Another Twitter is Possible: on building user metrics

 Diagonal View.jpg84755d35-5c72-44c2-a665-65f14eb68900LargerSlightly expanded version of my post in the Twitter Developers forum “Ideas/requests for new analytics/metrics” started by Gary Wolf (co-founder, Quantified Self). 

I hugely agree with Gary, that there is a need for better user-oriented analytics/metrics — that is, support for users to have more control over social-media volume and noise level, to better evaluate and change who they follow (subscribe to) and what they encounter. (I would add, providing metrics explicitly is one way to do this, but it may also be done more implicitly, for example by designing user interfaces that learn or incorporate feedback better, or which surface features for curatability and filtering).

While the conversation may not have blown up in this Twitter Developers forum yet, I have seen many extensive discussions closely related to the issue elsewhere in the last several years. I believe that making Twitter more user-manageable is crucial both for attracting new users (“crossing the chasm“) and for retaining heavy/lead users (listening to the lead users / “alpha geeks,” who often lead consumer tech trends).

In a broader perspective, the point is not just about Twitter, but Twitter as the impetus or laboratory for a bigger question: how can we humanely design and use the new online & social-media environments which are fast becoming central to people’s lives globally?

Some recent, high-profile & much-discussed articles on this topic include:

I’ve been writing and talking about this in the last two years, including

Recently I have started a project I call FlowSort to prototype tools for user analytics and alternative UIs for curatability/overview/agency. It is both tackling my own problem, with my own data, and investigating what might have value to perhaps a large part of Twitter’s current and potential user base — or what might inform design of new social-media platforms/tools. I am looking to partner with other developers/orgs interested in building these capabilities — including possibly with Twitter itself, eg as an exploratory, pilot, or trial project.

sort for flow..

Tim McCormick, Palo Alto


What metrics would show change, not confirmation, of readers’ views?

A key question I come back to in various areas, such as publishing/scholarly metrics (“#altmetrics”) and social media design/practice, is how might we detect if and how much a media interaction changes rather than just confirms a reader’s views?

As I noted on Twitter recently:

we gravitate to what doesn’t challenge us, so media metrics (eg pageviews, IF) often reflect & reward #homophily. “Like” makes this explicit


(note:  IF = “Impact Factor,” a standard metric for a scholarly journal’s influence on other scholarship).

This blog post page is to create an anchor and open thread for the topic, and note a few of my efforts to explore it.

First, I have an ongoing project called Diffr about tools to diversity “media diet.” It continues work I did developing a prototype project for the Startup Chile incubator program in Santiago, Chile


Second, here’s a clip on the topic from a 2012 talk I gave at a Quantified Self Silicon Valley event at Google in Mountain View.  I answer two related questions from the founders of QS, Kevin Kelly and Gary Wolf:

I’m interested to hear anyone’s ideas on this question! Please comment below, or on Twitter (hashtag: #changemetrics), or email tmccormick at gmail..


Comment Systems as Urban Form: the #OpenComments model

medium-intro-page reply to Mark Carrigan, “Why Medium might be pretty great for academics” (21 Dec, 2013)

I agree @Medium [the publishing platform founded by Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone in August 2012] is quite interesting, especially for rethinking experience from author’s side. On the other hand, I’m bothered by the centralization (vs eg people using diversely hosted & designed/featured blogs and open-source tools), and in particular by its manifesting of the larger trend away from open comments/conversation.

I tend to agree with something Mathew Ingram said, “A blog without comments is a soapbox.” ( Voices in isolation, not engaged with challenging or divergent views, is a key problem in our whole information environment (from personal to popular to academic, etc., I think).  [I examine this point in more detail in “Collaborative Argumentation and Advocacy” 1 June, 2013].

Nowadays I see many people accepting the idea that open commenting online is impossible or undesirable, that it inevitably succumbs to abuse. But most comment/forum systems are quite naively implemented and run, making little use of decades of accumulated knowledge we have about how to make them work. Also, there is increasing robustness and steady evolution in systems to implement/integrate commenting at large scale, such as Disqus, LiveFyre, IntenseDebate, and (integratively) Twitter, Google+ etc.

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Weaving the Tech-Urban Web

"Tron Gate" (Chicago), by John Tolva.

“Tron Gate” (Chicago), by John Tolva.

a response to “When tech culture and urbanism collide” by John Tolva (Chief Technology Officer for the City of Chicago, 2011-2013), December 30, 2013.

Thanks for citing my post “What Urban Planning Hasn’t Learned from Tech
of December 14th. In satirically inverting Allison Arieff’s “What Tech Hasn’t Learned From Urban Planning” (New York Times, December 13th), I was actually hoping to suggest much what you say in your post: that there are many productive and innovative things are to be done in the intersection and exchange between tech and urbanism today. Not only might tech learn from urbanism but, as you say, “there’s plenty of room for the most positive aspects of tech culture to remake the profession of urban planning itself.”

In order to help make such an interchange as productive and possible as possible, I think we might question not only whether “tech culture” and “urbanism” are necessarily opposed, but even whether there is a singular tech culture or urbanism to speak of. It seems to me the open and pragmatic path is not to set tech and urbanism in opposition, but to focus on the large, complex problems we have, to which we might apply various types of open, urban, historical, tech, and beginner’s minds.

In the spirit of that opening and reweaving, here’s some unpacking of the tech vs urbanism idea:

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