How the Real Time Web made a Flower Pot become a Web Celebrity

Sometimes you just need to see the real time web in action to understand its dynamics and power. This was a thought I had when I last week witnessed the sudden rise of a meme in the German Twitter-sphere. Personally I have never seen something similar before in the German speaking microblogging world, at least not with this intensity.

Everything started with an inconspicuous flower pot that belonged to an elder care home in the German city of Münster. One week ago the pot was destroyed by an unknown person. For some reason the “story” made it onto the website of the local newspaper Münstersche Zeitung. Katharina Hövels, the woman who wrote the article, started working at the newspaper a week before and was unexperienced, the paper later explained in a follow-up piece.

At 11:04 pm on Wednesday, Ralf Heimann was apparently the first person on Twitter to publish the link to the article. His tweet was retweeted 36 times, which doesn’t include manual retweets, and it was his tweet that about 12 hours later, on Thursday around lunch, led to the Twitter meme carrying the hashtag #blumenkübel, which is German for flower pot.

I think I noticed the first #blumenkübel tweets at around 12 am, and it was like out of the blue that suddenly my complete Twitter stream was filled with this hashtag. What happened was that some people that did read the original article took the blumenkübel story and adapted it to other recent news events, while some others simply joked about flower pots in general or the fact that the incident was actually reported about.

The more people participated, the more who didn’t read the original article either started to joined or asked what the #blumenkübel thing was all about, which consequently led to a number of blog posts explaining what happened, both in German and even in English. That again helped to increase the number of #blumenkübel mentions.

Using our Blog Search engine we found almost 200 blog posts writing about the topicAccording to the German blog and Twitter aggregator Rivva, 439 people retweeted the link to the original article. That is pretty substantial for Germany which only has about 270.000 active Twitter users according to this analysis. And let’s not forget that the actual story probably didn’t concern any of them.

At Twingly we quickly set up a Twingly Live Channel which at the peak of the #blumenkübel wave showed new tweets every second. It was impressive to watch!

According to the Twitter monitoring service Trendistic, the flower pot meme reached its peak around 2 pm on Thursday. After that the number of tweets containing the hashtag fell but rose again around 5 pm. If you follow Social Web topics you probably can guess why: After a few hours of #blumenkübel-mania, German mainstream media got curious and started to publish reports about how a flower pot became a star on Twitter, and that created new attention for the already diminishing meme. During that time, fake screenshots of CNN covering the broken flower pot and a YouTube video making fun of the flower pot’s fate had already hit Twitter.

The #blumenkübel hashtag actually made it into Twitter’s trending topics for a whole 5 hours, reaching position 4 at best, and increasing awareness of the flower pot tragedy on the other side of the Atlantic. Liz Pullen from What The Trend informed me on Friday that out of 492 trending topics during the past 7 days, #blumenkübel was the 30th most popular, which is remarkable considering the nonsense behind it and the small German twittersphere.

While Twitter was definitely the core of this meme, a Facebook page that was set up on early Thursday afternoon praising the flower pot grew to more than 2000 members on that day, and got even more attention after the national TV station Pro7 picked up the story on Friday evening (30 hours after the meme started). Today, the page has almost 10.000 members, which is significantly more than the number of tweets that was published with the #blumenkübel hashtag.

According to Twitter statistic apps such as What The Hashtag, Dwitter and twitter-trends.de, the hashtag was mentioned somewhere between 3000 and 6000 times from Thursday to Friday around lunch.

So, let’s draw a few conclusions: Twitter and the dynamics of the real time web allow a destroyed flower pot to become a celebrity in no time. It’s hard to explain the phenomenon if you haven’t been directly involved. It’s simply a lot of fun to see a meme grow, to be part of it and to help spread it. It’s an expression of the real time web’s (and the people’s) power. Just imagine how quick really important information could travel on the web if a stupid joke can.

It’s also obvious that Twitter is much faster than Facebook when it comes to viral distribution of information. One reason for that is definitely the more open environment at Twitter, even though Facebook is trying to compete with that. But that does not mean that Facebook does not have a purpose during the rise of an Internet meme. While Twitter is the core of the real time process, people afterwards go to Facebook to look for a group or page to join.

