Facebook likes vs Twitter shares: What The Atlantic’s graphs really tell us

The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson has published a handful of graphs which he says tell us about the popularity of “viral publishers” on Facebook and Twitter, and how important Facebook is compared to Twitter based on volume of shares/likes. It’s true that the graphs do give us some very interesting insights, but they aren’t the ones Thompson thinks they are.

Thompson’s graphs are based on data from Newswhip’s Spike database. The first problem is Thompson’s sloppy use of terminology. His first graph says that it shows Facebook likes, but in the text he uses the word shares, but likes and shares are not the same thing. Liking something on Facebook is basically just giving that thing a thumbs-up, it’s a very lightweight interaction. A share is much more emphatic and gives you the opportunity to comment on the item you’re sharing. Both apparently show up in timelines, although Facebook is, as usual, spectacularly unclear on the precise differences regarding when a like will show up and when a share will, but either way, they aren’t the same kind of action.

Newswhip’s graph shows total likes and shares for each content source, whereas Thompson’s graph says that it shows “overall likes” and provides significantly higher figures than Newswhip: ~27,000,000 vs 20,878,994 for The Huffington Post, for example. This is because he has actually plotted “Total FB Interactions”, a figure from Newswhip that includes likes, shares and comments on Facebook.

This might seem like nitpicking, but when you have words like “like” and “share” being used to designate very similar but different actions, with different social meaning, you cannot just use the words interchangeably. And you can’t just chuck in comments to the mix without saying so.

Here are the two graphs for you to compare:

Thompson's Facebook graph

Thompson’s Facebook graph

Newswhip's Facebook graph

Newswhip’s Facebook graph

The next pair of graphs are for Twitter. Thompson’s say they are for Twitter mentions, whereas Newswhip’s graph is for “tweets and retweets of articles”. This time, Thompson’s figures appear to be about the same as Newswhip’s, so must refer to both mentions and retweets.

Thompson's Twitter graph

Thompson’s Twitter graph

Newswhip's Twitter graph

Newswhip’s Twitter graph

Thompson then goes on to take Newswhip’s total article count for each publisher and use it to calculate the total shares per article on each platform. Upworthy‘s article count is just 225, so its shares per article is ridiculously high compared to every other source. Even TwentyTwoWords, which is in second place after Upworthy, has significantly more shares per article than other, bigger sites.

That’s a big red flag for me, indicating that something odd and statistically dubious might be going on. Looking at their Facebook pages gives you a sense of how many shares, likes and comments their articles are getting. Upworthy’s are highly variable, from 51 shares, 322 likes and 10 comments to 11,934 shares, 32,800 likes and 1,260 comments. TwentyTwoWords timeline posts vary from 2 shares, 17 likes and two comments to 75 shares, 66 likes, and 15 comments. So what we’re looking at, as one commenter on Thompson’s piece says, is a few runaway hits pulling up Upworthy and TwentyTwoWords’ figures.

Thompson gives us the mean recommendations (shares/likes/comments and tweets/retweets) per article, but to draw more robust conclusions we would need to know the median number of recommendations for each site. We also need to see the range, so that we can see how runaway hits are statistically skewing the distribution.

But still, given the meme-y nature of their content, it’s no surprise that Upworthy is popular. Pointing out that internet meme-based content is particularly popular with internet audiences isn’t an insight, it’s a tautology.

Thompson concludes his piece with a huge non-sequiteur, that “Facebook is huge. Much bigger than Twitter. […] Even the biggest sites on Twitter are much, much, much bigger on Facebook.”

Well, duh! Anyone who didn’t know that Facebook is bigger than Twitter has to have been living in a cave for the last few years. Facebook has 1,189 million monthly active users whereas Twitter has 232 million monthly active users. More users means more potential for sharing. We would expect Facebook’s activity to be some five times larger than Twitter activity but we don’t, we see that it is ten times larger. That is at least in part because Thompson is comparing apples and oranges.

Facebook likes, shares and comments are not equivalent to Twitter tweets and retweets. It’s not even clear to me that it’s meaningful to compare them, because of the different levels of engagement required to complete each action. An original posting to Facebook or Twitter is about equivalent in effort, because usually these days it’s just a matter of clicking a button on the original source post or copying/pasting an URL. Resharing that within Facebook is more akin to retweeting on Twitter, and neither liking nor commenting on Facebook has an equivalent on Twitter.

In order to properly compare activity types on Facebook and Twitter, we need to compare similar behaviours, so we can compare originating posts, or sharing or retweeting, but have to cut out likes and commenting on Facebook. Newswhip’s numbers don’t allow us to do that.

What this data does tell us is, however, much more interesting than Thompson’s  analysis might lead us to believe. Knowing what kind of content plays well on Facebook and Twitter gives us a fascinating insight into the tastes of their users. Facebook likes polarised, outrage-inducing or meme-y content, and is rather uninterested in sports. Twitter likes non-partisan news, tech news with a bit of polarised news, a few memes, and a lot less of the outrage. Twitter is also not massively keen on dedicated sports sites.

And if the shares per article data has any grounding in reality – which at this point I don’t have enough data to assess – then you can also see how well highly partisan, fringe content plays on both platforms in comparison to those sites’ sizes. Russia Today, Breitbart, Alternet and The Blaze are far from being balanced or neutral news outlets, but their bias allows them to punch above their weight compared to more moderate sources such as The Atlantic, CNN and the New York Times. That too is fascinating as it points to very vocal, politically partisan subcultures within both platforms.

