Favourite social media tool from 2008, and the one to watch…

(Originally posted at Krishna De’s BizGrowthNews.com.)

The two tools that I’ve found most useful for sharing information online this year would have to be the “Twi-ns” (non-identical!): Twitter and Twine. I’ll talk about Twitter as my “favourite social media tool of 2008” and share some details of Twine, describing what I hope to use both tools for in 2009.

Most effective online media channel in 2008

Twitter, the world’s favourite microblogging site, is great for getting a snapshot of what’s going on in / interacting with your community or communities of interest. It’s a bit like what we had a few years ago in terms of Irish blog aggregators, where you could scan the headlines of all Irish blogs and have a feel for what was going on at a particular point in time, except on steroids…

One of the advantages of microblogs is that people can talk about a greater range of things, since they are more likely to talk about a variety of diverse topics in multiple microblog posts that are limited to 140 characters as opposed to a writing a longer single blog post (that would look ridiculous if only 140 characters were used!). In fact, this also makes it a bit more interactive due to the back-and-forth conversations that result when someone looks for clarification of what is in those shorter status updates, but it is also more conversational because everyone is using the same service and there are less delays logging on or filling in profile fields as you would have to do to post a comment on someone’s blog.

A disadvantage is that the momentum of Twitter is now such that you have to keep checking back much more regularly to be kept up-to-date with everything that’s going on or to find those hidden gems of information or knowledge. If you are subscribed to a few hundred people it makes it difficult (impossible even) to see all that is relevant since even the most interesting microbloggers won’t be talking about stuff that is interesting to you all the time. Also, the removal of outbound SMS notifications for non-US residents was a big blow to us here in Europe, just before those Bebo-addicted teens could figure out how they could blast all their friends with status updates for free!

(By the way, you can view my blog report of Tim O’Reilly’s interview with Twitter CEO Evan Williams from the Web 2.0 Expo Tokyo last year at tinyurl.com/evanwilliams, and there’s also my recent Technology Voice blog post about celebrity twitterers and other famous tweeple.)

Most significant learning in relation to online engagement and communications in 2008

I really like Radar Networks’s Twine, the “knowledge networking” application that allows users to share, organise, and find information with people they trust. People create and join “twines” (community containers) around certain topics of interest, and items (documents, bookmarks, media files, etc., that can be commented on) are posted to these twines through a variety of methods. I personally find Twine very interesting, and as well as using it to gather information about SIOC for regular blog entries I write (the “tales from the SIOC-o-sphere” series is about the latest happenings in the Semantically-Interlinked Online Communities project), I also use it to collect and publish personal interests that I think will be of use to the public, and for passing on interesting stuff to work colleagues via private twines.

As well as producing semantic data for reuse elsewhere (just stick “?rdf” onto the end of any twine.com URL), Twine features some cool functionality that elevates it beyond the social bookmarking sites to which it has been compared, including an extensive choice of twineable item types, twined item customisation (“add detail”) and the “e-mail to a twine” feature, all of which I believe are extremely useful.

(You can view my blog report on a presentation that Nova Spivack gave about Twine at SemTech 2008 in May at tinyurl.com/novaspivack, and see the slides from his keynote speech during the BlogTalk conference I organised in March.)

Area of online engagement / communications to be explored in 2009

I intend to use Twitter a lot more to build a community of interest around the Technology Voice blog I run, by using the @technologyvoice handle more in 2009 and also by connecting and interacting with the social media mavens and gurus on the site. There is huge, huge competition for attention in the social media news space, with many people considering themselves social media experts, so it won’t be easy. Luckily, I have some relevant experience, and I hope to add attract other senior bloggers to post on the Technology Voice website in 2009.

Predictions for online engagement / communications / social media for 2009 in the UK / Ireland / Europe

On the Twine site, I think that there is great potential in the community aspects of twines. I hope that these twines will act as “social objects” that will draw you back to the service, in a much stronger manner than other social bookmarking sites currently do (due to Twine’s more viral nature, its stronger social networking functionality, better commenting, and a more identifiable “home” for these objects). Of course, having more public users will also help Twine now that it is out of beta, but from experience I know that it was a good idea to do what they did and build on a core group of regular users (in Twine’s case, mainly techies) before increasing their user base too much.


John Breslin is a lecturer in the College of Engineering and Informatics (Department of Electronic Engineering) at the National University of Ireland, Galway. He leads the Social Software Unit at DERI, the world’s largest Semantic Web research institute, and established the SIOC project for interlinking communities via semantics (Wikipedia article on SIOC). He is also co-founder of boards.ie, Ireland’s most visited social website (Wikipedia article on boards.ie), and the Irish Internet Association presented him with Net Visionary awards in 2005 and 2006. He has blogs at both johnbreslin.com and Technology Voice, and microblogs under the handles @johnbreslin and @technologyvoice.

