Cthalloween Postmortem

Cthalloween officially ended tonight about 45 minutes ago, and it was a ton of fun! Many thanks to our organizers @jaybushman, @kriskowal, @segphault, and yours truly, @joshlewis.

A few stats:

  • We had over 1000 tweets during the event itself, not to mention several hundred before and after the official start and end times.
  • 133 people tweeted about Cthalloween in total.
  • Our top-volume tweeter was @JimGleeson with 255 tweets! What can I say? Wow. That’s 4.5 times more tweets than the #2 in volume.
  • The top five in volume after Jim were @Servantofproces, @officergleason, @falconesse, @theatermonkey, and @wordwill. Nice work, guys.
  • @arstechnica was kind enough to tweet about our game and give us a few more players.

If you had a favorite tweet, a good link, or an observation about the event, post it in the comments and enlighten us all!

Update: It is crucial to mention that our event’s fantastic, green-tentacled “Twitterthulhu” icon was created by none other than John Kovalic of Dork Tower fame, and sponsored by gameplaywright.net. Many thanks!

If you find yourself craving raw data (and c’mon, who doesn’t?) we have some good news for you! Download this zip file to get a raw SQLite and MySQL dump of every Cthalloween-related tweet. Pick your database flavor and have a swim in the data. Hooray!

Tomorrow! Twitter + Cthulhu = Cthalloween

Twitter + Cthulhu = Cthalloween

Last year, we orchestrated War of the Worlds 2.0 on Twitter. Many people had fun, and Wired wrote about it.

You didn’t think we’d stop there, did you? No, of course not. You’re a reasonable person.

I know many of you may be unfamiliar with the work of H.P. Lovecraft. That’s perfectly OK. In fact, here, let me help you.

This weird fiction author created many strange and frightening things. And amongst them, a horrible creature that has taken the world of sci-fi horror by storm. This creature’s name is Cthulhu. This Halloween, Cthulhu and his evil buddies are coming back, and you can play along at home. We’re calling this open-ended fiction game “Cthalloween.”

If you’d like to participate or follow along, you’ll find the Cthalloween wiki and @cthalloween on Twitter to be of great service in your endeavors.

Enjoy! And… do try to stay sane, OK?

How To Not Abuse Your Twitter Followers

Anytime someone expresses an opinion about how others ought to do something, they risk coming off as an insensitive, egotistical jerk. I hope I can diffuse that problem in this post while allowing us to discuss the issues at hand. Your patience is gold to me, friends. I hope this whole thing doesn’t come off as cranky. I’m shooting for helpful, mostly, and angry only where it really needs the teeth.

I’m pretty opinionated when it comes to Twitter. I use Twitter a lot. I’m coming up quickly on my 7000th tweet on my personal Twitter account, and I’m often annoyed by Twitter almost as much as I’m delighted by it. Because of that, I’ve built my own little list of personal rules over time, and I’d like to share those rules with you now.

My four rules: Favorite Freely, Don’t Retweet, Go Private Quickly, and Don’t Use Me.

  • Favorite Freely. When you see a tweet you like, take the time to thank the author by marking it as a favorite. You don’t have to be too reserved with what you mark. Think of a favorite like a laugh or a pat on the back. Freely given, but never forced. That will dictate how many you should give. Thanks to Twitter’s built-in individual favorites pages (here’s mine), and 3rd-party services like Tweeteorites, favorites are meaningful, first-class citizens of the Twitter world and not a silent afterthought.
  • Don’t Retweet. Controversy! I hold this rule for three reasons:
    1. I’m following you for your tweets, not the tweets of your friends. If I wanted to read theirs, I’d follow them. It’s not offensive, it’s how the system works. Please don’t break the system.
    2. If it’s a “social justice / I have to spread the word” kind of thing, you can always take what they say, put it in your own words, and post that to Twitter with “via” attribution. Easy, and much nicer. Doing less than that feels lazy and abusive of your followers’ attention.
    3. If I want to see the tweets you really like, I’ll just subscribe to your favorites. No need to force me to see them by broadcasting them.
  • Go Private Quickly. If you’re publicly conversing with someone, tweeting back and forth repeatedly, consider taking the conversation private if it adds little or no value to those who follow both of you. It gets spammy really quick if you’re exchanging details about something that isn’t likely to be helpful or interesting to other people. That’s lazy and inconsiderate. So, one reply? No problem. Five? Way too many.
  • Don’t Use Me. This is the Golden Rule of Twitter. Don’t consider me and your other followers to be part of a force that you can bend and manipulate to increase your respect, fame, and fortune. I follow you because I’m interested in what you have to say, not because I want to make you rich or fulfill some ego-centric dream you have. If you’re going to sell me something, it had better be a rarity and it had better be a sincere endorsement of something you personally and deeply love. The more you push your money-making, notoriety-making schemes on me, the closer you get to becoming a… well, I won’t use the word here. It’s distasteful, and this is a family show. In short: be a person. If you have something to sell, open another account for that. If people don’t follow that account, take a hint.

If you have additional rules that don’t seem to be addressed here, add them in the comments, or feel free to agree or disagree with me there.

Happy tweeting!