If we wanted to, we could look at the demographic research for all these sites and get a much deeper insight into the psychographics of users than you can get from the usual Twitter/Facebook analyses. However, that takes a bit more effort than is required to chuck a few graphs up and draw superficial and suspect conclusions from fuzzy data.

Finally, what this data doesn’t and can’t tell us is whether Facebook is driving ten times more traffic to content sites than Twitter, given that content is being recommended ten times more often than on Twitter. Indeed, it’s well known that people are happy to re-share content without clicking on the links, and in my own experience, there are differences between how willing people on different platforms are to click on links and the dwell times and bounce rates for traffic from different platforms. On one project, oddly, LinkedIn provided the best traffic with dramatically longer dwell times and lower bounce rates.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if Upworthy has ten or a hundred times more shares on Facebook than Twitter if that doesn’t translate into traffic and revenue.

Ada Lovelace Day 2012 fundraiser and events

Ada Lovelace Day, the international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering & maths that I launched in 2009, has gone from strength to strength in the last three years. I’ve been amazed at how much support it’s garnered and how much enthusiasm there is for it.

This year, it has become really clear to me that there’s a lot more that I could do with Ada Lovelace Day, if only we had a bit of cash to pay for it. Since its inception, Ada Lovelace Day has been run entirely by volunteers and by partnering with organisations like the Women’s Engineering Society, Association for UK Interactive Entertainment, London Games Festival and BCS Women. We have managed a huge amount through the kindness and generosity of our volunteers and partners, but there is more we could do.

I now want to create a formal charitable organisation to support women in STEM, not just on one day of the year, but all year round. Some of our goals include creating educational materials about iconic women, providing media training, and building a directory of expert speakers. The fundraiser uses the ‘keep what you earn’ model so all money donated will go towards helping women in STEM.

So if you have a moment, please take a look at our fundraiser and donate what you can.

We also have a couple of events that you might be interested in:

Ada Lovelace Day Live! Featuring the WES Karen Burt Award
Last year’s Ada Lovelace Day Live! event, held with BCSWomen, was such an amazing success that we decided to do it again on 16 October at the IET in London! We are collaborating with the Women’s Engineering Society who will be presenting the prestigious Karen Burt Memorial Award to a newly chartered woman engineer at the event. Performers include:

All hosted by inimitable songstress and one third of the Festival of the Spoken Nerd, Helen Arney!

It will be an fantastic evening of science, technology, comedy and song, featuring all manner of wonders, from marine biology and particle physics to the secrets of fridges and performance robots. We would love to see you there if you can make it!

Tickets are £10 and available from WES.

XX Game Jam
ALD is delighted to have partnered with the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment and the London Games Festival to put on the XX Game Jam, an all-female games hackday where teams will compete to produce the best computer game in just 24 hours. Held on the 26th and 27th October, it’s the first all-women* event of its type.

We’re looking for programmers, producers, artists, designers, sound designers or composers, who would like to try their hand making a game! Direct experience of game development is not required.

Sign up for free!

* We believe the terms ‘XX’ and ‘woman’ are self-defining, so anyone who self-identifies as female is welcome.

There are more events being organised independently by grassroots Ada Lovelace Day supporters both in the UK and (coming soon) around the world. So come along and get involved!!

MailOnline’s Martin Clarke: “Ooh, look at the badger with the gun, everyone!”

Index on Censorship examines the question, posed by MailOnline editor Martin Clarke, How does the Leveson Enquiry deal with the internet? But it misses the point that Clarke’s focus on the internet is simply diversionary tactics, designed to draw attention away from press conduct and point the finger at, well, it seems, pretty much everyone who’s ever used a social tool.

Said Clarke in his evidence:

Underpinning any press regulator as a statutory body effectively gives the state the power to licence newspapers and penalise ones that either do not join the body or ignore its rules. The only way to force bloggers to sign up as well would be to give that statutory body the same power to shut down blogs. If licensing newspapers is a severe restriction on free speech, this would be positively North Korean and the subject of mass internet protest. But even if we could get a law through, is it enforceable? Are we really going to drag Guido Fawkes off to the tower like his famous namesake for not joining the PCC?

Trouble is, the Leveson Inquiry wasn’t called because of bloggers hacking phones or Twitter users flouting a superinjunction as an act of civil disobedience or the impact one Tweet from Stephen Fry can have. It was called because of widespread corruption within the media, the political body, and the police, amongst others. It’s about the press becoming so powerful it could actually bully the government, and corrupt public officials and police officers. If a proper investigation was done, and Motorman taken to its logical conclusion, there’s every possibility that corruption would be found elsewhere as well.

I don’t think Guido Fawkes, on the other hand, quite has the money to go round giving police officers tens of thousands of pounds in return for juicy bits of information. There’s no evidence that Twitter users were hacking into anyone’s phones and publishing salacious comments based on what they found. And whilst every now and again a Facebook user turns out to be a racist shit, there’s no evidence of press-related criminality there.

Clarke, like so many of the newspaper editors, proprietors, managers and journalists we’ve seen giving evidence is keen to draw the fire away from his own publication and refocus it on somewhere else, preferably somewhere complicated. The internet makes a great new target because it is complicated, and because a new press regulator is going to have to think very carefully about how to deal with it.