At least in the case of #blumenkübel, Twitter and Facebook didn’t compete but rather completed each other.

/Martin Weigert

Europe’s 50 most popular startups according to the blogosphere

Photo (CC): Eneko

In February, TechCrunch Europe published the latest version of its TechCrunch Europe Top 100 index, a list of most innovative and promising European/EMEA web and tech startups. The list which was compiled together with startup tracker YouNoodle Scores is based on a score for each startup which was created using a “sophisticated algorithm using information from thousands of online sources” such as traffic, mainstream media coverage, funding etc.

While waiting for an update of the list, we thought it would be cool to see how these companies rank considering their buzz in the blogosphere (similar to what we did with Twitter clients recently). By using data from our Twingly Blog Search, we measured the buzz these startups were able to create within the global blogosphere from May 1 to July 31. Here is the result with the rank of the TechCrunch Europe Top 100 in brackets – we only publish a top 50 list because the number of blog mentions of some of the other services was not significant enough to create a sound ranking.

01 Spotify (8)
02 Stardoll (5)
03 Dailymotion (2)
04 Tuenti (11)
05 SoundCloud (14)
06 TweetDeck (53)
07 Netvibes (17)
08 Twingly (75)
09 fring (26)
10 Shazam (28)
11 DailyBooth (54)
12 Tweetmeme (37)
13 eBuddy (10)
14 Nimbuzz (98)
15 Jimdo (84)
16 Miniclip (38)
17 Trigami (see here) (79)
18 Voddler (48)
19 Netlog (4)
20 Qype (27)
21 Layar (56)
22 Deezer (21)
23 sevenload (30)
24 ShoZu (57)
25 Trovit (67)
26 zanox (9)
27 Bambuser (51)
28 MyHeritage (19)
29 Vente-Privee (1)
30 FigLeaves (59)
31 Plastic Logic (16)
32 Skyscanner (41)
33 Zemanta (55)
34 eRepublik (45)
35 Swoopo (42)
36 brands4friends (77)
37 Wonga (52)
38 MobyPicture (58)
39 Zopa (40)
40 Doodle (62)
41 Rebtel (36)
42 Jolicloud (93)
43 Fon (29)
44 Modu (25)
45 Mendeley (61)
46 Twenga (47)
47 uberVU (66)
48 Markafoni (49)
49 amiando (88)
50 We7 (78)

Notes
Being able to make users blog about a web startup does not necessarily mean that its products or services are good. Furthermore, consumer oriented web tools and blog centric services usually get more coverage on blogs than business-to-business companies, which is why the list is dominated by these kind of apps. Having said this, publicity is a requirement for succeeding as a tech startup, so the startups in this list seem to be on track regarding user awareness!

In some cases the search results were interfered by Spam postings or articles mentioning the same word, meaning something else. We then had to remove a part of the findings, which led to a lower ranking. When you study the list keep in mind that this is not the one and only, definite ranking, but it for sure gives you some useful information about which services are being discussed the most in blogs all over the world.

We might start to publish this ranking regularly. If your Europe based startup is getting a lot of buzz and is missing in the ranking, or if you know a service that could be popular enough to appear on this list, please let us know in the comments, so that we can include it next time!

/Martin Weigert

The age of transparency

The web is making people and companies more transparent. Even though some users are concerned about losing the anonymity that they enjoyed so much during the past 20 years of online existence, the increased transparency of today’s digital world can help our society become better. And it forces people to tell the truth, since lying without getting revealed is increasingly difficult.

When I studied Business Communication from 2003 to 2006 the (marketing) world was still pretty much like in the old days. One of the basic rules we learned was that every product or service can be positioned on the market in the way you want, you just need to find the right way of communicating it. I don’t remember “transparency” being part of the curriculum, at least not as a major factor to consider when working with business communication. Apparently transparency was something Marketers and PR people didn’t need to care about too much, even though Google of course already existed – but Social Networks were still in their early days, the blogosphere just started to grow, and the rise of real time web was still a few years away.