Celebrity twitterers and other famous tweeple

It’s not just social media mavens or gurus who have high follower counts on Twitter these days. Twitter now has its fair share of celebrity twitterers or tweeple with many, many followers (in fact, the first result from Google when you search for twitterer is none other than actor and writer Wil Wheaton, or @wilw on Twitter). Some are twittering by proxy or via their “social media directors”, but many celebrities take the time out to engage with the public and with their fans by posting tweets themselves.

Some politicians have been using Twitter as part of their election campaigning, e.g. US president-elect @BarackObama (with 151,735 followers and currently following 156,695, although apparently none of these influencers) and vice president-elect @joebiden (following 158 and with 3,969 followers), @JohnMcCain (following 5,801 and with 4,809 followers), and @johnedwards (following 8,865 and with 6,458 followers). There’s also @algore (with 23,158 followers and just following his media channel @current).


TV stars have also embraced Twitter. For example, from the popular science fiction drama Heroes, you can find the actors who play Matt Parkman (Twitter-loving Greg Grunberg or @greggrunberg on Twitter, ranked very highly in the tweetosphere [or is it the twittersphere?!] and who seems to have converted his brother @bradgrunberg to the site); Daphne Millbrook (Brea Grant or @breagrant on Twitter, who introduced Greg to Twitter); and villain Eric Doyle (David H. Lawrence XVII who tweets as @dhlawrencexvii). There’s also David Hewlett (@dhewlett), AKA the wonderful Dr. Rodney McKay from Stargate Atlantis, and his sister @katehewlett (who plays his sister Jeannie).

UK comedians have also taken to Twitter, including @JohnCleese, @stephenfry, and more recently @wossy (Jonathan Ross). You can read the exploits of sportspeople like Irish Olympic silver medallist @kennyegan, basketball player @THE_REAL_SHAQ (Shaquille O’Neill), cyclist @lancearmstrong and UK tennis star @andy_murray. And from the music world, there’s @britneyspears (an account salvaged from a squatter by her social media director), @MCHammer and @DaveJMatthews.

Other famous twitterers include @WardCunningham, the creator of the wiki, Virgin founder @RichardBranson, illusionist @pennjillette, and movie star @LukeWilson.

Less active are actor @WilliamShatner, with one tweet, and director @ThatKevinSmith, although the latter has started posting again in the past few days. One thing is for sure, however: with the momentum that Twitter has gained recently, you can expect to see many more of your favourite celebrities tweeting during 2009!

See also:

RSS for dummies!

Content is often syndicated from many blogs, social websites and news services in computer-readable feeds that can be used by other people and systems. For example, content from newspapers is often syndicated so that news headlines can be read by people in their own feed reader programs or integrated into their own websites.

Previous to syndication, semi-regular visits to bookmarked sites resulted in a lack of accuracy in monitoring information. Now, feed aggregators or readers allow you to check multiple blog or news feeds on a regular basis, and you can choose to view only new or updated posts since your last access. You can pull information from sites and put it directly into your desktop (Thunderbird) or browser application (Google Reader, Bloglines), allowing you to quickly scan for relevant content. Intelligent pushing of feeds (e.g. with “pingback”) can also be facilitated to update content immediately on aggregator sites (e.g. PlanetPlanet) or other applications.


The most common syndication format used is “RSS”, which has various meanings (Really Simple Syndication, Rich Site Summary and RDF Site Summary) and comes in different flavours (currently there are eight variations). They all share the same basic principles: the latest articles, with hyperlinks, titles and summaries, are syndicated using a computer-readable format (XML or RDF). In general, one does not have to worry about which feed format a blog or website provides, because practically any aggregator or news reader will be able to read it anyway. However, the RSS 1.0 variant (in RDF) allows us to combine syndicated articles with metadata from other vocabularies such as FOAF or Dublin Core.

The RSS feed structure is as follows:

  • Class “channel”:
    • Properties “title”, “link”, “description”
    • Contains “items”
  • Class “item”:
    • Properties “title”, “link”, “description”, “date”, “creator”, etc.

The strength of RSS is in its generality, but therein lies its weakness: when one is subscribed to multiple channels or items, there is no way to easily group by different types of content based on the available metadata. RSS is used for more than just blog headlines and news syndication, having applications in libraries (e.g. to announce new book acquisitions), shared calendars (RSSCalendar.com), recipe clubs, etc. Executives in many corporations are also starting to mandate what RSS feeds they wants their companies to provide.

Similar to RSS is the Atom Syndication Format, an XML format that is also commonly used for syndicating web feeds (e.g. from Blogger.com). The Atom Publishing Protocol (APP or AtomPub for short) is related to this, being a simple HTTP-based protocol for creating and modifying web resources, and the specification was edited by Joe Gregorio and Bill de hÓra.