sic, later identified as her music teacher] watching the protests was shot by a Basij member hiding on the rooftop of a civilian house. He had clear shot at the girl and could not miss her. However, he aimed straight her heart. I am a doctor, so I rushed to try to save her. But the impact of the gunshot was so fierce that the bullet had blasted inside the victim’s chest, and she died in less than two minutes.

Carr’s assertion that the people who videoed Neda’s death should have been doing something is absurd. Others were already doing what they could and it doesn’t sound like there was anything more that could be done.

However harrowing it is to watch a young woman die, there are times when such scenes have to be captured and relayed to the world, to illustrate the appalling conditions and repression that people are suffering. Had she died unrecorded, it’s likely that no one outside of Iran, possibly outside of her immediate community, would have heard of her murder. Instead, she became seen as a symbol of the Iranian protests, even as a martyr.

I was at a panel discussion about social media in repressive regimes a while back with Kevin, and an Egyptian blogger told of how even his friends and family did not want to believe that the police were abusing prisoners until a video of such abuse ended up on YouTube. We might not like it, but unfortunately it can be an important not just in rallying protestors but also as documentary evidence to persuade others.

There is even now a graduate scholarship at the University of Oxford named after Neda so there is hope that, both in Iran and outside, her death was not meaningless.

The key thing that Carr forgets is that what is unacceptable in our relatively safe societies may be necessary in oppressive regimes. Tools we use for play here can be used for survival elsewhere.

More fundamental questions, about whether or not it is right for journalists to stand back and record events instead of intervening to try to save people’s lives is a discussion that has been ongoing for decades. I don’t think that it’s one that’s going to be solved any time soon, either, as there are compelling arguments for and against.

What we should do as individuals, though, when we are confronted by such events is a question worth examining, by each of us and in the frame of our own capabilities. I think most people would try to help and wouldn’t even think about taking photos or video; others would try to help and then think about recording events when the helping is done; and yet others simply won’t be able to help and will only be able to record. Should we criticise and demonise those who record the events around them in a way we don’t approve? Or is it a question for individuals to decide for themselves?

Paul Carr’s main point appears to be that citizen journalists can’t get stuff right, so they should shut up, and those that record events instead of helping to save lives should be ripped a new one. Yet his main assertions are unsupported by the facts, his interpretation riddled with holes and his straw men pathetically easy to demolish.

There are interesting debates to be had about technology, social media, citizen journalism and eye witness accounts, but sadly Carr’s post touches on none of them in any meaningful way. I am befuddled as to why people on Twitter are seizing on it as breaking new ground, as it simply doesn’t.

Plain English fail

I wrote a post about jargon the other day, and in the comments someone asked me what I thought the worst bit of social media jargon was. I realised then that individual terms, even quite jargon-y ones, can be used in such a way that they can easily be understood because of the context. Equally, terms that by themselves don’t seem too bad can be brought together in a such a concoction that they immediately lose all meaning.

I discovered such an example today, via John Moore (via someone who Tweeted it). John blogs about the Dachis Group’s attempt to explain what they mean when they use the phrase “Social Business Design”. John said:

I tried explaining/defining the term to a friend the other day but did it poorly. (I think I know what it means, but I don’t.) It’s about using online applications (like ‘social media’ tools) to help businesses improve communication across all departments inside the company and communication across all vendor partners and customers outside the company to create a more efficient and more coordinated way of doing business.

At least that’s what I thought. After reading Dachis Group Managing Partner Peter Kim’s short explanation of what Social Business Design is, I’m totally lost.

And, at risk of basically reproducing John’s whole post (you totally have to go over and read the comments though, some of them are just fabulous), here’s Peter Kim’s definition:

Social Business Design is the intentional creation of dynamic and socially calibrated systems, process, and culture.

Its goal: helping organizations improve value exchange among constituents.

Social Business Design uses a framework of four mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive archetypes: ecosystem, hivemind, dynamic signal, and metafilter. This model can be applied to improve customer participation, workforce collaboration, and business partner optimization. Doing so provides insight to help measure and manage business to produce improved and emergent outcomes.

Some of these words are perfectly fine all by themselves, but put together they are meaningless. “Collectively exhaustive archetypes”, anyone?

This is a perfect example of a company pulling together complex-sounding jargon and complex and hard to parse sentences to make themselves sound cleverer than they really are. It reminds me very much of one of my earliest consulting gigs. A company wanted me to help with their communications and one of the things I needed to do was get a good idea of what they did. We spent several hours in a meeting trying to come up with a way to describe their focus without using any jargon. It turned out that they just couldn’t find ways to talk about their work without resorting to neologisms that would have been utterly confusing to anyone outside of their industry.

They, like Dachis Group, suffered a total plain English fail. In my opinion, no business should use language which obscures meaning, but for a company like Dachis Group that is supposed to be encouraging communication and collaboration, it’s a double fail.