What Is It About Twitter?

There is definitely something about Twitter that just sucks you in. The more I use it, the more I love it. Granted, my time with it is limited – I do not use it at work so most of what I do is over the iPhone or on weekends.

I’ve been really trying to figure out what it is about Twitter that is so attractive to me. I figure if I can figure this out, I will have it figured out for the world (I’m that egotistical). I was discussing it with Tom the Architect the other day, and as I was thinking about it actually think I said something that made sense:

precogs

Watching Twitter is like what I imagine a ‘precog’ from Minority Report would experience. A million voices from all over the world all talking about a moment.

This is the one thing about Twitter that has really drawn me in. Its not blogging – and its not a chat room – its something really different. It’s like listening to the echoes of a moment from millions of people all at once, all answering one question.

This is the way that I think about Twitter, but I’m really interested in what others think about it. What makes it so attractive to you?

The Shoemakers Son Always Goes Barefoot

The other night the ignition switch on the furnace went out in the house. I watched as Jonna spent a ton of time searching for the contact information for the guy who came out the last time we had a problem. It took quite a while to find the information, but finally she found it. When she got a hold of him, he started asking questions about a blinking light on the furnace. We had no idea what he was talking about, but I did remember he gave us information last time he was here – I just couldn’t remember what it was.

Yesterday as I was driving to work, I was reflecting on the activities of the night before. Why did we not have this information available when we needed it? Where could we put it so that if something happened again, we could have it readily available? How can we take these kinds of notes effortlessly and ensure that we know where we put them?

Then a stark realization hit me. We’ve already solved this problem – at work.

In early 2004, at the urging of one of my direct reports, we installed wiki software at the office to solve just this problem. All of our information was scattered around network drives, none of it really searchable. Doug was very into Python at the time so we chose ZWiki, a wiki package that runs on the Zope application server. We used that for about 1 1/2 years until we finally bit the bullet and moved to MediaWiki, where our information repository lives today.

We actually have quite a knowledge base going there now, everything from detailed process information, to configuration information, to even some projects that are being managed on the platform, with detailed information about all of the issues encountered, configuration information, and the like. It has become a one stop shop for all information related to our environment.

And I’ve been the primary champion since it was installed.

This was when, as I was sitting in the car pondering this, that the title of this post came to me. The old adage is true. There are so many problems that we solve in our daily business lives that never get resolved in our personal lives, and vice versa. Its amazing to me that while we’ve done so much at work to centralize the information in our department (while decentralizing the authoring so that if something is found to be wrong it can be corrected) that I never thought to apply this at home to keep all of our information straight here. Instead, Jonna spends countless amounts of time searching through kitchen drawers for information on service providers and I sit trying to remember that one valuable piece of information that the furnace guy absolutely needs so that he can arrive and fix the part, rather than wasting trips to and from our house to first diagnose the problem, then go get the parts to fix it.

So, I’ve spent this morning getting MediaWiki running here at the Labs. Hopefully, I can motivate the family to use it as we have motivated our employees to use it at work to keep all of our important information centralized and updated. Its a simple thing to set up, but can be rather difficult to socialize. Luckily, we only have 5 people here, so the socialization might be a tad bit easier to do.

How many things do you struggle with at home that have been solved for years at work? Maybe you even had a hand in solving them, but the solution never seeped into your life outside of work?

This was a major “AHA” moment for me this week and I’d love to hear about other people who might have similar stories.

New NetFlix User

We finally broke down a few weeks ago and got a Netflix account, after finally getting fed up with local video stores. I know – we’re a little behind the times in certain areas.

I have to say, I’m enjoying the experience.

On the average we rent about 2-3 movies every other week. That comes down to around $16-$24 for 4-6 movies a month. Inevitably, we will wind up with late fees, due to either not having time to watch everything within the allotted time frame, or just plain forgetting that the movie is around.

We joined the “three at a time” plan at the beginning of the month, which runs us $17.99 a month. Since October 30, we’ve had 11 movies delivered right to the house (between all 5 of us). Without Netflix this would have run us $44 for the month of November – not counting late fees. We paid $17.99. A 59% savings for the month.

Normally, I’m not the person worried about saving money in the house. Its one of those things that I’ve never really cared about, as bad as that might seem. My thing has always been convenience. So lets talk about the convenience that I’ve received by using NetFlix over the conventional “go to the rental store and find a movie to watch” experience.

Here’s how the normal experience would go:

  1. Family decides they are excruciatingly bored and we should rent movies
  2. Family gets into car, goes to movie rental place
  3. One or more of family “knows” there was a movie they wanted to see, but for the life of them cannot remember what it was
  4. Family goes through the “new release” section because they are positive that there will be something there that they haven’t seen there that might look interesting
  5. Family cannot find anything that looks remotely interesting
  6. Ron or Jonna remember some movie that they saw when they were kids that they would love to see again and expose the kids to the “fine art of older movie making”.   (Lets use Scanners as an example).
  7. Family goes to the “fine art of older movie making” section, finds “Horror”, finds ‘S’, and Scanners is not there
  8. Someone goes to the counter to find out whether they actually have the movie at the store
  9. Clerk says they definitely have it, and walks us back to the Horror / S section and proceeds to look for the movie in the exact place we didn’t find it
  10. Clerk cannot find it either, shrugs their shoulders, and says it must be in another section and goes back to checking out customers
  11. Family goes through debate as to what everyone wants to see. One picks something, the others don’t want to see it. This goes on for a bit
  12. Family walks out with no movie – or some movie that no one really wants to see
  13. Family member who remembered there was “a movie” they wanted to see still can’t remember

In all, a good 60 minutes (at least) has passed and we walk out unsatisfied.