Twitter Follower Email Notices – New Feature Request

Recently on Twitter, I wrote a very confusingly-worded feature request. I later realized the idea made no sense after being compressed into 140 characters, and I figured I should probably just write about it here. I think it would be really useful, and I hope they implement it.

When a person follows you on Twitter, they’re telling you that they’re interested in what you have to say. When you follow them back, you’re sending them the same message. The difficulty is, it’s hard to know who is worth following. Twitter tries to help a little by sending an email with some information about your new follower, but it’s not enough information to be very helpful.

Let’s say Steph (@stephlewis on Twitter) decided to follow me. Before sending me the email notification Twitter sends, it could compare the list of people I follow with the list of people following Steph, and just show me the number of people in both lists. Because of the inherent meaning behind following a person, having more people in that special shared list tells me that some of the people that I find to be interesting also find @stephlewis to be interesting. It’s a built-in recommendation of @stephlewis. Showing the list of all their Twitter names would be even better than a number, but a number would be a good start.

To clarify, I wouldn’t care if @stephlewis followed the same people I followed. She might be interested in the same people, and that might be useful to know. But she might also be a spammer who is following thousands of people in order to artificially pump up that common number. It’s easy to fake. But being followed by people I follow isn’t easy to fake. It’s trustworthy and meaningful. Facebook does something similar by showing “mutual friends” with new friend requests, and we all use it all the time to make decisions on names we don’t quite recognize or remember.

I hope the folks at Twitter might consider adding this one tiny bit of extra processing to the emails they send. I’d be happy to get the emails a couple minutes later if it made them this much more useful.

How Twitter Will Make Money

The topic of how Twitter might make money is so popular these days that people are writing Onion-like parodies of news stories announcing Twitter’s plans. That particular story was a really popular link on Twitter today.

But the question remains: how will Twitter make money? I think I know at least one of the ways they’ll do it, and I’m surprised that more people aren’t talking about this.

I discovered a service called I Want Sandy a year or two ago and became a user almost immediately. The gist of the idea: Sandy is your virtual assistant, reminding you of tasks and appointments as you like. The interesting part wasn’t just that Sandy kept your calendars and to-do lists organized, but that she did it all through a human-readable text-based interface. I could send Sandy an email saying something to the effect of, “Remind me to buy milk tomorrow at 5pm” right in the subject line of the email. (I believe she also had an IM interface, and of course a web interface.) And sure enough, tomorrow at 5pm I would get an SMS message (if that was my preferred method of communication) that reminded me to buy milk. Simple. Human. Useful! I found myself being confident to take on tasks and make promises knowing that I wouldn’t forget things. Sure, I’ll ping you next Tuesday about that. (Send message to Sandy.) Oh, your birthday is when? (Send message to Sandy.) You get the idea.

When Twitter came around, the folks at I Want Sandy were smart enough to register the ultra-short @s Twitter name and allow people to send messages to Sandy through that interface. I was already on Twitter and it was a convenient way to augment the service. I could be reminded of events and to-dos through Twitter direct messages too, instead of just SMS and email.

Fast-forward to November 2008. The company who runs I Want Sandy, Values of n, announced that they were purchased by Twitter. And the CEO, Rael Dornfest, became a Twitter User Experience engineer. Aha! I Want Sandy went offline in December 2008 and is no longer functional.

It seems nearly a sure thing to me that if Twitter has acquired all the intellectual property behind I Want Sandy that they’ll be integrating it with the service. It seemed to work so well that I’m not sure how they’d improve it besides tightening and deepening the service’s integration with twitter.com, but we’ll see. I’d love it if they offered it for free to make Twitter more palatable and useful to more people, but I could easily see paying $1 / month to get reminders from Twitter over SMS (or whatever) because I personally know how useful they were to me, and I know the gaping hole their absence has left. Twitter has stated that they won’t be reducing the value of their service by charging for Twitter features that are currently free. This would certainly be something over and above what is built into Twitter, and offering it as a premium, for-pay service wouldn’t reduce the value of Twitter in anyone’s mind.

So that’s my guess on at least one way they’ll make money. We’ll see if I’m right!

War of the Worlds 2.0 on Halloween – A Retrospective

I already wrote about the War of the Worlds 2.0 plan made by Kris Kowal (with some minor help from me) and encouraged you all to try it out. I was really happy to see that some of you did! Hundreds of people participated (including @biz, one of the co-founders of Twitter, who participated with one tweet). Most created their own stories, staging their own photos and videos, tying events together logically. Kris wrote up a super-linky post-mortem. My friend Kevin wrote about the event. So did Wired, and they even quoted one of my darkest tweets. But I think I’m most proud of this particular quote from the Wired article: “It appears this is the first time (Twitter) has been used for mass fiction.” We made history!

I resonate a lot with a sentiment in Kevin’s aforelinked entry. He said “fictional posts about the potential death of your friend and their family are kind of disturbing.” Too true! I think all the participants were as fair as they could’ve been on Twitter making certain all tweets that were part of this fictional storyline were tagged with “#wotw2.” Some people don’t yet understand what tagging on Twitter is and what it implies, but that’s because this is a new medium. We’re giving birth to it right now. For the folks who, like Kevin, knew it wasn’t real, I consider it an exercise in stretching one’s mind into new areas of fiction. Fiction has never come quite this close to home before, and that’s one of the things that makes this effort so innovative and gives it power.