But now, five years later, everything has changed. Every promise about a product or service can be verified or disproved online. A quick search gives consumers access to product reviews in online stores and on specific review sites, blog postings from people having used the product/service (via Twingly Blog Search for example), and of course shorter feedback like tweets or status updates (via Twingly Microblog Search). You could even use a search engine for sentiment analysis to get a quick input whether people on Twitter like the product/service or not.

Product characteristics are more transparent than every before and each company that sells poor quality products but tells everybody they are the best you can get will eventually be exposed and fail.

But transparency does not only change the way marketing and advertising work. Transparency also affects politics, on the one hand due to a new class of observers such as blogs that follow and analyse the actions taken by politicians, and on the other hand because of the wide access to information which enables everyone to make a quick fact check of things being said by politicians. Even whistle-blower sites like Wikileaks or video platforms like YouTube improve people’s access to information, both by revealing secret documents like Wikileaks did yesterday and by providing everybody with visual witness reports and other videos to past events that otherwise might have been forgotten.

Even those whose mission it is to create transparency around government’s and companies’ actions are now becoming more transparent: Journalists and Bloggers. Thanks to news aggregators and search engines like Google News, it takes a few seconds to compare what different newspapers and content sites have written about a specific topic. One can find out at a glance who published what, who quoted whom, and who didn’t correct a detail or accusation that already has been revealed as being incorrect.

Transparency forces each of us to question our own actions and behaviour. Politicians who made a big mistake, companies who praised products that turned out to be faulty and news outlets that created their own truth just to sell more papers or to get more page impressions. In the digital age they all have to fear being exposed. Everyone makes mistakes, and most people are willing to forgive – if there is a confession. But if the one responsible tries to cover up the problem, things can get ugly very quickly these days. Because there will be always someone who stumbles upon inconsistencies. And after that has happened, the documentation of it will be everywhere on the web – forever.

Sometimes the phrase “The Internet never forgets” is used to criticize the web’s capability of finding content published year’s or even decades ago. While people’s memories slowly fade away, the Internet can tell you those old memories in a detailed way is if was yesterday they happened. But even though this might become an issue for people who find photos from their wild teenage days online, in many other situations the Internet’s inability to forget is a strength.

Because the human brain also forgets things that it actually needs for making the right judgements, for evaluating people’s or companies’ actions and statements. A politician that is about to get an important role in the parliament or a company that receives a lot of positive attention for a successful CSR campaign might have a dark, flawed past. A past that both individuals and mainstream media are often good at forgetting. But Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, blogs and other sites don’t forget.

There is a flip-side to transparency, yes. But while our attitude towards questionable photos from teenage days has to change anyway, the pros of transparency might have a much bigger impact on our society than people realize. The web does not only increase the transparency of companies and public individuals with power, but it helps us to remember this kind of information that we should not but very likely would forget. And this is something that could help our society to grow and to get better.

What do you think: Is the age of transparency something rather positive or negative?

/Martin Weigert

Photo: stock.xchng

Interview: Social Media and Politics in Germany

This week politicians, journalists and other organisations gather in the city of Visby on the Swedish island Gotland for the yearly “Almedalsveckan” to discuss and connect (Twingly is there, too!). As last year, one of the main topics will be the effects of the digitalisation on politics and campaigning.

Since the spotlight is on for politics, we wanted to take the chance and give you an insight into the state of digital politics in Germany, another important Twingly market. How are German parties using Social Media to engage with voters? How do Germans react, and what are the main challenges? We spoke to Patrick Brauckmann, an expert in the field of political online communication.

Patrick studied politics, law, theology and European business. He wrote his dissertation about “Online-Communities in the German parliamentary elections of 2009”, has been and is involved in several political initiatives, founded a communications consultancy with focus on “Online Campaigning” and contributes as a freelance editor to different publications focusing on digital politics. His private blog is kampagnen-fabrik.de.

