Twitter — Worth a Second and a Third Look

In one month, I gone from thinking of Twitter as a curiosity that didn’t fit in my toolset to the point where I am totally addicted to Twitter as a source of information and as a means of expression.

Today I believe the uses of Twitter are so diverse, profound, and revolutionary that it will be banned by many governments (already happening). Societies that maintain access to this kind of tool will flourish by comparison.

I’ve also come to believe that tweeting is a legitimate art form, and we have already developed some masters. Most people are still pretty bad with this tool, but expertise seems to come quickly to those who pay attention.

If you can dismiss Twitter without trying to find out why a government would ban it, then I am wasting my time here. If not, read on.

Giving Twitter a Real Try

FYI: A Twitter message is called a ‘tweet’, and a collection of such messages is called a ‘stream’.

Here’s what I recommend if you want to efficiently see what Twitter is about.:

  1. Join Twitter: Http://www.twitter.com
  2. Use the Discover function in Twitter to explore streams created by people and organizations.
  3. Decide on an intent for your output stream (self-expression, marketing, professional improvement, etc.)
  4. Create your Twitter Bio keeping your intent in mind.
  5. 5. Follow streams that provide source information or provide examples to emulate.
  6. Look at your input stream at least once every day.
  7. Try to craft at least one tweet in keeping with your purpose every day.

I guarantee that after two weeks that you will know enough about Twitter to know how you can use it. You might still decide it’s not for you, but I think you’ll surprise yourself. I certainly surprised myself.

General Rules

The only rule about consuming Twitter is don’t be a glutton. It’s really easy to get far too much information about exactly what you are interested in. You soon won’t be able to read it all, let alone get anything done. You might be able to read a couple of thousand tweets a day, but most of them point to far more significant articles. It’s nothing to be made aware of 500 articles a day that you really do want to read.

Writing is another story. Twitter is a place where you can say what you think within reason. You do want to keep future employment possibilities and business relationships in mind. Certainly don’t say anything that will land you in court if you can avoid it,

There are a lot of rules about writing tweets, but none of them are mandatory and you can make up your own. Here are mine:

  1. Intentional – just because a tweet is only 140 characters doesn’t mean that you should throw them out casually without a master plan. That plan can be to show people how demented you are, but you don’t want to do something like that by accident.
  2. Remember what public means. Remember that Private probably also means public when push comes to shove.
  3. Politics — Think carefully over whether or not you want to primarily do politics. If not, don’t do politics at all. Politics is the worst thing to do if the primary purpose of your stream is to foster business relationships. Keep in mind that taking any political position is going to alienate about a third of the population.
  4. Manners – Be nice unless the whole point of your stream is to generate a series of rude comments. People want to count on a predictable level of civility.
  5. Religion & Sex – avoid unless your stream is about religion or sex.
  6. Business streams must provide useful information along with their ads. No politics or religion. Make people glad to get your stream.
  7. Self-promotion – think about what each tweet does to advance your image.
  8. Avoid cat fights. It’s really easy to ignore criticism, and even easier to not respond to it. That may be my favorite aspect of Twitter.
  9. Ideas that you can’t fit into one tweet require more thought.
  10. Don’t post more than a couple of links a day to one of your own products. Don’t become clutter in your followers’ streams.

Possible Uses of Twitter

I use Twitter to note ideas, to register outrage, to convey humor, to ask questions, to indicate solidarity, to point to my work, to play at word smith, and probably most importantly for therapy. That’s covers most of my output stream, and I am not using Twitter to sell anything. I suspect that I am still scratching the surface.

One of the approaches that currently intrigues me is simultaneously tweeting and writing articles. I have watched the very funny Andy Borowitz do this several times now, and it’s quite efficient and impressive.

My input stream is mostly comedians and political observers. I also have subscribe to several special news sources, and several general news sources. I could easily add sports or business inputs. Input is news.

One of the pleasures of Twitter is that I can watch something on TV with other people watching the same event so I get to experience the event and commentators’ perspectives on the event at the same time. I watched the last Republican debate with my input stream in view, and the Twitter commentary was far more interesting than the mindless banter coming from the candidates.

