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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Observations about Twitter hashtags

I've been spending more time on Twitter lately, and wanted to note two things I've gleaned, rather unscientifically.

First, about tweeting topics (or trending hashtags) and culture.

In Japan, many trending topics and/or hashtags encourage sharing of personal information, and moreso of interaction between twitter users. Some examples from the last few days are: "how I came to start tweeting" and "what age would you say I am?". What seems far less prevalent thematically in Japan when compared to the other places I've been watching (French, German, Irish, American), are people (celebrities, sports figures), TV shows, and states of mind. Since I don't keep abreast of most entertainment news, and think twice before presenting too many of my rants for public consumption, I'm finding it easier to participate in incorporating the Japanese themes into my tweets, than the Western ones.

Second, a tale of two anniversaries and twitter strategies: MIT150 and Harvard375.

Alongside my employer's centennial, both my alma mater and the "little red brick schoolhouse" are celebrating milestone years. (As an aside, last year was my high school's centennial year).

MIT has its own sesquicentennial-specific domain (linked above) and 4 Twitter IDs (the primary one being @MIT150):
MIT150  MIT150
However, I couldn't see any hashtag use, which implies that their target audience would have had to know about the ID. As well, a cursory search for affiliated accounts, shows that the MIT Museum account is most popular currently with over 40K followers, whereas MIT Press takes second spot with nearly 15,600 followers. The business school (Sloan) takes third place in follower count, at 12K roughly.

On the other hand, Harvard has a surprisingly poor following for its 375th year specific ID:

Harvard University Harvard University

However: what the main @Harvard ID uses is its own #Harvard375 hashtag. Which the official @Harvard ID has been interspersing with all its other news. This reaches its nearly 63K followers.

Harvard University 

@Harvard view full profile 

Cambridge, MA
 On the other hand, the self-professed official MIT presence on Twitter has the following stats, which to me were somewhat - but not excessively - surprising:
MITnews   MITnews
From the contrast that the stats present and via my recollections of my exposure to both school cultures, I'm positing that MIT is more likely to use Twitter as a tool to convey useful information to its community, and only chooses to follow sources they know that they would retweet or benefit from factually. On the other hand, Harvard seems to take advantage of the medium (as with other social media tools) to promote itself consciously with public relations and networking in mind. These are likely stemming from fundamental philosophical differences concerning interpersonal communication. Looking at their homepages, the respective real estate allocated to social media is also quite revealing.

The lesson I'm inferring here is that although my instinct is to use Twitter in the MIT style, in order to be successful in Twitter I need to shift to the Harvard way. 

p.s. I've decided to shift to a less intensive publishing schedule for the month of September, with apologies in advance for the unpredictable (but reduced) post count. At the same time I may try to become more active on Twitter. No promises though!

Friday, August 19, 2011

iOS vs Android users - commentary on an infographic

A former manager of mine shared this infographic on LinkedIn the other day, and I wanted to share some thoughts on the findings it presents.

First, it mentions that Android users mainly fit the 18-34 age bracket, which really seems to explain many of the other traits they're more likely to have. Specifically, the survey results reveal that Android users tend to have started using the internet around or after 2000, their incomes tend to be (significantly) lower than iOS users, they're not as well-traveled, and they tend to hold fewer educational qualifications. From the combination of these I suspect that the large portion of the sampled Android users simply haven't completed their undergraduate work yet.

Next, let's look at the gender skew -more men than women typically use Android. There's a well-touted gender correlation with math and perhaps stereotypically, with meat-heavy food preferences. Although having said that, anecdotally within my local team, there are 4 iPhone users (3 of whom are male): I'm the sole Android user.

Examining at the tendency towards pessimism (the aforementioned female manager from my NLP days who shared out the link implies that she's an Android user herself though, but as a "realist") when combined with fiscally conservative behaviour, it's not surprising that the Android crowd are later adopters of smartphones - though, speaking as an erstwhile software quality assurance person, I think most people who have been testers would be later adopters.

Although I speak as an Android user, I identify with more than half of the iOS traits. I match the core demographics, life experience and phone use traits on the iOS side with only a couple of exceptions. Personality-wise, I'm mostly on the Android side, but that's the only category where I'm overtly typical of the crowd: I can relate to roughly half from each set of all the remaining categories. Not sure whether I could legitimately say that however, since I've not seen any of the movies mentioned, can't get the TV channels listed or General Gau's chicken (it's Tso's in most places, but Gau's in New England) here in restaurants, and am only starting to explore European wines (I've heard great things about Swiss wineries..)