But on the question of corruption, bribery, proto-blackmail, influence, graft, fraud, misconduct and criminal activity, the internet and its users is for the most part irrelevant. If you can find me a blogger or a Twitterer or a Facebook user who is guilty of media corruption, then that becomes a problem for Leveson.

In the meantime, existing laws are being used to deal with those who Tweet rape victims names, racially abuse others on Facebook, or write libellous blog posts. So it’s not like the Internet is quite the wild west it used to be. Turns out, in fact, that however complicated jurisdiction may be, there is jurisdiction.

The Internet is, in short, not a badger and it does not have a gun. Sorry, Martin.

Euan Semple at the British Library

Last night I went to Euan Semple‘s event to launch his book, Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do, at the British Library. It was the first time I’ve live-blogged an event in ages, a skill I’m going to have to polish up a bit before Le Web London in June, hence the lag in getting this up on the blog. 

The event took for form of a conversation between Richard Sambrook (RS) and Euan (ES), which I have attempted to capture as faithfully as I can, but of course much of this is paraphrasing especially the questions. 

RS: Why do people Tweet, not organisations?  

ES: Got fed up of marketing folk doing 140 character press releases, felt intrusive, into what is a personal space. Surprised at industrialisation, it’s turned into a thing that can be bought and sold. But even if someone else does it for you, it’s still a person tweeting. Some corps are good, e.g Virgin Airways, they give a name, they’re open about the fact that there’s a person there. 

RS: Why is that important? 

ES: It’s important because we’ve lost our voices, having been part of the BBC for as long as I was, we’ve outsourced our storytelling to other people, our sense-making. We wait for others to tell us what to think, what’s right. Social media is giving us back the ability to tell our stories, and that’s very disruptive, and a lot of people are interested in assimilating it. A lot are making it just same-old same-old, and we’d lose a precious opportunity if we allowed that to happen. 

There’s a risk that some of us that ‘get it’ foist it on others, and that’s something we need to be wary of, so need to look at the opportunity. Once people grasp that opportunity a lot of the organisational norms we think are inevitable will turn out not to be. 

RS: You’re clear this isn’t about tech, but about what it enables. What is that? 

ES: We don’t have to all be the same, being different is what this relies on. If you end up with monoculture, you haven’t shifted things very far. Er, what was the question again?

RS: What is the cultural change? What makes it different? 

ES: This is more of the social changes that are happening anyway that the tech is enhancing, or speeding up. Tech appears when you’re ready, and I feel that the corporate period, the industrial then the corporate world that so many of us get sucked into and think that’s just what you do, have assumed that that’s what the world has to be. It’s infantilised us. At the BBC there was a divide between the infants and the grown-ups. So many big things, like democracy, are struggling, the financial world is struggling. And we have an unique opportunity – these phase shifts don’t happen often – to be part of something. That’s why I got into blogging, my kids will be into this more than I am, and if it’s going to be habitable we have to make it habitable. 

RS: You started from a position in Knowledge Management. 

ES: Twitch twitch

RS: But that’s a lot of what social media is used or these days. 

ES: And I’m going to have to get used to it, going to have to get over my discomfort with it. 

RS: What was the problem with KM? What was your epiphany? 

ES: It came out of my time at the World Service, as a studio manager I moved between the 30/40 different studios, and met a lot of people from different languages and cultures. The rest of the BBC was more tribal, silo’d, hierarchical and inefficient. Also the arrival of John Birt, but he took a sophisticated organisation and tried to plonk corporate ideas of efficiency on top of that and it didn’t always work. What I saw with the web was the opportunity of getting back some of those people-based ways of working that I’d seen before. Saw a virtual space, an organic online space that could flourish. 

RS: What were the benefits?

ES: We got into it long before anyone was calling it social media, and ended up, 25k staff had access to the forum. People had very practical problems about how to do things. A lot of small, low-level incremental stuff. Corporations go on about having strong corp culture, but then do anything to crush whatever emerges. Even just forums created more cultural change than official efforts. 

RS: What are the cultural benefits?

ES: Shared understanding of what we were doing and why. What did things mean? When the Freedom of Information Act became legislation, we had a good conversation about what that meant, and how to stick to that rule. 

Especially when you compare how that was ‘supposed’ to happen, via memos and official comms. If you tolerate the messiness of social spaces, people are at work and they want to talk about work. Treat them like grown ups then they’ll act like grown ups. 

RS: Lots of skepticism about self-organised spaces in business. There’s a limit?  

ES: yeah, it’s not  management by committee. It’s not bottom up, there’s as much value and interest in the senior and middle of an organisation using this. Shift from command and control, where people have authority due to job title, to having the ability to influence people through using these tools. The middle reasserts itself. There’s a role for middle management, and a chance to be more effective through using these tools. More senior folk are asking for help because they realise it’s not going away and there’s an advantage for them. 

RS: “Return on Investment”. That’s the wrong way to think about it, isn’t it?

ES: Yes, this is something that’s happening anyway. Don’t overplay Gen X/Y, but they’re growing up with this. So rather than ask to justify RoI for implementing it, justify RoI for preventing it. 

RS: What answers do you get when you ask them to justify preventing it?

ES: They don’t have any. There are people with non-trivial reasons why this stuff is hard, but ultimately they are going to have to face these issues and work with it. 

RS: How do you implement change in this way or, as you say in the book, “be strategically tactical”? 

