Abusing Twitter Direct Messages, Spam and Classlessness

This morning I received a Twitter direct message from the official account for I hate JJ Reddick, one of the best Baltimore sports blogs I know of. I like these guys. I read the blog almost every day and follow many of the writers on Twitter. I live in Baltimore, or as we call it… “Smalltimore”. It’s a small town. You get to know people. You run into them all the time.

(To be fair, I have yet to personally meet any of them, but it’s only a matter of time. Most of the writers are one degree of separation away.)

As a Ravens fan, I am on board with them. I’m a fan. But I’m also a Red Sox fan, which makes for some good-natured rivalry with Orioles coverage. I’m not above a good-natured rivalry and it’s all in fun anyway. Or it’s supposed to be.

The Direct Message was simply:

Can you help me tweet out this link of Machado’s homer from last night? Appreciate it! http://ihatejjr.com/content/manny-machados-game-winning-homer-boston-last-night-was-glorious-gif

There are several things wrong with this DM.

For starters, on the superficial level, I’m a Red Sox fan. Machado’s homerun came against the Red Sox and it proved to be the game winner in the top of the 9th inning. My bio on Twitter is:

Author / Former Austinite / WordPress Developer / Football Fan / Ravens, Red Sox, Longhorns, Terps / Equality and Justice for All

Cut and dry. I label myself as a Sox fan. I tweet about the Sox. It’s obvious I’m a Sox fan. So when asked to spread a link that I don’t like, for fan reasons, I say no.

The second problem with this DM is the abuse angle. It’s a much more fundamental problem than simply a fan rivalry. Whoever sent this DM clearly didn’t know his audience, and it becomes painfully obvious that the account was simply sending a mass DM to all followers for the purpose of driving more traffic to the article. The article is written by a Bernaldo, who I don’t know and am not familiar with. For the sake of not making unnecessary accusations, I’m going to assume he was not the one behind the DM.

This tactic of mass DMming is frowned upon almost universally. The fact that it was to drive traffic, which is directly proportional to ad impressions, makes it spam. This is a much bigger issue than just a fan rivalry.

So I sent this response:

No. I’m a Red Sox fan. Please don’t abuse DM like this… ;)

Note the winky face, the international sign for… “Imma let you finish. I’m not mad, bro”

I also said, ‘Please’.

Within minutes, I receive another DM:

You’re a fucking loser just like your baseball team. Blocked.

And Orioles fans call Red Sox fans classless.

This is a small town. I’m surprised that any publication in this city would respond the way they have as, you know, word gets around. It’s just entirely inappropriate and unprofessional. No skin off my nose, really. However, when it’s pointed out that you made a mistake, complete with a ‘Please’ and winky face, I’d hope that most people would follow up with something more along the lines of: “Whoops. Sorry about that. Didn’t mean to spam you. Hope Machado does it again to your boys tonight”.

But hey, don’t let a little good-natured fan rivalry get in the way of a good money-making traffic push to 4500 of your closest friends?

Twitter as a Protocol

Twitter
Twitter

Image from Shawn Campbell. Used under Creative Commons

Yesterday, I had lunch with a guy who was picking my brain about various topics. One of the conversations we ended up having was about the longevity of Twitter as a company. It hearkens back to conversations I had years ago when Twitter was barely making it as a service. It was down seemingly half the time, a problem they have long since solved.

In those days of 2007 and 2008, Twitter was just beginning it’s conquest of communication mediums. It was nowhere near as big, influential or necessary as it is today. It was getting there but it wasn’t there yet. And it was failing. And people were jumping ship to more reliable services.

In those days, I posed the concept that Twitter should not be a company alone. It should be an open protocol much like HTTP or email protocols (IMAP/POP). There should be an adopted industry standard that Twitter, the company, should and could (and still can) champion and work through with the guidance of other industry members.

The point is this: When Twitter, the company, goes away as it likely will at some point (hopefully years from now), then what will we as a society – and the human race – do?

Already, Twitter has had direct intervention from the State Department because governments are seeing it as a vital communication medium. Is anything classified as vital safe in the hands of a single private entity? Not that Twitter, Inc. isn’t doing a fine job of it, but there is a concept of continuity that is lost here.