Twitter is a tool like the printing press. When Gutenberg wanted a few copies of the Bible, he had no idea what he was setting Martin Luther loose. That was just the beginning. This is the beginning of Twitter.

My Personal Adoption Story

I’m not religious about New Year’s resolutions, but I do think the New Year is a great reminder that we need to occasionally take a look at our lives and make sure we are doing what we want to do. As we all know, it’s all too easy to fall off the path and do what’s convenient. We all have friends and relatives that still don’t even use email, and I didn’t want to be one of those guys. I was at least going to learn to use a few social media tools well enough so that I could articulate why they sucked.

I’d had a Twitter account for a while but I never used it. Conciseness is not one of my virtues as a writer, and 140 characters is what it usually takes me to say hello. I thought of Twitter entirely as a tool to express myself, and not at all as an information source. I still wasn’t thinking of it as an information source when I started to follow a few people. I didn’t follow them to get information; I followed them to see how they used the tool.

Unfortunately, I started with some really bad examples. I’m a political junkie and the Republican primary seemed to offer a perfect focus. Whatever your politics, any honest assessment says that these guys do not understand the media. They don’t even understand it enough to find someone competent to tweet for them.

The good result of following them was that it immediately made me feel smarter because I knew I could write better tweets than that. I also thought that it couldn’t do my writing any harm if I focused on conciseness for a while. I had to write a few tweets of my own, but first I needed a plan.

I decided I wanted to do a stream where I covered ideas and events. As much as possible, I would strive to be funny and profound. I wouldn’t talk about work or personal stuff at all. I’d badger a few friends into following me so I could get feedback. Generally speaking, the narrower your focus, the easier it is to build a following, but I have kind of an eclectic mind so I went for the eclectic stream.

It might be hubris on my part to cover any of the topics I cover, and it is certainly hubris to cover them all. I decided I am not going to let that bother me. If I’ve thought about something long enough to have a theory, I’ll lay it out there and let people tell me when I am wrong.

Although I would recommend that most people avoid political streams because they alienate so many people, I decided to make politics the main focus of my stream. I would usually have a hard time resisting this, and a presidential election just makes it harder. Besides, I’ve already left a broad trail of my beliefs.

I think my first tweets were just about a month ago. Some days I tweet a lot and other days not so much. I’ve already cranked out an amazing 1500 tweets, and I don’t think I have repeated myself yet.

I probably average 50 a day which is a lot, but I could crank out ten times that many if I got paid by the tweet. If you are doing over 50 a day, you probably need to do it through multiple accounts so you don’t drive all of your followers away.

I never get writer’s block with Twitter. I can always afford one more 140 character investment. Each thought has to fit into 140 characters, but it doesn’t have to fit with any other thought. That’s very emancipating.

I’m just starting to gather random thoughts into related piles to make articles and to start projects, and I find I have a gold mine of my own ideas. (Looks like gold to me right now any way.) I am going to have to invest in apps that allow you to store and organize your tweets. They are cheap but figuring out which one you want is a learning process.

If you want to see exactly how bad I am at practicing what I preach, check me out @alanbcorwin on Twitter.  http:\\www.twitter.com\alanbcorwin

Your Linked-In Connected Blog

One of the things that you can do on your Linked-In profile is link to a blog. I started this blog on WordPress.com because Linked-In offered it and said that it would show up on my profile page.

It would be really nice if Linked-In Updates would report when I post another entry, but they don’t. You actually have to go to my profile page to see that I even have a blog, and that doesn’t show to people outside your network unless you have an upgraded (not free) account. Upgrade to the business account, and people will see your blog on your profile if you so desire.

Always remember that even if no one reads your blog for months at a time, somebody will when you go to look for a job or attempt to sign up a new client.

