It’s Facebook Vs. Twitter In the Race to Make the News Social

Facebook has disrupted or helped to re-engineer many businesses and markets, including the photo-sharing market and the social-gaming market. But one thing it hasn’t really focused on so far is the news business. Plenty of media companies use Facebook as a news-delivery platform, and many users (including Gawker founder Nick Denton, according to a recent interview) rely on it as a news source. But Facebook itself hasn’t done much to capitalize on that. That could change, however, judging by some comments from chief technology officer Bret Taylor in an interview with the BBC — and it could pit the social network against Twitter in the race to become a social news platform.

While Taylor — the former co-founder of the social network FriendFeed — didn’t provide much in the way of details during his interview, he did say that he sees disruption coming to a number of industries as a result of social platforms like Facebook, much like it has to gaming, and that one of those disrupted industries is likely to be media:

If we had to guess, it’s probably going to be orientated around media or news, because they are so social. When you watch a television show with your friend, it’s such an engaging social activity. We think that there’s a next generation of startups that are developing social versions of these applications, where what Zynga is to gaming, they will be to media and news, and we’re really excited about that.

Taylor’s comments seem to suggest that Facebook isn’t looking to do anything news-related itself, but is hoping that developers will come up with social-news applications that can run on top of the Facebook platform, the same way that Zynga’s games like Farmville or Cityville do. One example might be an app like Flipboard, which takes a person’s Facebook stream and makes it part of a social-news service, and another interesting experiment is an app called PostPost. Facebook is also clearly continuing to push the open-graph plugin strategy that has helped sites like The Huffington Post drive massive amounts of traffic and comments to the site, and offering improved commenting as a plugin for media outlets appears to be a focus as well.

(Please read the rest of this post at GigaOM)

Top Twitter Trend for 2010: No, It Wasn’t Justin Bieber

The year isn’t quite over yet, but Twitter has already come out with the top trending topics for 2010, and surprisingly enough Justin Bieber — the guy who is so popular that Twitter had to modify the way it calculates trending topics — did not take the top slot. That went to the Gulf oil spill. Soccer and movies were also top discussion topics, relegating Mr. Bieber to the number eight spot on Twitter’s list (although he did get number one on the people-related trend list). The numbers came from Twitter’s analysis of more than 25 billion tweets sent during the year.

Trending topics have been a somewhat controversial issue for Twitter over the past week or so, with a number of users accusing the company of censoring its trends to keep WikiLeaks from being a top discussion topic. Twitter eventually posted an explanation of how it arrives at the top trends, noting that the feature is designed to show topics that are being discussed more than they have been previously — in other words, if Bieber discussion is hot and heavy for days at a time, then that becomes the benchmark and it will not become a trending topic until it goes above that level.

(Please read the rest of this post at GigaOM here).

Newspapers and rules about Twitter

This is an update to a recent post about the Wall Street Journal and its policies on Twitter use by its staff. In that post, I essentially agreed with a post by Jeff Jarvis in which he argued that the WSJ policy “missed the point” of social media in general by trying to lock down the behaviour of reporters too much — by restricting them from discussing their stories, being too personal, etc. Both Steve Buttry of Gazette Communications, in a post at his personal blog and Gina Chen at Save The Media agreed with Jarvis as well, saying the rules were too restrictive and that the newspaper was in danger of missing out on much of the value of social media. Similar thoughts were posted by Pat Thornton at BeatBlogging.org.

Pat, who also writes at Journalism Iconoclast, quotes a Twitter post from John Robinson (editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, North Carolina) that also caught my eye, in which he said:

Twitter rules: I trust the staff to report the news. Shouldn’t I trust them enough to tweet? Is twitter that much harder than reporting?

Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times (who recently joined Twitter himself) put it very similarly in a quote he gave to Editor & Publisher magazine:

“I have asked people to use common sense and respect the workplace and assume whatever they tweet will be tied to the paper. Even when they are tweeting personal information to their followers, they are still representing the New York Times.”

As both the Editor & Publisher piece and this piece in the New York Observer make clear, there has been a bit of controversy within the NYT about tweets that staffers (including @jenny8lee and @michaelluo) were making during a strategy briefing at the paper. I wondered at the time whether what they were broadcasting was an internal meeting or not, but assumed it was not. As it turns out, some editors were of the opinion that posting such things to Twitter should always be out of the question, and that even posting positive things from the newsroom shouldn’t be done by Times reporters.

(please read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab blog)

Note: Fred Wilson has some worthwhile thoughts on this topic as well, although he isn’t a journalist. And be sure to check the comments, which feature a response from Peter Kafka of All Things Digital (which is owned by the Wall Street Journal) and — as usual — some excellent responses from Fred himself.

WSJ rules on Twitter: too restrictive

Staffers at the Wall Street Journal recently received an updated corporate conduct policy, including sections on how to behave when using social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. The response to the new rules of engagement, however, has been far from positive so far, with Jeff Jarvis saying the Journal was guilty of “missing the point.” Jarvis says the new rules don’t allow reporters to “make their reporting collaborative,” and that one of the benefits of such social networks is that they “provide the opportunity for reporters and editors to come out from behind the institutional voice of the paper … and to become human.”

The need to have a conduct policy is a reality for major newspapers, and it makes sense to deal with new areas such as Twitter and Facebook — the paper I work for is developing a similar policy. But I have to agree with Jeff about the Journal’s restrictions on reporter behaviour. Obviously, a newspaper doesn’t want to give away the store and tell everyone what stories it is working on, or tip its hand in a variety of other ways, and probably doesn’t want to go into detail about how certain stories emerged (especially if it was a fortuitous accident). But Jarvis is right that talking about stories that are under way can also have tremendous benefits.

The biggest point, however, is that Twitter is inherently personal — that’s why people use it, and why they enjoy it and become loyal to those they follow. The idea that you can maintain a strict division between the personal and professional just doesn’t jibe with the way social networks (or human beings) operate. Naturally, a newspaper like the Journal doesn’t want its reporters discussing every detail of their personal lives on Twitter, and no one would argue with that. A little taste of the personal can have a tremendous impact, however, and can build loyalty with readers. Media outlets like the Journal ignore that at their peril. Steve Buttry of Gazette Communications in Iowa has a good take on the new rules as well, and so does Gina Chen.

Ashton Kutcher and the evolution of media

The standard response from many people on Twitter this week to the news that Ashton Kutcher wanted to get a million followers was thinly veiled (or not-so-thinly veiled) disgust. Long-time Twitter fans were outraged that anyone — let alone a two-bit TV actor — would be so blatantly egotistical, and trivialize such a great social-media tool in that way, just so he could get on the Oprah show. Shane Richmond said that it wasn’t clear who was the bigger “Twitter tool,” Ashton or Oprah. All of these comments, of course, ignored the fact that Kutcher was using his campaign to raise money for malaria relief efforts, and has in fact raised a total of almost $1-million, according to a recent tweet.

So Ashton is more or less using Twitter as the 21st-century version of Jerry Lewis’s telethon for muscular dystrophy. That isn’t the interesting thing about his use of the social network, at least as far as I’m concerned. Far from being just an egotist who wants to take advantage of a medium to promote himself — although there could well be an aspect of grandstanding to it, as there is for many people — it seems clear that the actor has thought fairly seriously about the implications of Twitter from a media-industry standpoint (my friend Andrew Cherwenka seems to agree). And as a celebrity who is in the public eye almost all the time, he also has a somewhat unique take on the media industry and how it is being transformed.

(read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab blog)