Hi Patrick! The German parliamentary elections last fall was the first time when parties in Germany made heavy use of Social Media for their political campaigns. How much success did they have?
That depends on the perspective. If the goal was to increase the number of voters, than the online campaigns did not have a huge impact. But if the goal was to retain voters and loyal following, then it worked out quite well. At least until now Social Media did not help the German parties to gain new voters, but it helped to keep existing voters committed.

So the parties succeeded in engaging those people that already did support them?
Yes, and I think in that regard German parties keep up pretty well with their US counterparts. The web has become the foremost communication and organisation tool, both regarding the parties own sites, but also regarding social networks (Facebook, German studiVZ), Twitter and blogs. But it’s mainly about connecting to the existing voter base of each party, not a real election campaign where parties fight to get the people’s sympathy.

Many politicians in Germany try to replicate the “Obama effect”. Do you think this is possible considering the country’s different culture and mentality?
This is the question every campaigner in Germany would like to get the answer for. In my opinion it is possible, but people must not forget that Barack Obama did not create his reputation and image online, he just leveraged the web to spread and communicate it. The politician Obama who gathered 250.000 people at the Siegessäule in Berlin does not necessarily need the web. But the (political) web needed him to realize how to use the Internet for reaching out to the citizen.

How did Germans react to the new ways of having a dialog with politicians and parties?
The Internet filled a gap that TV and print media left wide open due to their lack of possibilities for a two-way-communication. It enabled participation and opinion making, which you can see every time a topic from the political agenda becomes subject of discussions. It’s now usually the web where the public debate starts. On the other hand, these debates are in most cases limited to the “Digital Natives”, so huge parts of the German population are still absent from the political dialog online. A recent study from the University of Hohenheim found that TV and print media still are the two preferred sources of information about politics, followed by the web which now ranks before radio. Only 13 percent mentioned the Internet as their number one source. It’s much more in the US.

Is there a party or candidate who excels in digital communication?
There are some who use Social Media in a smart and effective way, who run an interesting and regularly updated blog, Twitter stream or Facebook page without just pushing their press releases, instead encouraging users and potential voters to have a dialog. It seems as if the smaller parties have a lead over the the two big parties, the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD), since their flat internal processes and structure makes it easier to engage in the fast paced online communication and conversation. Furthermore, their members often are younger and their affinity for new technologies is higher.

What happened after the parliamentary elections?
As one almost could expect, what followed was silence. Websites, Twitter streams, YouTube channels and Facebook profiles were not updated anymore, the dialog stopped. But after a few month, things picked up again, probably also fueled by the state election in Germany’s biggest federal state Nordrhein-Westfalen in May this year. Still I’m afraid the next boom for digital political communication won’t happen before the next parliamentary elections.

What advice would you give parties and political individuals for their future online campaigning?
Choose the right online instruments carefully and use those in the best way possible. Politicians should focus on engaging in solid and convincing political debates, not on being present on every existing web site imaginable. If they use Social Media for those debates, even better. But if they don’t do anything else than creating noise without adding value, they might be better off staying away from the Social Web.

/Martin Weigert

Check-in, Multitasking & Geofencing: The Social Web becomes location aware

We have written before about the rise of location based services (lbs), those fascinating and playful apps like Foursquare or Gowalla that let you check-in at specific locations, earn points, badges, become the mayor and maybe even get a discount at the store you are checking in.

The process of checking-in actually has become the default feature for most of today’s location based services. But why did that happen? Well, there are two main reasons:

The need to perform a check-in every time you want to publish your location guarantees you that your whereabouts are not becoming public if you don’t want that. So the check-in works even for those people with higher privacy preferences.

The second reason is a technical one. Until now, the iPhone has been the leading platform for location based apps, simply because iPhone users are the most curious and app avid ones. But until a few days ago, the iPhone didn’t support multitasking, so people were not able to use several applications at the same time. Any app that would have wanted to monitor your location automatically would have had to be activated all the time, blocking other features of your iPhone. That of course was something no one wanted.