Mick, I think the Blackberry OS profile suits you quite well. Thanks as always for your comments, by the way!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Personal thoughts on Twitter and follower counts

Here I'd like document various thoughts concerning my journey in Twitter, which I joined in 2009.

At first, I wasn't convinced that I would enjoy using it. Already feeling overwhelmed by the Information Age, I also noticed a lot of highly public yet personal (read: inappropriate or irrelevant for mass consumption) tweets as well as quite a lot of rude behaviour (ad hominem attacks). At the time of joining I had no Smartphone, and even now I have a severely minimalist data plan, so I don't tweet "on the go". Since I walk to work, checking the twitter stream on my commute is also fairly hazardous (although having said that, when I had a painful bus commute I relied on audio casts and preferred musical recordings stored in my iPod due to the ease with which I succumb to motion sickness.)

As of today, mostly due to the aforementioned circumstances, I still only have a handful of tweets. More depressingly, I've noticed some depletion of my followers (my record high was 164; as of today I have 157). However, I'm realizing the value of having a qualified audience, where those following are only folks who enjoy the overall mix of content that I publish.

A way to ensure that one's target audience finds one, as with regular web pages, is well researched hashtag and keyword use. More than a handful of fellow SEO enthusiasts/would-be opportunity marketers have found me on Twitter, I believe, due to the keywords I've been embedding near the start of many of my blog posts via the post titles.

When I initially started to blog in English this year, I did hand-craft my post announcement tweets. Eventually I lapsed into dependence on automated notices courtesy of networkedblogs, which is my most productive referral site. Due to its close integration (literally; they authenticate users via Facebook credentials) it cross-posts there most readily, and because most of my audience seems to know me personally, this isn't surprising either.

I've also consistently shared my tweets on Google Buzz (Google itself posts both new blog entries and notes update time(s) in Buzz), and sometimes on LinkedIn where I've relied on TypePad to list my blog entries, which it does perhaps too enthusiastically (every post used to appear twice, though I've since fixed this). "Write once, publish (presumably once) everywhere" makes sense not only logistically, but also in the consistency of the online persona one presents.

As many best practices as there are, there's also quite a few poor ones in the Twitterverse. One of the latter that I've tried to avoid personally, was gleaned first-hand via one of my roles at work as lead seeker: it's where someone repeatedly spams the same type of question, only offers marketing page links or otherwise shows no well-roundedness or individuality as a human. My micro-reviews of the occasional Arte music program and very infrequent dialogue with old school friends hopefully provide some insight into who I am, but for a time I scheduled #QotD (quotes of the day) to be pushed out around 4PM EST, to boost my tweet count.

I'll call it a (work)day now, but if you've made it this far, thank you. Feel free to follow and @ me on Twitter too. At your convenience and only if you wish to, of course.

Monday, August 15, 2011

5 Writing tips, or a response to "8 Essential Tips to better Content Writing"

Here's the original blog post upon which I'm commenting.

(A disclaimer: I've had no interactions with this author save the message I left for him on his blog. I also have no metaphorical axe to grind nor malice with which I'm replying (the apt expression in Japanese would be that I'm not "selling him a fight"). It's simply that I wish to present my critique on the actual 8 listed tips. I certainly agree with his opening paragraph.)

Now, my response proper:

I believe his 8 tips could be condensed into 5. Moreover, in my world they would be re-ordered as the following:

This merges his "valuable" and "solution" tips, and is related to "relevance" too, in terms of what the audience expects to find on the site, topic-wise.

Using vetted sources for information is an essential part of all academic writing; lend credence to one's own assertions whenever possible online, too. This also touches upon the "resourceful" tip although in his article, it seems to speak to visual aids and formatting. I recently was reminded of this valuable lesson when I failed to verify the Mashable coverage of the bogus "study"!

His tip speaks to how the content fits into the overall theme(s) of the site in question, but I would argue that in the context of blogs, topic relevance should be measured against one's actual (vs. intended) audience. As the preferences of the actual audience become apparent (as fed back via comments), a responsive author would find her or his topic choices being affected by this information - it's a two way street.

This point would, ironically, merge his "short 'n' sweet" and "to the point" tips; I (perhaps naïvely) believe one can't effectively produce short posts without their being "to the point". Why produce pointless but brief missives? Perhaps that overlaps with the microblogging realm...