That means that you don’t write about politics unless you want to make about half of the people out there want to avoid you for your political leanings, you don’t want to talk about religion unless you are in the religion business, and you don’t want to talk about your partying life unless you are selling your partying life. You wouldn’t talk about your bad habits in an interview. A blog will get to your interview before you do so keep that in mind.

In fact, one of the nice things about having a blog is that it is like an interview where you are allowed to ask the questions and give the answers, but someone who did not participate in that process gets to judge it. Make sure that you ask questions that are interesting to your perspective interviewers or customers, and make sure that you provide thoughtful answers. They can’t always be the right answers, but they can always be thoughtful. And because it is in writing, you don’t have to show your thought until it is complete.

If you can write, you should. Everybody needs people who can write, and the more technical your field is, the more your ability to write will be appreciated. However, you do need to remember that your Linked-In persona is the one you are taking to work. Your Linked related blog is not where you want to rant and rave.

You should only write about things that relate to the way you earn your living or want to earn your living. That gives lots of us a lot of latitude as long as we are creative. For example, I am a process professional who builds software, directs research, and markets that research. I’ve been an entrepreneur for forty years. I can write about anything from at least one of those perspectives, but I do have to couch it in that perspective.

For example, I love to play golf, but I’m not in the golf business. That means I can talk about the marketing of Tiger Woods (a topic I find fascinating), but my Linked-In related blog is not a place to discuss potential cures for my hook. If I was in the golf business, I’d have a little more latitude. If I was a golf architect, I could do course reviews or blogs on hole design. If I was a club maker, I could write about swing dynamics. The point is that you should only write about things that have a chance to help your business.

So how does this and other articles on Linked-In fit in for me? Linked-In is a tool that I am trying to exploit to its fullest extent. Part of my role and part of my interest is always on marketing, and Linked-In is a marketing tool. You have to understand marketing to some extent no matter what your job is because unless someone is buying, you may not be getting paid for long.

Is Complexity a Bad Thing?

Complexity is taking a lot of beatings lately. It’s a carrier of misunderstanding, and we don’t want any misunderstandings – especially when we are full of fear. And there is no doubt that humans can very rapidly make things far more complex than they can understand and control. Our very capabilities carry the seeds of our own destruction. However, as long as you can understand and control complexity, it is your friend.

I’m no fan of complexity myself. I want everything not only simple enough so that I can understand it, but also so simple I can’t misunderstand it. I want it simple enough so that I can learn everything about it. Yet it is complexity that makes our modern life modern. Cars are more complex than walking, computers are more complex than pencil and paper, and a steel driving machine is more complex than a hammer.

A monkey understands a hammer. You could teach a monkey to use a steel-driving machine, but not to build or maintain one. Most of us are like that monkey. That is, we can only make use of a vast amount of the modern world because someone has found a way to package complexity in an easy-to-use wrapper. We can exploit complexity because someone else has taken care of all of the details. In fact, complexity beats simplicity on a wide variety of measures.

Once complexity gets out of control, it can be very dangerous. A drunk behind the wheel of a car and a madman with a nuclear weapon are just two such examples. Complexity is powerful, and control is easily lost. Simplicity may win in the long run, but complexity wins time after time in the short run. Are you going to bet on the man with the hammer or on the steel-driving machine?

I think we are all going to bet on the machine. It has too many advantages, each of which is an encapsulation of complexity. We want complexity on our side.

I think this is true when you are following or building an investment management system or a trading system as well. If you want to beat the other systems that are out there, you have to have more complexity on your side. You need to add the right kind of complexity, you need to keep it under control, and you need to deliver in an easy to use package even if you are the only user. The more details you need to keep in mind to use your system, the more you are likely to misuse it.

Let’s look at a simple investment plan. Buy real estate. Lots of people have made lots of money with a plan no more complex than this, but it is easy to see how a little complexity could make it better. For example, it gets considerably more complex if the plan is simply expanded to add one condition: “Buy real estate if you can afford it.” The added condition encapsulates a significant amount of complexity, and that complexity should make the plan work better.