That Foursquare in early 2009 came up with the check-in solution was at least in some parts a practical decision to create a good and privacy aware user experience. Most other lbs followed Foursquare after some time and integrated check-in features, even those that existed before Foursquare, like Loopt and Brightkite.

But in the near future, things could change again. Because a few days ago, Apple released its newest version of the iPhone operative system, iOS4, which enables multitasking on iPhone 3GS and the new iPhone 4. That means that location based apps are now able to run in the background, and Loopt was actually one of the first to make use of this by including a “live location” functionality which permanently tracks where you are.

Since Android, the other big platform for app developers, has been multitasking-enabled for a long time, one can conclude that the technical obstacles for lbs are pretty much gone, and that the need of the check-in feature is no longer given from a hardware point of view. What is left are the privacy concerns.

Even though the number of Foursquare users increases by 100.000 a week, lbs still haven’t become a mass phenomenon yet, and the general doubts of many users to publish their location is definitely a crucial reason for that. Automatic background location without check-in would not really help to make potential users get used to the thought of telling everybody where they are.

But there is a technology that could both help to increase users trust into lbs and improve the overall user experience. It’s called Geofencing. A Geofence is a parameter for a specific geographic area. When a smart phone user leaves this area, he/she crosses the Geofence, which can trigger notifications and actions.

Geofencing has seen a small hype recently in the mobile and location world. Location providers like SimpleGeo or Location Labs offer functionality for startups to integrate Geofencing features into their applications, and even Silicon Valley icon Robert Scoble referred to Geofencing when he recently outlined his vision of how location based service will have developed until 2012.

Geofencing in combination with background location could spur a wave of innovation in the lbs field. Imagine for instance an auto check-out feature for services like Foursquare or Gowalla. In the current state, people are shown checked in to locations even though they already left hours ago. With Geofencing, an app could perform an auto check-out when the user crosses the Geofence, without publishing more info about his or her location.

Another example would be that an app could use background monitoring of users locations, unless they are in an area that they have selected the private mode for earlier, like 500 m around the house they are living in. And when they leave home and cross the Geofence, the app could ask if it should switch back to automatic location monitoring or not.

Location based services are still in their early days. The number of services integrated with location features will continue to explode, and after Twitter already has entered the location game, Facebook will follow soon, introducing millions of less experienced web users to the idea of lbs.

The check-in principle is not likely to disappear very soon. But we’ll probably see more combinations of check-in and background location functions with the support of Geofencing. Everything that web and tech enthusiastic users have been doing with the likes of Foursquare, Gowalla the past 12 month is nothing compared to how lbs will embrace us in the near future. The Social Web becomes location aware and won’t look the same anymore.

/Martin Weigert

(Illustration: stock.xchng)

8 use cases for the realtime web

We recently wrote about how the realtime web will change the world. And even though we gave some examples of use cases, there are many more scenarios when people will benefit from the realtime web. So here is a certainly not complete list of use cases for the realtime web. Feel free to add more in the comments section.

1. Breaking news and background for media outlets
If something happens today somewhere on planet earth, it is often reported on Twitter first. Usually much earlier than newspapers and TV stations get to know about it. On the other hand, this information from alleged eye witnesses is not always completely reliable, and in general rather incomplete. So the realtime web is not replacing traditional news media, but it is helping them to gather first-hand information and to get a clue about which story could be worth reporting on.

2. Spreading important information
There might be situations when it could be necessary for governments, companies, organizations or citizens to spread a specific information quickly to a huge group of people (within a specific area or country) – just think about Chernobyl or the tsunami in Southeast Asia. The realtime web is the definite tool to make really important news spread like a virus, and that actually could save lives.

3. Organizing events
With the realtime web, people can organize themselves, arranging flash-mobs, spontaneous parties or demonstrations. Apart from the fun factor involved here, this can be a big advantage for non-democratic countries and those parts of the world without freedom of speech. As we have witnessed during the Iranian protests, the realtime web helped citizens to be a step ahead of the authorities and to steer a huge crowd of people.