ES: There’s a pressure on people to lay out a predictable, strategised future, and that’s not easy. Can make a case to be strategically tactical, ie you have guiding principles, but are willing to respond as this thing grows. “Keep moving, stay in touch, head for the high ground.”

RS. “A new literacy.” What does that mean? 

ES: Remember having pressure to have to write a formal document, knowing no one would read it. Also that temptation you learn at school to write formally, to write management bollocks. Lots of people write this stuff, send it to each other, don’t read it, and are filling their days up with it. Whereas a well-aimed blog post and Tweet can change the world. People who read the book have said that it “felt like me talking to them”, skill you learn blogging.

RS: It’s finding an authentic voice. 

ES: I don’t’ care about orgs, I care about people, and that therapeutic element is interesting. Just that self-awareness you get from sticking things out there and seeing people’s reaction and learning to deal with that, and deal with people disagreeing with you. We’ve all got things we’re not comfortable with, but that thing about sitting in your room, about to publish blog post, wondering what people will think about it… That’s why the blogs called ‘The Obvious’, but that leads to this, writing a book, because you started off sticking things out there. 

RS: What’s the power of that? 

ES: Goes back to KM. Value of a company is the people, and the knowledge of those people, and we’re not good at giving them ability to make the most of people. Freeing people to be themselves and connect with each other. Ideal org, everyone blogs, not overdoing it, and thoughtful engagement, got to be productive. 

RS: Talk about ‘networks’, what do you mean by it? 

ES: It’s ‘community’ that I think gets misused a lot. Shift from institutional structured power, which has always been accompanied by networks, & relationships but  legitimising that, making it visible and accountable. I’m not overly idealistic, because we have hierarchies, they are inevitably human, but move towards ephemeral meritocracies. 

RS: David Weinberger, if we don’t have networks, we can’t cope. The world is too big to know.               

ES: The idea you’re in charge and should know everything is unsustainable. Change in what is leadership. Those who are good at working with others, building networks will be more effective than someone throwing weight around. 

RS: Radical transparency, can be scary for orgs to embrace. Asks a lot of the observers, need a new literacy. 

ES: Interesting in the journalism, the responsibility of that double sided relationship. Sometimes people push back and say not everyone wants to think, that I’m being unreasonable. We just got them that way because we trained them that way. In the right circumstances, everyone wants to take responsibility for their lives. 

RS: How do you sell radical transparency?

ES: By quoting Dave Winer: “Don’t have a shit product”. That’s what was interesting about Wikileaks – there’s a degree to which tech makes it hard to put a lid on things. Equally, that doesn’t mean we end up with a good outcome, because it can be used by the bad guys as much as the good guys. Can’t be naive about the competitive world they live in. 

RS: The whole privacy debate.

ES: There’s that. Issue with indiscretion, that’s a cultural shift, that’ll change. The whole thing about the people who won’t employ people who were drunk as a student. Well, I wouldn’t employ someone who hadn’t been! There’s something cleansing. It’s evolution on steroids. It’s not about age or web natives, it’s about open or closed. This is open, generative, so appeals to people who see the world that way. People who want to contain things, it’s their worst nightmare. 

RS: End book on blog post about love. Are you basically in favour of love, through the work place? You’re an ageing hippy? 

ES: Yes, except I wasn’t there the first time round! These techs have come out of ageing hippies in California and they manifest some of those ideas in their software. There’s an ebb and flow between control and release. We need a big story. Until WWI it was the church, then that fell apart and so the next one became communism, and then that becomes capitalism and the market, and we need… 

RS: This is the emergence of the next story? 

ES: I think so. 



Talk about signal to noise, we’re a long way from semantic web, but getting there with hashtags. Did you leave it out on purpose? 

ES: Wary of the semantic web. What happens when you die? Should read Lessig’s Code, there are ways in which Facebook, Google etc impact how we can live our lives, has huge impact on those who don’t understand. Wary of automating, prefer the ability to point and say ‘that’s interesting because’. Goes back into knowledge management, the idea of harvesting information, haghstags are great because they are ephemeral and they come and go. Rather that than getting into semantic web. 

How does this affect social businesses, does that lead to them being more socially responsible? 

ES: Yes. Worked with some orgs I’ve been uncomfortable with, but have done so on the basis that if can help them get their arms round it, e.g. if banks had this before the dodgy mortgages, they might not have done it. Or selling food full of sugar. A lot of these things start because we have too small of a group taking responsibility for their business actions. What if people inside an org take responsibility for their actions?

If you’re right about social media democratising, why is Apple so successful? 

ES: If I had a penny for every time someone asked that. Some of the stories about how they work inside, they do give staff high degree of autonomy, happy to reshape and reinvent, so yes they’re not all over these tools, but they had 20-30 years of being the underdog who couldn’t afford to let ideas slip. In many ways, Apple aren’t typical. 

Dilbert Principle is best management book ever written. Youngsters empowered, they will bring their networks into the workplace. 

ES: Kids don’t alway know what a powerful took they have at their fingertips, and some kids are very conservative.  

A lot of the point of tools is to be more interesting face-to-face, not less. Interesting using location stuff, whether choose to turn it on, or not to. Almost like turning up/down a serendipity knob. 

In big orgs, have some areas that are bureaucratic than others, and need to consider legal implications. Doesn’t that lead to lumpy engagement, and tension between expectation of engagement, when not everyone is comfortable or able?

