social media

WBUR Tweetup

On the evening of Thursday, February 5th, WBUR in Boston will be hosing their sixth (seventh?) monthly informal gathering at the station. WBUR regularly convenes the Boston social media community for the purpose of facilitating discussion around social technology and its growing role and impact on local community, news, and public media. All are invited to attend this free and open event. Details here.

At this event, WBUR has agreed to let me lead a discussion on hyperlocal news - in part due to the good discussion that's stemmed from this hyperlocal blog post and my interest in doing a follow-up on hyperlocal's future potential. Won't you join us?

Keep an eye on this blog for a follow-up from the event.

Last week I posted a mini-app that helps find popular twitter users near you. Simply enter a location, and Twitterstars will search regional tweets and return the top five most-followed Twitter users.

Your Location (City, State):

I got some good sleuthing and feedback from the genius behind lolcode, and have subsequently made some updates and learned enough to provide some caveats. Tips & Caveats:

  • Since this app hits multiple web services, expect a little bit of waiting time as the data is retrieved.
  • If the page returns empty, this is likely because Twitter is struggling under server load or is rejecting API requests from Yahoo! Pipes (known issue)
  • I've locked the radius of search to 15 miles, which in most cases encircles users who put the city name you've searched for in their profile (twitter search API uses LAT and LONG coordinates). I have discovered some examples where the search API stumbles on stated locations, however
  • The Twitter search API returns a maximum of 100 tweets and must analyze users from within that collection. This means that if a popular user has not tweeted within the time window determined by the 100 most recent tweets (sometimes as little as a few minutes in the case of, say, NY, NY), then they will not be included in the search results. Try multiple times during the day to get different results.
  • The Twitter Search API is notorious for its latency. If you're trying to catch a very recent tweet in the result set, you generally won't be successful.
  • Pipes requests in rapid succession will return cached data, so it's not enough to simply hit refresh on the results page (sorry). Wait a few minutes and try again, or hack the URL to change the search radius or LAT/LONG, etc.

If you find this mini-application useful, please let me know. Suggestions for modifications and improvements are always welcome.

[Note: I've posted a Twitterstars update]

Finding and connecting with local social media 'superstars' can be a valuable short-cut for anyone trying to ramp up quickly in online social environments. These enthusiasts are knowledgeable about social media tools, are highly-connected, and understand well how to succeed in the online social environment.

But how do you find the local social media superstars? Today, many of these individuals use Twitter. The "Local Twitterstars" mini-application below takes any US geographic search area that you provide and returns a feed of the top five most followed individuals on Twitter who have been recently active in the region. Below is a more detailed explanation of how I built this mini-application. I also posted an update here.

Location (City, State):

Radius (in Miles):


This mini-application uses the Twitter Search API, the Twitter REST API, Yahoo! Pipes, and some simple HTML.

  1. The simple HTML form above constructs a server GET request through both hidden and user-populated form fields.
  2. This constructed URL queries a custom-built Yahoo! Pipe that takes the location from the URL and converts it to LAT-LONG coordinates.
  3. A Twitter search API query is then constructed by the Pipe using the LAT-LONG and radius data, returning the 100 most recent tweets in this region. Depending on your search area, this could include only very recent tweets or could span a much longer time period. Twitter has some internal smarts around matching the coordinates to include a variety of data that users put into the location field of their profile, including towns, zip codes, iPhone GPS coordinates, etc.
  4. The Pipe then takes all the tweets and constructs a series of queries to the Twitter REST API, pulling back user profile data from each user behind the tweets.
  5. After removing duplicates, the Pipe selects the top five most followed users in the list and builds an RSS feed presenting the username, a link to their twitter account, and the current number of followers they have.

NOTE: If the feed request is empty, try changing your search criteria. It's also quite possible that Twitter is struggling to handle load and won't fulfill the API requests.

If you find this mini-application useful, please let me know. Suggestions for modifications and improvements are always welcome.

The following is a draft of a document (updated 6/12) that I'm preparing for the Beyond Broadcast conference On June 17, 2008. I'm posting it here in hopes folks like yourself are willing to provide me with feedback on these ideas - do they hold true in your experience? Thanks to those that helped! Here's the PDF (final update 7/8):
Eight Ways to Help Build Online Participation (PDF).

Throughout 2007 and 2008, Public Interactive worked with public broadcasters to better understand how to effectively engage audiences online. We gathered experience directly from 24 stations and programs such as KQED, Oregon Public Broadcasting, and Car Talk® using our online community engagement tool. Additional stations, programs and networks have also thoughtfully shared their experiences using a variety of tools and platforms.

One important lesson, particularly for those new to online engagement, is that it takes creativity and persistence to engage individuals and get their participation. Stations and shows often seek tips on how to attract contributions. From what we've learned, here are eight ways to help build online participation:

1. Be Genuine
Seek participation around something you understand and care about. Ask for relevant, meaningful input in an area that is true to your values and aligned with your existing communications. If you're format is music, don't ask for input on local zoning laws. If you deliver unbiased news, seeking opinions might be perceived as disingenuous.

2. Be Compelling
Ask yourself why anyone would bother participating. What topics compel your broadcast audience today? How will you use their contributions, or what will you offer in return? Individuals are often motivated to take the role of expert and share their unique insights and experience. You might initiate a project to construct something meaningful together.

3. Reach Out, Invite In
Who will show up to your party if no one sees your invitation? Leverage email lists, reach out to relevant organizations, and integrate highly visible promotions into your website. Invite specific contributions from subject-matter experts and bloggers, cultivate traffic partners who see the benefits of aligning with broadcasters, and post appropriately in social networks and discussion groups.

4. Make it Easy
Clearly state what you're looking for from individuals and how they should contribute. Guidelines, rules and expectations should be conspicuous. Provide a variety of ways to engage and contribute. Require users to sign up only where registration delivers obvious benefits.

5. Get Involved
Demonstrate that participation is important by doing it yourself. Use your real names. Involve producers, editors, and directors. Make it clear that the lights are on and someone’s home by responding to users (without being reactionary), and by enforcing your own rules.

6. Release Control
Online, the role of passive audience gives way to that of partner, co-creator, and contributor. It is misguided to think of "us" creating something for "them." Use your hand only to guide, stimulate, and monitor. As participation grows, give up more control. Individuals should have a sense of ownership over the community, where together you set direction and create value. If you've created an environment where everyone benefits, it becomes that much easier to promote.

7. Focus
A common mistake is to create twenty disparate ways to engage instead of one great one. Focus allows both you and your participants to concentrate your time and energy.

8. Experiment
In the world of online interactivity, there is an expectation of change, iteration, and improvement based on feedback and results. Plan for many tests, and assume ongoing effort will be necessary. Measure and monitor your progress. Communicate what you are learning and changing. Learn from others' successes.

Presented on Emerging Trends in Social Media and its Potential Impact on News Production and Distribution at WGBH today.

PRI's The World is up to some cool projects, including reporter Alex Gallafent's planned multimedia trip to the Amazon next month. Keep an eye on his blog.

Full disclosure: They use my community engagement software.

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