4. Collective intelligence
The real time web allows for tapping into the collective brain of millions of users. It’s not uncommon on Twitter or Facebook that people ask their contacts/followers public questions about a good restaurant, mobile phone or museum. Or simply about something where they didn’t find the answer on Google. Thanks to the realtime web, there are always people out there listening, and the required information is never far away.

5. Crime prevention
Sometimes people on Twitter re-tweet announcements from either citizens or the police, searching for witnesses of a specific crime. The realtime web helps to spread this information, since it is not part of most user’s daily routine to check the press releases of their local police station.

Of course, the realtime web can also support getting eye witness reports on crimes that have been committed just a few minutes ago, so that people in the vicinity can both be especially careful but also pay attention to suspects. The final result of this could be a higher risk for criminals to get caught, which might prevent a few from actually committing a crime in the first place.

6. Market transparency
Go to Twingly Microblog search, enter the name of any product, and you get an list of people’s opinion about it. Customers use the tools of the realtime web to say what they think about brands and services. The results might not be sophisticated reviews like on specific websites made for product reviews, but aggregated and analysed based on technologies for sentiment analysis, the results can be very helpful for other’s and at least an additional source of information right before a planned purchase. Under the assumption that there are the right tools for extracting the relevant feedback from the stream of status updates, the realtime web can increase the transparency of markets.

7. Find people based on their locations
You can find users from a specific country or city by searching on a Social Network. But that doesn’t guarantee you that they are there right now. And it doesn’t tell you if they have been at a specific location in their city. With the upcoming combination of realtime elements and location features – that even Twitter is taking seriously now – it will be pretty easy to connect with people being at any given location anywhere in the world. So if you are interested in the tweets of someone who is in South Africa following the World Cup, that wouldn’t be a problem anymore. This will even come handy for journalists looking for somebody at the scene of an event to interview.

8. “Social” media
Everyone is speaking about “Social Media” referring to a million different things and tools, but in this specific context, what we mean is that the realtime web makes existing media and media channels become a social experience. Have you ever been on Twitter when there was a big sports event on TV (hard to avoid these worldcup days), or the final show of a popular music television for example? The realtime web enables viewers to comment with their smartphones or notebooks on what they are watching , to share their opinion with other’s and to make the watching experience become social, even though they are sitting in their homes many miles away from each other. With the soon to be launched Google TV project, this type of social media might become a really widespread phenomenon.

To see this in action, you can use Twingly Live to follow the hashtag or keyword of your favourite show, to get a realtime stream of Twitter updates from other viewers.

/Martin Weigert

Illustration: stock.xchng


The future of web and location based apps

We have written before about the rise and competition of location based social networks (lbs) that enable mobile web user to make actions based on their whereabouts, like checking in to a restaurant, club or store, receiving information about nearby locations or seeing where their friends are hanging out.

But the the big question is: Should that be everything? Even if users might benefit from seeing who else is a regular visitor of a location or from knowing that a good friend is close-by, and even if they might get rewards for checking in often at a specific shop, using applications like Foursquare or Gowalla is still mainly a pure fun activity without deeper purpose and nothing that really helps you improving your daily live. I’m sure the majority of lbs users would agree with me on that.

Fortunately we have Robert Scoble, the Silicon Valley uber-geek, who recently wrote a guest article for TechCrunch, outlining his vision of how location based services will work and interact with other apps two years from now. And his ideas are compelling.

Basically, Scoble sees Foursquare as the heart of an ecosystem of apps that serve users in different ways. Instead of just checking in with Foursquare (or any other location based service that you would want to see in Foursquare’s position), the app would be connected through APIs with other web services and could trigger actions on those external tools.

In Scoble’s world, Foursquare could help notify a meeting partner about when he (Scoble) approximately will arrive (via Glympse). It could make Plancast, a “check-in” service for future events, inform Scoble about upcoming events in the immediate vicinity, and it could initiate a concert ticket search with Siri, the personal assistant service bought by Apple.

So instead of users making a lot of manual tasks separated from each other, one app would automatically talk to another app, based on a person’s location.