If you actually want to make sure that you are getting a good deal, that complicates the plan even more. “Buy real estate when you can get it for less than it is worth for a price you can afford.” It still looks like a pretty simple plan, but we can all attest that our ability to state simply and plainly what needs to be done doesn’t really mean that it is simple or easy.

There isn’t really much simplicity around until we impose it by not thinking about most of what is going on. That’s not a problem for us. People are very good at ignoring most of what is going on. It’s how we get through every day.

Your Reading List at Linked-In

Sometimes I am a little slow to catch on to the value of a tool. I am just doing this right now, but I have been quite impressed by the way this tool is used by some of my connections. (This is a thinking aloud piece, as I am going through the process right now.)

Your public profile can show the book you are reading now and the book you want to read next. It provides a link to a list of your already finished reading if you create such a list. As with anything that has to do with Linked-In, these should be books that relate to the expertise that you are peddling. You don’t want to list golf books, for example, unless you are in the golf business.

Why have a reading list? You want to show potential clients and/or employers that you are so interested in what you do that you are spending your own time and money to extend that expertise. You are still busy being born, not just coasting on your previous knowledge and experience. If you are in a technical field, this may be the difference between being employable or not in a tight labor market.

If you are really looking hard for a gig, I would take the time to put all of the books that you have read into a reading list. People empathize with other people who have read the same books, and they want to talk about the common experience of reading that book. Books make an personal connection to potential employers and clients. If they are not readers themselves, they are still likely to have some respect for readers.

Put all of the professional books you have read on the list. Don’t fake it because anyone who is interviewing you who has read the same book will ask you about it. That’s what you want so don’t choose books you didn’t read, and don’t choose books you read but didn’t understand. This is supposed to be an ice breaker for a subject in which who hope you have some expertise.

Note that you can watch other people’s reading lists too. I have some friends who always have read the great books in my trade before I have. I am going to start watching their reading lists.

I wouldn’t put too many books on the list. If you are not going to connect with people in your business on your first ten tries, you are probably talking about a person who doesn’t read. There are lots of those peole out there in every profession. They still may be glad that you do, however, but adding more books will not make much difference here. Books that you read recently and vividly impacted you should dominate the list because you want to be able to speak about the ideas in the book with enthusiasm.

Are you helping Linked-In make money when you do this? No doubt. Linked-In should be kicking some of that income back to the members. I think they make a lot more money if they gave half the Amazon income to the member whose reading list was clicked to buy the book. I bet twenty times as many people would almost immediately add and/or expand their reading lists immediately. If Linked-In shares it fifty-fifty with the member, that’s still a tenfold increase in income from the previous results. They could also say almost immediately that they pay you to be part of their network. That could make their growth explode. (Note to Linked-In management: send me a taste of your massively increased profits that you will achieve if you implement this idea.)

Do It Once

My career has followed a pattern where I learn something, often with great difficulty. Then I start writing about it, primarily because writing is a key part of my learning process. After I have written about it for a while, I usually am asked to teach on the subject. I usually take advantage of these opportunities because teaching is also a critical part of my learning process. Finally, I am tired of teaching about that subject and end up teaching someone to teach the course. Once I have finished the cycle, I don’t go back unless the subject changes or I change my mind about critical aspects.

One of my many problems is that I never really want to do the same thing twice. I would much rather go out and figure out something else. I like the challenge of figuring something out, but then I want to give it to my assistant, my partner, my friend, or my computer. When possible, my computer takes over the chore because then I am freed from the boredom of doing a repetitive job, but I remain in control of how that job is done. For better and for worse, people don’t follow my directions nearly as faithfully as computers do. Better yet, I might still be able to collect money for the work if my computer does it.

This is a very handy mindset to have when most of your income comes from automating processes and developing software. As any programmer will tell you, a program is a set of simple instructions assembled into exceptionally large structures. Much of the assembly is simple and repetitive. This is painfully true when it comes to databases, and every project has a database. In fact, the database is most of the project for most projects, and the code is painfully boring to write.