By this, I'm merging both the original post's "resourceful" and "readable" tips. The text should be well written with the target audience's expectations in mind, and presented with some visually appealing items when possible, though my preference is to avoid gratuitous videos or (info)graphics, especially if an alternate mobile design is not implemented for one's readers.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Why most bloggers needn't worry about high bounce rates

I was encouraged to read a couple of posts that talked about bounce rates from a web analytics person. In them, he describes several contexts in which high bounce rates should not be construed as being a negative reflection of the quality of the site or content.

My own bounce rate is nearing 75% to date. In the web metrics world, bounce rate is defined as when "the visitor leaves a site without visiting any other pages [within the same domain] before a specified session-timeout occurs." In the aforementioned blog, the first entry talked about when the page's call to action takes the user to an external page or an advertisement link, and what is most valid for blogs, when the page arrived at is a so-called "destination page".

Since most blog designs that I've seen provide the most recent entry content for quick viewing on the root or landing page, people whose blog posts are brief enough to be displayed in their entirety, returning readers only need to read the most recent content, before moving away.

This is why I actually prefer the definition that Unica uses for bounce rate, which is where the visitor spends 10 seconds or less before moving away from a given page. This would more reliably indicate whether the user had arrived at content which they were seeking, although clearly if the landing page only exists to provide a call to action such as downloading a product from an external source, it's still plausible that event tracking is necessary to determine if a high bounce rate is problematic.

However if you, as a blogger, still wish to work on lowering your bounce rate, try following these tips: they're courtesy of a fellow not-too-concerned-about-bouncing blogger.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

American iOS, Android and BlackBerry OS usage mapped

Mashable had an interesting report to show us from July 2011:

It occurred to me that the North-East, Mid-West and South/West looked vaguely reminiscent of American political party affiliation data by state, so I found this Wikipedia map of the gubernatorial election results data from 2010:

  Republican gains
  Republican holds
  Democratic gains
  Democratic holds
  Independent win
  not contested

Well, a slight correlation can be discerned, anyway - California may be favouring Android overall, but Mashable's article did report that there are iOS-heavy cities (to be specific, they were reported as San Francisco, San Jose, Modesto, Oxnard, Santa Barbara, Chico, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo and Napa).

Given my personal history in Massachusetts and the fact that most of my friends (and colleagues) are iPhone owners, one might think I'd also jumped onto the iOS bandwagon. Apple had also been the most popular smartphone manufacturer in Japan.

However, when I finally joined the smartphone using populace this past May (closely coinciding with the launch of this blog, actually), I'd picked an Android phone. Articles like this one, reporting from Bloomberg, piqued my curiousity sufficiently for me to make this choice, when combined with the cumulative gaffes surrounding Apple's iPhone (for design issues and pre-ordering of the 4th gen, to cite just two instances.)

In any case, I'm still hoping my spouse will upgrade to an iPhone 5 not too far in the future: his Nokia is on its last legs, and then I'll be able to make some personal comparisons to the usability of these OSs.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A hoax correlation study: IQ scores and browser choice (amended 8th August 2011)

One of the news aggregators that I visit is Mashable, and recently they published the results of a false correlative study of browser use and IQ score, which supposedly used data from 100,000 users (and was run by a Canadian company).  Here's the link to the Mashable article.

Supposed correlation results from the published hoax:
The fictitious study's conclusion was that "“individuals on the lower side of the IQ scale tend to resist a change/upgrade of their browsers.” 

Since I blogged about it well before the false nature of the hoax was published, I've decided to keep an amended version up (thanks to Caesar for the comment). My own anecdotal impression had been that on corporate hardware, vestiges of IE6 uses was attributable to bigger bureaucratic organizations, who actually do exhibit tendencies to resist change. Another variable that has historically influenced rates of browser use of course, is factory settings. Microsoft's IE certainly enjoyed years of being the out-of-the-box default in the PC market.

I personally divide my time these days on my company-sanctioned flavour of Firefox, Opera and Chrome. And since my post about my audience and their browser use, I've been wondering why blogger counts SimplePie as a browser (it's an RSS reader) while Google Analytics doesn't.

[reverse sort direction]
Browser contribution to total:
1. 135 39.94%

2. 121 35.80%
3. 48 14.20%
4. 17 5.03%
5. 10 2.96%
6. 5 1.48%
7. 1 0.30%
8. 1 0.30%

Friday, August 5, 2011

Learning "Englise" - a fun Friday share

I received the following album link from a friend: the photos consist of pages from a Hangul - English phrasebook.