Scoble continues to explain how this chain reaction of app requests could trigger Yelp, the US review site, to search for popular and positively reviewed restaurants close to the concert venue. Afterwards, he would count on Blippy and Expensify to provide credit card statements and expense reports.

What Scoble describes is the end of the “information silos”, which means all those neat web services many of us are using on a daily basis, but that don’t talk to each other, and that can’t leverage the information and data we are spreading on the web, since it is pushed into information silos and can’t get out there anymore.

Actually you don’t need to be Robert Scoble to see all this happening. The whole process has started years ago when the first consumer focused web tools got developer APIs. APIs are the tools that help to open and tear down the information silos. Service A will be able talk to service B which could connect to service C. Suddenly all the information you gave service B can be accessed by A and C – if you authorized them – and they can learn about your preferences and interests. Suddenly a check-in at Foursquare would be much more meaningful, because Yelp (as an example) could use this information to improve its own results, to adjust them to you and to provide you with assistance without you even having to enter a manual search query on their website.

Location based services would allow for a much more personalized web experience, and they could make people’s everyday life much easier.

But as everything, there is a flip side, too. One challenge is that since many services are connected and relying on each other, if one part of the system fails, the rest would be affected as well. The more parties and APIs are involved, the higher the risk that at any given time, at least one would be struggling.

A second concern is more a theoretical one. But I wonder what it would mean for mankind if people “outsource” more and more task to machines. Could it happen that we lose our capabilities of managing and handling the most simple issues because we have gotten used to that they are taken care of by computers?

I’m not sure if this actually is something to be concerned about. But it might be worth a thought. In any case, connected web apps have the potential to increase our quality of life in many ways. So I’m looking forward to 2012!

/Martin Weigert

(Illustration: stock.xchng)

How the realtime web changes the world

At Twingly, we are big fans of the realtime web. Well, that shouldn’t come as a surprise since some of our services are built around it – like Twingly Live and Twingly Channels.

The interesting thing with the realtime web is that it is more and more becoming an integral part of the web. People are taking for granted that it is there, without thinking about it. While the term “realtime web” always has been used mainly by web enthusiasts and geeks, the idea of user generated content published in (near) realtime through platforms like Twitter, Facebook or others that allow for instant status updates and search, has spilled over into the Internet mainstream. Considering that Facebook is close to reach 500 million active users and having in mind that the social network encourages people to publish content to the public, it’s very likely that the publicly accessible realtime web is now being populated by hundreds of millions of people.

The contribution of web users all over the world to the continuous stream of information has become an important part of many people’s web usage. And search engines and services like Twitter Search, Snap BirdOneRiot, Tweetmeme, Openbook or even Google and Bing enable anyone to tap into this realtime stream, to see what people are talking right now, which links they are sharing – yes, in fact even to get an overview about the mood of people, right now and by looking back and aggregating status updates.

While most people are aware of the new possibilities and usage patterns triggered by social networks, blogging and microblogging, I’m not sure if everyone has thought about the consequences all this could have on societies and economies.

It’s worth to take a minute and to think about the way the realtime web is changing the world. That sounds like big words, but it might not be exaggerated. The realtime web makes it possible for people to organize without formal leader. We have seen in a few non-democratic countries how Twitter was used as a tool to avoid censorship, to spread news and to inform about upcoming demonstrations and protests. With the realtime web, people can organize faster. Really fast – and as some unofficial street parties in France show, in a way that the authorities have problems to adjust. Imagine what this could mean on a bigger scale. If suddenly and without any previous planning a million people would gather on a city’s main square, after reading about it on Twitter 30 minutes before. A really big flash mob. That’s a power of the people even western societies are not used to.

I don’t want to claim that the realtime web already has made the world more democratic, but it at least has the chance to do so. And it definitely creates transparency. In any second, you can use a variety of technologies to receive people’s honest realtime feedback on products, services and events. Last time everyone could witness this was on Saturday’s final of the Eurovision Song Contest. Following the #esc hashtag on Twitter was almost more fun than watching the show.