Fortunately, there are an increasing number of solutions to this problem. Most involve some form of code generation, and some code generators will generate complete applications. All are welcome, but I have gravitated to CodeSmith because it lets me do everything my own way. I know every line of code generated by CodeSmith does what I want, and I know each line reads exactly the way I want it to read. I also know that when there are errors in my code, they are almost never in code that was generated, they are in code that I wrote by hand.

When I change my mind about the way this code should look or perform, I work on the code generation template until the template generates code that matches the new evolved standard. Sometimes this is easy, but if I happen to have some kind of conceptual breakthrough, the change can be massive. If I let myself learn too much at any one time, the templates could implode. Fortunately, I learn slower and slower all of the time, but sometimes I read a dangerous book.

The last such book I read was Robert Martin’s Clean Code. After reading it, I became convinced that the people using my business objects should have to know database information like primary keys. Related collections ought to be directly accessible. This seems simple enough, but it is pretty revolutionary to someone who has built and managed dozens of database systems basing all of that on the use of keys.

Here is the difference. In the real world, a customer has accounts, and the accounts have deposits and withdrawals. In the database world, the customer record has a primary key. Multiple account records may share the same customer primary key, and each deposit and withdrawal would contain the primary key of a single account. There is nothing tricky or fancy in the database code to record a new deposit, but on the database level, all of this is done using the primary keys.

It’s been my practice and the practice of many others to export that level of detail to users of those business objects. Often, the person doing the database programming was also programming the application that called the database so it wasn’t like anyone had to learn something new about keys. However, it is clearly detail that ought to be restricted to the data access layer. Any time a web page or a Windows form needs to know about primary keys, details that should be encapsulated in the data access layer have leaked to the presentation layer.

This might all sound very easy once you really define the goal, but the goals always change during a project because the project is a learning experience. The templates become the place where I put what I have learned to work. The templates never stop.

By the way, my old CodeSmith templates for C# and SQL-Server are posted on Assembla.com at DbObjectLight. The new templates will be posted there as soon as I get time to document them. Anyone is free to download them and use them. Let me know if you have any problems.

Adding an RSS Feed to Outlook

This blog uses RSS (Really Simple Syndication) to deliver new posts and comments to subscribers. Unfortunately, many people don’t seem to know how to take advantage of RSS.

Why do we use RSS?

The previous solution to maintain a subscriber list was to have people provide me with their emails, I would keep a list, and every time I wrote a new article, I would send a copy to everyone on the list. This was a lot of work for me, and ultimately it dragged down the whole writing process. There were more people who wanted to read what I had to say than there were people who wanted to give me their email address, and it was a pain every time someone changed their mind. It was far better than having to print everything out and mail it, but it still was a system with drawbacks for everyone. RSS eliminates the need for you to give your email address to anyone, and it removes the whole process of maintaining a subscriber list.

For a publisher using a tool like WordPress.com, the process is really simple. They ask me if I want to add an RSS feed, and I say Yes. I’m not sure what is going on behind the scenes, and I don’t really care as long as it solves the problem.

Once that is done, anyone can subscribe to my RSS feed using any RSS reader. If you want to be a subscriber, RSS is really simple but not quite intuitive. Let’s go through the process in Microsoft Outlook.

An RSS feed is treated by Outlook much like an email account. Select View Accounts from the Tools menu, and go to the RSS tab. Click on New, and enter the feed URL. Note that the URL for this blog is https://abcorwin.wordpress.com/, but the RSS feed URL is https://abcorwin.wordpress.com/feed/ .

Shortly after you do this, you should see a new folder in Outlook’s Personal Folders\RSS Feeds\ called Rust Never Sleeps.  If you open it, it will contain the entries from this blog, and new entries will appear shortly after they are published.

If you get tired of my drivel, all you have to do to stop this is to delete the RSS feed entry that you created above.  The entries will stop coming immediately.

Note the structural difference.  With RSS, you have a tool that goes out and gets what you want to read.  With an email list, you get whatever the sender (or anyone else that gets the list) decides to send you.  RSS puts you in control.