To this day, Twitter is still trying to figure out how to make money. They are still trying to find their sustainable model. And that doesn’t even address the issue of infinite scaleability. What happens if every human being on the planet had a Twitter account (it’s a hypothetical as that will never happen)? What happens when the societal demand on Twitter, Inc. is so vast that no single entity can sustain it? It’s coming. Hopefully not for awhile, but it is coming.

If the State Department considers Twitter as an essential and vital service, necessary to Homeland Security and International Relations, doesn’t it go to wonder why the State Department, among others, isn’t pushing for a Twitter Open Standard.

This is what I’m thinking. Twitter (the protocol) would allow anyone to build their own versions of Twitter that communicate interchangeably over a common set of protocols. This idea was attempted with Identi.ca but without the support and integration of Twitter, it stands no chance on its own.

Of course, Twitter is going the exact opposite direction of opening and heading in the direction of siloed “walled gardens”. Even Facebook, the ultimate modern-day walled-garden is opening up their service in other ways – but even they are not doing what I’m suggesting.

There should be a non-profit, independent “Twitter Foundation” that champions this cause, brings trade organizations - including Twitter, Inc. – together to begin work on a public standard protocol. Companies like Twitter, Inc.  should champion and use this public protocol and build services around it. All of Twitter does not have to be public standard but common elements like “friends”, “followers”, “messages”, “direct messages” and “replies” should all be part of this standard.

Work on this needs to begin now. RFCs take a long long time before they are considered final. The first draft of the HTML5 spec was released in 2008 and it’s still not stable. The 802.11n wireless ethernet (Wifi) standard took 7 years from the time work began to the time it was published in 2009.

Honestly… at current growth and usage rates, can we wait maybe 10 years to begin moving toward decentralization and standards ratification? This needs to happen now.

Blackouts, Boycotts and Regressing From Progress

tweet withheld

A couple of weeks ago, the United States, and in fact, the world saw the internet grow up. Namely, through the use of blackouts – a previously unused tactic of protest and grassroots organizing – we saw the evil Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and it’s evil twin Protect IP (PIPA) anti-piracy legislation fail in what seemed like an instant.

Back in December, it became clear that Congress would hearken to their corporate sugar daddys and shove these two pieces of legislation through the Congress without so much as a minimal amount of input from the technology world that would be devastated by their provisions. After votes on these bills were delayed until after the new year, the Internet – led by Wikipedia, Google, Craigslist, and hundreds of thousands of other sites, including this one – self-organized a protest that would involve “blackouts” of sites (and in some cases, very pronounced messaging in he case where blackouts were not feasible.

Despite defensive posturing by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and others who served to benefit from the legislation, Congressmen and Senators began fleeing the bills en masse. We had successfully made our mark on Washington.

But then a funny thing happened. Twitter made some changes to it’s infrastructure to make it possible for them to operate transparently and legally inside countries that have stricter laws on free speech. It’s a necessary problem that companies have had to face for decades in places like China where speech is censored. I’ll let you read their blog post on the topic.

A small portion of the internet cried foul, claiming censorship. They looked at Twitter as anti-free speech and attempted – unsuccessfully – to self-organize a boycott of Twitter. It failed.

A very specific truth is at play and this is the crux of things. We matured on SOPA blackout day. We decided we wouldn’t be independent and fractioned, which is our nature as independent organizations and people. We had a desired goal (the defeat of SOPA/PIPA) and very specific actions and messaging that needed to happen.

The Twitter boycott (and most boycotts like it) cannot be effective in the same way. The Twitter boycott was a regression in our maturity. We didn’t have the same goal with surgical precision. We didn’t have any ground-swell of support. We had no stated goal or desirable outcome. We can’t use the same tactic every time. We regressed.

And by we, I don’t mean me. I knew it would be a failure.

Grassroots organizing is important and there will be other necessary flexing of muscle. But we can’t just cry foul because we don’t like a decision a company has made. We need to be selective about the fights we engage in and do them tactfully, strategically and surgically. That is maturity.