Now, since the first of the month, every time someone thinks of a movie they want to see, either Jonna or I  go to the NetFlix site and add it to the queue. Our sudden remembrance is recorded and queued to be delivered to the house – asynchronously. No clerks to deal with, no long lines, no late fees.

Here’s a great example. A few weekends ago, Jonna and I were watching the 100 Scariest Movie Moments on Bravo. We are both horror movie buffs, so there were quite a few gems that we knew we definitely wanted to see. I sat with the laptop and added the movies to the queue as we decided we wanted to see them. We got two pretty amusing films: Slither and Rest Stop – two movies we would not have found otherwise.

A few other movies we rented that we would not have agreed to rent otherwise:

  • The Aviator – excellent movie on the life of Howard Hughes
  • Blood Simple – An amusing little thriller that I added to the queue when someone mentioned it in casual conversation. I really liked this movie, though it could have moved a little faster
  • Roger & Me – This was the only Michael Moore movie I had not seen. I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would have.
  • I finally saw Scanners again. What a great movie – as cheesy as it is.

Here’s the bottom line for me – and the base value that I’m getting out of our membership so far. I don’t have to remember these things any more. I have a place where I can just queue things up as we think of them and when they come its a pleasant surprise. We don’t have to wander around the video store anymore and waste time trying to find something that is “there but miscategorized”, and I don’t have to be on a schedule to watch the movies I’ve rented. If I dawdle, I just don’t get the next thing in the queue.

Finally, Netflix has gotten me one step closer to that dream state that I’ve been thriving for – the ability to do all of the things we normally do without ever having to leave the house.

Now – if only PeaPod served our area and my employer would institute a virtual office policy …

Quotiki: A Social Site for Quote Man

As I was upgrading our Subversion software to 1.4.2 yesterday once everyone had left for the holidays (I’m really trying to keep up on this), I started browsing through LifeHacker, a site that Jason Calacanis has mentioned quite a few times on the Gillmor Gang and on his personal blog.

While browsing the site, I came across an article on Quotiki, a social quotes site.

Now anyone who knows me knows I love to collect quotes, so this site has me absolutely fascinated. Its a Digg like site where readers submit quotes and vote on them. For each quote, you can tag them, and it automatically provides “further reading” recommendations for the originator of the quote via Amazon.com.

The really fascinating thing to me is thinking about how the simplest idea, like making a web site for quotes, can keep my attention for so long. Rather than a web site completely built around the idea of making money, this site peaks my interest as a quote freak and gives me the opportunity to buy related materials from Amazon if I choose to do so. Rather than feeling that the money is being ripped from my wallet, I can buy something if I choose to if it is relevant to me at the time. Chances are, with someone like me who is fascinated by other peoples viewpoints and small glimpses of brilliance, the time will come where they will probably get one or more sales out of me just because I’m there doing something I enjoy.

The real question to wrestle with this is how you apply the concept in a corporate environment, making your customers feel that they are getting value out of you without making them feel like you are just after their piece of your total “revenue dollars”.

This is what I’ll probably spend the rest of Thanksgiving break thinking about. I’m that pathetic.

Songs, Schmongs – Subscribe to Podcasts!

So I spent the equivalent of about 3 or 4 days loading up my iPod with music from the CD collection. I listen to that for about a week and then discover these things called ‘podcasts’. The next thing I know, I’m not shuffling music anymore, or really even listening to it that much, but I’m downloading podcasts and listening to them instead. I’m getting addicted to one show in particular, called Keith and the Girl.

I’ve always been a big fan of ‘personality’ type of radio. I’ve been a Steve Dahl fan since my Uncle introduced me to Steve and Garry back in 1980 or so. I was a big Howard Stern fan for a while. As time went on, and the commercial breaks got longer (and longer, and longer) and the FCC started renewed efforts to censor what I could listen to, I began to get disenchanted with radio as a medium.

As Stern began talking about his move to Sirius Satellite Radio, I seriously considered getting it. Then I got this iPod and found that there were actually independent, ‘real’ people doing broadcasts that I could download and listen to.

This is the kind of stuff I like. I like to listen to regular people. I like the concentrated hour of content rather than the multiple commercial breaks. Most of all, I like having full control of what I can listen to rather than someone else picking and bleeping things for me.

Keith and the Girl are Keith Malley (comedian and webmaster of shite.com) and his girlfriend Chemda. They started their podcast in March of this year. I really enjoy it.

Those with iTunes 4.9 can subscribe to the ‘Keith and the Girl‘ show and get daily downloads as you update your podcasts lists.

As I get caught up on this show, I am also going to start hitting the top 10 on Podcast Alley to see what else is out there. If you’ve got an mp3 player, and you haven’t started checking podcasts out yet, give them a shot. You might never go back to regular radio.