ES:  Not everyone will like it or take to it and shouldn’t dismiss those who don’t. Bus also how those groups manifest their responsibilities. e.g. using tools to talk about security is more likely to make your org secure. HR, IT and comms should be excited, but they aren’t. When you consider what they are meant to be doing, but they are stuck in places where they are more worried about status and formal stuff which is becoming less and less effective. 

For example, Head of HR for BBC came into office to do a live chat on the forum, 5k staff taking part. He and his team huddled to discuss what they’d answer, and then someone typed it in by dictation, but then he disagreed in what they’d typed. Conversational platform, tension was palpable, between live conversation and controlled process. Trick is to learn to migrate from one to the other. 

Want people to find a voice, but have they lost ability to listen and find a dialogue with colleagues? 

ES: Blogging, how you can write a blog post in such a way that it encourages people to react or respond, and turn it into a dialogue? If your’e just sitting there spouting stuff, unconcerned as to reaction of feedback, people will stop reading you. Conversations can only take place between equals. If this is a conversational platform, have to be willing to act like equals. 

Blogging, 3/4 paras to get people thinking, is different to ephemera of Twitter or Facebook, and it’s my blog! I can move it anywhere!

Interesting in future, and patterns that will emerge. Algorithms mining algorithms. Count on researchers to understand and analyse, compounded by fact that the dataset not published. Even thinking about Twitter, results are only available for a few days. 

ES: Thinkup, Gina Trapani, tools, if there’s enough of a demand people will come up with a tool and start paying for it. Wanted to save and search Twitter. Ephemeral nature is interesting. Genuinely worry that might be the first generation to leave not trace, no big manuscripts, just incompatible file formats. Which is why I use plain text, because I can move it effortlessly from one platform to the next.  

Worked with people good with numbers, but can’t do much with words. What hope to they have, where the winners are the wordiest? What about the value they create? Everything is about prose.

ES: We have an unbalanced world atm, people who are good face to face, so this isn’t perfect but it’s differently imperfect so slightly more equitable. 

You once said it is a slow process to introduce social media, change people one at at time. Has that changed?  

ES: No. How long to take full impact? 50 years. It’s impact will be that big and a lot of people as still early days. Been going for 11 years, but it’s still new to a lot of people. They don’t know. It’s shoe leather, have to give people – one at a time – enough reason to have a go, and that’s through conversation and advocacy. Build a network of advocacy, that’s what’s fascinating – world changing but only happens when someone sits down, writes something and presses save. Book written for people to give to those in orgs to help them get it. 

Queen of the May Kickstater project launched – please help spread the word

Crossposted from Chocolate and Vodka.

At last, Queen of the May is up on Kickstarter and ready your support! We have 28 days to raise $10,000, and already have $1905 pledged. Even if you choose the lowest support level, which is $3, please do consider taking part as every little helps!

You can also help immensely by telling your friends about it. No matter how focused your own personal network, every mention of the project helps. Here are a few things you can do:

Use your social networks
Send a Tweet, update your Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn statuses, or leave a message on any other social network you use. Kickstarter provide a Tweet button that allows you to log in to Twitter and send a pre-written Tweet which says:

Queen of the May by Suw Charman-Anderson — Kickstarter http://kck.st/zv4p1f via @kickstarter

If you think that’s a bit boring, you can always try:

I’m supporting @Suw’s Queen of the May on @kickstarter and you should too! http://kck.st/zv4p1f (please RT!)

Or, of course, you can write whatever you like, just remember the URL: http://kck.st/zv4p1f

Kickstarter also has a Facebook Like button, which you can use to post to your Facebook timeline, but again, an original, personalised message will be more interesting to your friends. 

Write a blog post
If you want to write a blog post about the project, you can quote any of the stuff that I’ve written on the Kickstarter page or here to be part of your post. You can also embed the video if you like. The code is:

<iframe frameborder=”0″ height=”360px” src=”http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/suw/queen-of-the-may/widget/video.html” width=”480px”></iframe>

If you want to ask me specific questions or do an interview, please feel free to email me.

Tell your friends
If you have friends that you think might enjoy Queen of the May, why not just send them a quick email to tell them about it? Equally, if you’re on any mailing lists, forums etc. and feel like they might like to know about it, please do let them know. 

Share the link
If you’re a member of social sharing sites like Delicious, Pinterest, Metafilter, StumbleUpon etc. please do share a link to the Kickstarter project page. The biggest challenge for any crowdfunded project is to reach enough people and social sharing sites can be important sources of new supporters.

Every little really does help
It’s tempting to think that you have to famous to have an effect, but that’s not true and there’s evidence to prove it! Buzzfeed’s Jack Krawczyk and StumbleUpon’s Jon Steinberg recently collaborated on a project to analyse how links were shared across their networks. They said:

Our data show that online sharing, even at viral scale, takes place through many small groups, not via the single status post or tweet of a few influencers. While influential people may be able to reach a wide audience, their impact is short-lived. Content goes viral when it spreads beyond a particular sphere of influence and spreads across the social web via ordinarily people sharing with their friends.

[…] Even the largest stories on Facebook are the product of lots of intimate sharing — not one person sharing and hundreds of thousands of people clicking.

In short, lots of people sharing the link with just a few good friends is at the heart of what makes a project like this succeed, however counter-intuitive that might seem. I’ll write more about this in due course.