To be clear, I would never condone purposefully fooling people or regularly dwelling on dark things, but one could argue that Halloween is perhaps the one day on which such things are mostly permissible. I personally found it very revealing, and perhaps edifying, to discover first hand how unprepared I would be in the event of a terrorist attack or other cataclysmic event. Writing those tweets forced me to think through it. I was actually slightly shaken on the afternoon of Halloween, between 3pm and 4pm, writing that series of graphic tweets.

What follows is a chronological listing of all of my #wotw2 tweets, so you can see my own entire story if you’re interested, and so they’re preserved here when they inevitably become hard to find on Twitter months/years from now. My personal favorite spots in my own storyline were 1) the fun video that Eddie and I recorded and put up on YouTube,  2) giving the moment of the alien’s uprising (on Halloween at 2pm) a darkly-ironic soundtrack, and 3) the final moments after midnight when I “saw” a tripod standing in the bog behind my house, my final tweet leaving my and my family’s fate uncertain. Chilling!

October 30th

  • Weird, I just saw some kind of shooting star, and it’s not even dark out. Anybody else see that? 6:07pm
  • Reports of weird comets are freaking me out. I’m gonna go buy some extra water. And bread. Couple guns… generator… ammo… searchlight… 11:28pm

October 31st

  • NPR is going on about some kinda metallic cylinders that fell from the sky last night. I’m not aware of any near my house. Hoax? 8:09am
  • Missed my bus and had to drive in. City-bound roads are strangely clear. Rockstar parking, too. I think people are staying home. 8:56am
  • People are saying last night’s “sky cylinders” have some sort of *machines* in them?!? I wish I watched more news. Why’d I come in? 9:28am
  • I’m hearing sirens screaming through the streets and heading away from the city. Better than stopping here, I guess. 10:19am
  • On the phone with a friend of mine named Eddie. Neither of us has seen these metallic sphere things yet, but we hear a lot online. 1:04pm
  • I wish I knew how @stephlewis was doing, but I can’t reach her on the phone. Man, it’s hard to concentrate amidst all this. 1:47pm
  • ♫ Everything in its right place / Everything in its right place ♫ 2:01pm
  • Getting SMSes from friends that the spheres are rising on legs & some heading this way! Hitting the street w/ Eddie and a camcorder. 2:08pm
  • EDDIE AND I BARELY SURVIVED! http://tinyurl.com/5kgs6z Had to run through the alleyways to avoid the giant tripods! 2:30pm
  • Smoking, smoldering hunks of buildings, cars, and people lay strewn about. The tripods have left the Warehouse District in ruins. 3:16pm
  • The light rail train lays on its side, its doors opening and closing in spasms. People are comforting each other. Many are on phones. 3:19pm
  • This song seems to be appropriate to capture the moment. Listen and contemplate. http://is.gd/5mUf 3:23pm
  • It is time for us come together as one people, consecrated to the preservation of human supremacy on this earth. 3:27pm
  • Finally got @stephlewis on the phone! We’re heading to Maplewood to be with family. Luckily I drove, MetroTransit isn’t operating… 4:07pm
  • My family is OK. Found them in the basement. Going to try to get home via 35E. Not sure what the conditions are. Praying. 8:20pm
  • Sections of 35 are so torn up I have to go off road. Passed two Tripods near Hugo, burning down houses. Is mine next? 8:38pm
  • Well, @RhythmHippy has had a harder night than I have. Exhibit A: http://twitpic.com/j92s Exhibit B: http://twitpic.com/ja8o. 8:57pm
  • My house is still standing. Some south of me were not so lucky. Just saw a Tripod wading through Forest Lake like a kiddy pool. 9:02pm
  • Steph, Caleb and I are in the basement with the pets. All the lights are off. We’re hoping the Tripods pass by. 10:38pm

November 1st

  • Oh. Crap. http://twitpic.com/jbxz 12:04am.
  • OK, don’t panic. Don’t panic. The tripod is just standing there, not moving. It didn’t see me. Sorry, @hidama, I had to look. 12:10am
  • The tripod is *still* just standing there. I’m not going to tempt fate, but as long as it’s not hurting anyone else, I’ll let it be. 12:37am
  • Can’t sit here and stare at this thing all night (& I’m fresh out of mucus). Gonna to try to fall asleep. I hope this isn’t goodbye. 12:49am

War of the Worlds 2.0

Kris Kowal; friend, former Apple coworker, and JavaScript god; has taken the ideas in my previous Twitter Fiction entry and the (much-earlier) work of Ars Technica’s Ryan Paul and he has written up a plan. You must read this plan.

It sounds to me like Halloween on Twitter is going to be a blast this year! Will you join in?

I find the fact that this is an unplanned, unfocused story to be quite apropos to Twitter, actually. The story probably isn’t so much in the narrative itself as it is in the creativity of the participating individuals. That’s really the heart of “2.0.” Thank you, Kris!