Commented samples from the publication "Living Englise Language Everyday"

Aside from the implicit perceptions of "common" phrases that the authors seem to expect to be spoken or heard in English, the most noticeable grammatical mistakes seemed to arise from the unpredictable use of "to be" in place of "to have". This was actually something I noticed when studying French and German, such as the "j'ai froid" "I am cold" "mir ist kalt" comparisons (and it's "j'ai faim" "I'm hungry" "ich habe Hunger"/"ich bin hungrig") - in Japanese at least, the subject is so often omitted that just saying "寒い" ("[I feel] cold") and "お腹がすいた" ("[My] stomach has become empty", to attempt a literal interpretation). This would explain, if Korean has a similar construct, why such phrases are so often conjugated with the wrong verb.

The second page of the album simply consists of this:

Ah, and what gems that sequel must contain... hopefully with less emphasis on running over children and overall crime rates!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Thoughts on the information age: news aggregators

Several of my fondest childhood memories stem from working in libraries. There, it was often my duty to take a crisp newspaper and clamp it to a wooden holder for broadsheets. My preferred paper was The Globe and Mail from quite early on; one of the alumni from my high school is a prominent columnist there.

The advent of the internet in the early to mid-90s happened to coincide with a period that I didn't subscribe to broadsheets and lived without TV (otherwise known as my time at university). To procrastinate from studies, I often read through some of the newsgroups, and played around with a personal set of HTML pages. Interestingly I was still working in the libraries during this period, but had moved to cataloguing new arrivals of periodicals, and didn't touch newspapers except for the occasional copy of the university papers (The Tech and Tech Talk - I was saddened to learn the latter went out of print in 2009) or Bay Windows, made freely available to the community in stacks at Lobby 7.

A few years later, I began to receive my news online, but still at independent sites like those listed above. It was more recently that I began fully using RSS feeds, but by that point, the information age was instilling the overwhelming sense that no matter how much I read, I would still miss interminably vast amounts of news. It has become all the more crucial to me to find sources where their biases were knowable, and where their integrity has been beyond reproach (the NYT scandal disillusioned me greatly).

Now that individuals have the means to publish their own news compilations, I marvel at their having the time to review, vet and hand-select the content to aggregate in the first place. At this point I've accrued personal interest in the national level headlines of all the countries I've resided in as well as retained a desire to practice Japanese (via reading generally, which is easily accommodated online). This, combined with an attempt to keep abreast of my friends' shared information on various SNS, has led to an increasing portion of my free time spent sedentary and online.  As thankful as I am for the world wide web, the inactive lifestyle part is something I need to change. At the expense of missing even more news, it seems, alas.

Monday, August 1, 2011

"Old school" communication styles

I recently communicated with a newly hired colleague, who had just completed his Master's degree. After inviting me to contact him primarily by email or instant message, he remarked upon how he found teleconferences "old school". His comment gave me pause to think about my experience with globally distributed teamwork.

While in my prior role at the software research lab, our team was distributed across CDT (UTC - 5 hours) through GMT and all the way to JST (UTC + 9 hours). Email was definitely the main form of having complex discussions, and as the centrally located team, we primarily conversed via instant messaging (where accents and bad audio quality couldn't interfere with comprehension) with the Japanese, UK and Egyptian colleagues in our mornings, and the American and Canadian ones in our mid afternoons. There were regular teleconferences (from which the Japanese were mostly exempt due to them being late in their nighttime typically), but those tended to serve as team socialization aids, since in-person visits were infrequent and costly to arrange. 

When I joined my current organization, I found that teleconferences were far more frequently held, and used for information transfer as well as the aforementioned socialization, since despite the majority of participants being based in the US, they're still scattered geographically. As the majority is along the East coast and a smattering of central and west coast folks, the latter have definitely expressed some discomfort with very early morning phone calls. 

Anecdotally, I've experienced a much higher prevalence of loquacity amongst these Sales and Marketing folks, which has necessitated an adjustment on my part. The effort to do so, will apparently be a lengthy one.

About Mayo

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Professional: As "Senior Enterprise SEO Strategist" in IBM's Digital Marketing division, I provide consulting and training services for both internal and external clients. Formerly I was involved in Natural Language Processing, software localization, quality assurance and documentation authoring.
Personal: INTJ Nikkei Nisei ex-patriated Canadian who takes photographs and enjoys Baroque through late Classical music. The G+ page shares some of the "best of" photos.