In the meantime, if you like the look of Queen of the May, do keep an eye out for updates from me on Twitter, as well as here on the blog and on Kickstarter. And here, for your delectation is the pitch video. Enjoy!



Ebooks vs apps: What next for news?

I was just writing a comment on Adam Tinworth’s blog post pointing out that there’s a huge ebook market out there that’s largely lying untapped by news organisations, but it started to get too big so here it is as a blog post.

There are a few challenges that news organisations need to overcome in order to really make the best of the ebook market. The first is around file formats. A friend of mine who does web comics looked at the Kindle, and the problem she came across was that anything with images becomes problematic, not just in terms of how the layout is affected by the ebook formatting, but also about upload file size limits. It makes doing a webcomic on Kindle impossible, and I would imagine that the same would be true of any news content with images. The standard news article format of image or video plus text doesn’t seem like it would work well on the Kindle.

That means that one would have to properly repackage content for ebooks: either big, timely articles, such as Ars Technica’s Apple OS X Lion review by John Siracusa, which netted Ars Technica $15,000 in 24 hours OR content with more legs, such as analysis, market intelligence, etc. I know some news orgs are experimenting with this, but some ebooks that I’ve seen of the latter type have been terrible – just a bunch of articles cut and paste into a file, barely formatted, and with no sense of cohesion or context.

In order to do ebooks well, you do need to have someone able to spend the time both on making sure that the content is right and typesetting it in a style suitable for ebooks, and getting it out onto the main ebook platforms, not just Amazon. I personally think there’s a market there, and news orgs really should have all the requisite skills in-house, but what seems to be missing is vision, budget, and time. The idea that you can simply slap a load of related articles into an ebook and Bob’s your uncle is erroneous in the extreme. You need to add value to your content, so provide analysis or information or context or something that your readers can’t simply get from your website. The added value in terms of the Ars Technica Lion review was timeliness and convenience, but single topic articles where that will be enough to prompt so many sales will be rare. I do think that news orgs should be looking at ways in which they can use ebooks to exploit their archives and start to gain revenue from reanalysis of existing content.

As for apps, I think they actually scratch a different itch. They are mainly about accessing today’s news in a more convenient manner. Were I to be pointing in a direction for news apps,  I’d say that news orgs should be looking at hybrid HTML5/native apps which require less in the way of original coding (think of platforms like PugPig), and which can stretch across operating systems with just a single source of content (the HTML5). The development and redevelopment of apps for this platform and that platform is time-consuming and uses up resources unnecessarily. As I said to .Net Magazine, this is the only real way that content producers can keep up with the demands of different platforms.

Of course, this isn’t actually an either/or scenario. News orgs should be looking at both ebooks and apps with a clinical, disinterested eye, working out what users want and how to provide that effectively, rather than simply shoehorning their existing content into these different-shaped buckets and hoping no one will notice that it doesn’t really fit.

Pseudonymous commenters aren’t so bad after all

Disqus has released an infographic of some analysis they’ve done on their comments to compare pseudonymous, eponymous (real name) and anonymous commenters. They looked at both quantity and quality and found that pseudonymous commenters are better for a community than either eponymous or anonymous commenters. To save you from having to wade through a rather pointless infographic, here are the key facts:

Disqus measured Quality and Quantity:


  • Positive measures
    • Number of times a comment is liked
    • Number of times a comment is replied to
  • Negative measures
    • Number of times a comment is flagged
    • Number of times a comment is marked as spam
    • Number of times a comment is deleted

They found that, by these measures:

  • Pseudonymous comments were
    • 61% positive
    • 28% neutral
    • 11% negative
  • Anonymous comments were:
    • 34% positive
    • 55% neutral
    • 11% negative
  • Real name comments were:
    • 51% positive
    • 40% neutral
    • 9% negative


  • Aggregate number of comments by identity
  • Average number of comments by identity

They found that the percentage of comments by identity was:

  • 61% pseudonymous
  • 35% anonymous
  • 4% real name

The average pseudonymous commenter contributed 6.5 times more than the average anonymous commenter and 4.7 times more than commenters identified via Facebook.

Now, this data is interesting, but although it’s not really a smoking gun, it certainly should give companies pause before they start trying to force people to use their real names instead of pseudonyms; they may well be encouraging a less civil environment rather than the more civil one they are trying to, or telling us that they are trying to, nurture.

I would like Disqus to repeat their work but be a bit more rigorous. For example, testing their data to ensure that they are accurately differentiating between pseudonymous, anonymous and eponymous commenters. After all, using Facebook to log in doesn’t guarantee that someone is eponymous, nor does not using it mean they are not. I’d also like them to test their quality measures against both sentiment analysis and a panel of real humans. The latter would be relatively easy to do via something like Mechanical Turk. Of course, if they’ve done this already they should publish the details in a methodology.

The whole argument about anonymity, pseudonymity and real names on the internet over the last year or so has been mainly people arguing from assertion, so it is nice to see some real data. And there can be no doubt that Disqus has a lot of comments to analyse, so this isn’t just some skewed sample from a tiny corner of the web. But we do need both to see more work in this area and more companies taking notice of the evidence instead of sticking to their well-oiled but misfiring guns.

New year, new blog, new report

In a happy coincidence, today I launched both my new blog on Forbes.com and Chatham House released the report on the effects of the Eyjafjallajökull ash cloud event to which I contributed.

My new Forbs.com blog will be covering the rather disparate topics of book publishing and high-impact low-probability (HILP) events. Slightly an odd mix, perhaps, but both are fascinating topics and we’ll see how it develops.

The Chatham House report, Preparing for High-impact, Low-probability Events: Lessons from Eyjafjallajökull, looks at the impact that the ash cloud had, as well as examining the need for companies and organisations to be prepared for these HILP events. My contribution was Chapter 4: The Battle for the Airwaves, which looks at the media response to the ash cloud disruption. You can get an overview in my first post on Forbes.

Do let me know what you think, both of the report and the new blog!

The role of belief in ebook pricing and what to do about it

(Cross posted from Chocolate and Vodka. Please comment there!)

So yes, I know it’s nearly Christmas Eve and I know I should be turning my brain off, but this blog post about ebook pricing by Declan Burke came across my radar today on Twitter (and yes I know I should have turned Twitter off too) and I couldn’t not reply.

Declan writes about his experiences with pricing the ebook version of his novel, Eightball, which he says started off at $1.99 and ended up at $7.99. He also briefly mentions the different pricing structures from publishers, and discusses the attitudes of some readers who appear to think that all culture should be free.

But the main bit of Declan’s post that caught my eye was his discussion of cost and value:

The other odd thing, from a personal point of view, is exemplified by the drop-off in sales for EIGHTBALL BOOGIE once its price started to go up. The e-book fan (or anyone with even the vaguest grasp of economics) will very probably be screaming right now at the screen a variation on, ‘It’s the economy, stooopid.’

I understand that. I really do. But from my point of view, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE is the same book regardless of whether it’s $1.99 or $7.99: it’s not a quarter as interesting, or funny, or thrilling, at the cheaper price, and it doesn’t come in at 25,000 words rather than 85,000 words.

It’s not my place, by the way, to say that EIGHTBALL is interesting, funny or thrilling. I’m just saying that whatever qualities the book had at the $1.99 price, those qualities remain the same regardless of whether I charge $7.99 or give the book away for free.

I suppose my central concern, when it all boils down, is that fans of e-books are confusing cost and value. That’s not to say that very good books aren’t being sold for $1.99, or $0.99, or even being given away free. But it’s patently self-limiting for a reader to impose an arbitrary price of (say) $4.99 on a book, and state that he or she refuses to pay any more, regardless of the quality of that book.

Unfortunately, I fear that Declan confuses inherent value with market worth, and the two are very different indeed. As writers, we would all like to think that our work has inherent value. The blood, sweat and tears that we leaked all over the page should, we tell ourselves, be valued by others as much as it is by us.

But the price that the public is willing to pay has little to do with any sense of inherent value; it is directed by what price the market will support. When it come to deciding what price we put on our ebooks, it is not sufficient to think about our concept of inherent value. We would all love our ebooks to sell by the shedload at a nice, high price. (And if we’re famous, they might well!) But for most of us, we should instead be striving to understand which price will maximise our profits. If we sell thousands at £1.79, is that going to bring in more profit than if we sell hundreds at £5.99?

And this is where almost every single blog post and news article I’ve seen on the subject falls flat on its face. The horrible, uncomfortable, inconvenient truth is that for independent ebook sellers and small publishers, we have no clue whatsoever as to what price will maximise profits. We just do not have the data. We have a few anecdotes from both ends of the spectrum, from the “I sold $millions” so the “I sold sweet FA”, and a very little from the middle where people are selling “enough”, for whatever value of enough they care to assign.

What we don’t have is what the big publishers have: Numbers. It’s impossible to compare the sales of a handful of books at different prices and draw any meaningful conclusions, because the books are not equivalent goods. My novelette Argleton is not equivalent to anyone else’s book because it’s not a perfect substitute.

If you’re in the market for a hammer, one is pretty much a perfect substitute for another. If I buy a hammer from Shop A, I am not going to buy a hammer from Shop B. But books are not substitutable goods. If someone buys Argleton, that doesn’t mean that they then don’t have any interest in buying Eightball.

Even comparing sales of the same title over time is more complex than saying “It sold a lot at $1.99 but nothing much at $7.99”, because market conditions change. It’s only in the large-scale aggregate that the numbers starts to provide genuine information. And sadly, that kind of data isn’t available to the likes of independent and small publishers.

So what do we fall back on? Belief.

I believe that my biggest problem right now is that not enough people know about my writing. My sole purpose is to introduce as many people as feasibly possible to Argleton in the hope that they will like it and be interested in my future work. That means that I believe that giving away Argleton for free is in my best interests.

But I also ideologically believe that free goods do not necessarily cannibalise the sales of the same goods offered commercially. We have some interesting data from people like Cory Doctorow, Lawrence Lessig and Tom Reynolds that even if they don’t increase sales, CC-licenced copies of books do no harm to sales either. For them.

Of course, things could be different for other authors or other genres but again, the truth is that we simply don’t have enough data to say one way or the other.

Additionally, I believe that me giving away my books free has no impact on what someone is willing to pay for Eightball, or any other book, because the two are not substitutes. I’ve heard the argument that authors who give away their books are undermining authors who sell their books, but I’ve not seen a jot of evidence, or even logical reasoning, to support that point. The book market is not a zero-sum game.

And I disagree with Declan over the idea that giving away books is a “race to the bottom”.

For now it seems that many authors are happily collaborating in a race to the bottom on price. The mantra is very much quantity over quality, to the extent that many writers, in a desperate bid to get noticed and put one foot on the bottom rung of the slippery ladder, are now giving away their books for free.

There’s a certain kind of logic to this, although it only exists inside the e-publishing bubble, which appears determined to eat itself. Because once you give away one book for free, the expectation is that all your books will come at no cost, an expectation that derives from an entirely understandable mentality that runs, ‘Well, if you don’t value your work, why should I?’

I’m a teeny tiny sample, but by this logic no one should buy the Kindle version of Argleton, but they are. By this logic, no one should ever buy any of Cory Doctorow’s books, but they do. And also, by this logic, no one should ever give good, honestly earnt money to a nobody writer on the promise of delivery of a book, which could be fundamentally shite, and with absolutely no guarantee that they are going to get what they paid for and then, knowing all that, actually pay more than the book itself is worth. And yet, they have.

Our beliefs are sculpted by our experiences and our ideologies. My experiences appear to show me that giving books away whist also selling them, and tapping into an amazing community of generous supporters to achieve the publication of a physical book not only works, it is profitable. My belief is that people will happily pay for books that they like and that those who pull the “culture should be free” line out of their arse are the same people who would not have bought my book anyway, so there’s simply no sale lost.

But, just like Declan, I lack hard data.

This, sadly, means that rather than eating our own young, independent authors and small publishers are doomed to chase our tails, cherry picking the case studies to fit our ideologies and rejecting the points of view of those who disagree with us.

There is only one cure to this: Independents need to have a standard set of data that we all regularly submit to one big database which we can then pull reports from. We need, collectively, to share what numbers we each have, because that’s the only way we’re going to get the kind of scale we need to turn anecdotes into data. And data is the only way we’re going to get meaningful insights into how book buyers really behave.

We can’t afford to fanny about getting all ideological and relying on our beliefs to determine our business strategies. My biggest worry about my current strategy is that I could be horribly, hideously wrong, but I have absolutely no way of testing my hypothesis on my own. If I am wrong, then I will change my strategy immediately, because I’m not interested in proving myself right. I’m interested in creating a new career for myself where I get to live comfortably and make up stories for a living.

The best Christmas present you can give a new author: An Amazon review

(Cross posted from Chocolate and Vodka.)

Last month there was a great blog post by Anne Allen about how important Amazon reviews are to new authors:

[…] Amazon reviews, which were only mildly significant three years ago, now have a make-or-break impact on an author’s sales.

When you’re buying an ebook, there’s no helpful bookstore clerk to tell you what might be appropriate for your nine-year old niece, or if there are any new cozy mysteries you might enjoy, or whether the new Janet Evanovich is up to her usual standards.

Instead, you check reader reviews and Amazon’s “also bought” suggestions. These are all generated by consumers, which gives the ordinary reader immense power.

The post then goes through some really good guidelines for people who might want to leave an Amazon review for an author they like. It’s well worth a read, even if you’re familiar with Amazon, because Anne gives a very clear idea of how the whole review system works.

I didn’t quite understand the power of Amazon reviews until I started publishing in the Kindle stores. I have books available now in six stores:

The only store in which I have any reviews so far is the UK store and sales in that are way ahead of every other store, even the US store. Now admittedly there are potential language issues in the French, German, Spanish and Italian stores, as the buyers there might not be so interested in an English language book. But that shouldn’t be the case with the US and, in fact, the majority of my Kickstarter supporters were from the US so in theory I should have a good showing there. But so far, I do not.

I think this is down to reviews. I have three good reviews so far on Amazon UK, none in the US. It’s a shame that reviews don’t cross-pollinate stores, but there we go.

So if you’re feeling generous this festive season and you have read a book by a new author that you liked, it would be a wonderful thing for them if you took 10 minutes to write even a short review, or just give a star rating. Four and five star ratings are particularly useful as Anne explains:

Anything less than 4 stars means “NOT RECOMMENDED.” Don’t expect an author to be pleased with 2 or 3 stars, no matter how much you rave in the text. Those stars are the primary way a book is judged. Without a 4 or 5 star rating, a book doesn’t get picked up in the Amazon algorithms for things like “also bought” suggestions. Giving 1 or 2 stars to a book that doesn’t have many reviews is taking money out of the author’s pocket, so don’t do it unless you really think the author should take up a new line of work.

If a friend asks you to review something you found amateurish, or wasn’t your cup of tea, just tell her you don’t feel you can review it. That happens all the time and we appreciate it.

On the other hand, a 4-star review that recommends the book even though you have a few reservations, will earn you eternal gratitude from the author.

In fact, 4-star reviews can often be the most helpful. If a reader sees something like, “I loved this mystery, but the humor is pretty farcical. If you’re looking for a standard whodunit, this isn’t it,” or “this is awfully intellectual for something called chick lit.” Those offer honest information to buyers, without telling them not to buy.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be giving 1-3 star reviews. I’m just saying that on Amazon (not all review sites) 3-Stars is usually taken as a negative rating. If you intend to be positive, then 4 stars will better convey that sentiment.

This was certainly something I hadn’t really thought about in detail before reading Anne’s post.

So if you have a favourite author who’s either just starting out or hovering around in the midlist, why not take a few moments over the Christmas holidays and leave them a review?