Even if you cannot be sure that everything you read is true, the social connections between people and the way they earn trust over time by being a reliable and authentic source of information and opinion acts as a filter, ensuring that not every stupid rumour is going viral.

On the other hand, that’s not always enough. There have been so many occasions when people falsely were said to have died. Those kind of stories do not always come from Twitter or other realtime services, but rather from mainstream media and gossip sites. Still, with the realtime web, they are spreading much faster and reaching people who otherwise never would read celebrity sites or questionable tabloids.

I think it is necessary to highlight that there is a risk involved in the realtime web. A risk that the combination of global connections and weak filters can lead to misinformation’s on a large scale, which could spark unrest or even panic. Especially in a situation where a really bad news is hitting the web, not all people necessarily think about fact-checking or going to another, renowned newspaper site to get a confirmation before sharing the news. So I don’t think it is too far fetch to expect some major case of global misinformation caused by the realtime web. But that’s maybe what needs to happen to make people realize what power the realtime web gave them as a crowd. And fortunately and despite the uncertainty regarding the future of journalism, there will always be professional journalists who can correct false reports or complete incomplete information spreading on the realtime web. That’s one of the main tasks future journalists will have to work with.

Even though there are some question marks about if the realtime web in fact could cause trouble to people, in my eyes the advantages and opportunities are prevailing. More democracy and more transparency could at least in theory lead to a better and more honest world. It’s up to us to make it become real in practice, too.

/Martin Weigert

(Illustration: stock.xchng)

8 essential tools for enhancing and improving your Twitter experience

There are tens of thousands of applications for enhancing and improving the Twitter experience. But the tricky part is to find them, since Twitter does not offer an app store. App discovery is definitely one of Twitter’s Achilles heels. To make it easier for you, here is a selection of 8 browser applications everyone who is using Twitter, both for private or professional purpose, might enjoy. These are – apart from Twitter clients that we don’t focus on in this post – pretty essential tools that help you to use Twitter in a more efficient, effective and fun way.

Feel free to let us know in the comments which Twitter apps you wouldn’t want to live without.

Snap Bird
Snap Bird is an incredibly useful Twitter search engine. Yes, Twitter has its own search, but for some reason it doesn’t let you search through tweets that are older than a week or so. This is where Snap Bird has its strength: It let’s you search through the complete Twitter timeline of any Twitter user, either yourself or others. Furthermore you can search through all the tweets that were directed to you, through all the direct messages you sent and those you received. For each search you make you get a permanent link in case you want to show the results to somebody else. Snap Bird is a great tool, especially for those people who use Twitter to “bookmark” their thoughts and links, and who want to find that specific URL they posted on Twitter in summer 2009.

ManageFlitter
Formerly known as ManageTwitter, this tool is your ultimate follower manager for Twitter. After connecting to your personal account, you can use ManageFlitter to get a list of the people you follow based on a bunch of different criteria. You can see at a glance who of those people is not following you back, doesn’t have a profile picture, hasn’t tweeted for a long time, has a posting frequency far higher than the average or is unusually quiet. And for all those criteria, the service allows for bulk or selective unfollowing. You could either choose to unfollow everyone who does not follow you back, or just a few of them, for example.

Bettween
Even if that’s not recommended, sometimes two people have some kind of longer conversation on Twitter, packaged in a couple of 140 character tweets. That might be boring for you, or it might be a really interesting exchange of thoughts. If the latter is the case, you maybe would want to show the discussion in your blog and comment on it, or you are one of the two people involved in the Twitter conversation and would like to publish it somewhere else. Bettween helps you with that. You just enter the names of the two Twitter users and Bettween presents you with a threaded view of the conversation including a permanent link. You could also create a screenshot of the conversation to embed it on an external site.

Trendrr
If you are working in the media, marketing or web business, chances are good that you are interested in statistics surrounding specific keywords on Twitter. Trendrr is a great free service for this purpose. You enter a keyword and Trendrr then gives you a variety of graphs and analytics regarding the keyword, for example the number of tweets containing the word over a specific time period. Trendrr also tracks other platforms like Facebook, Last.fm and Delicious. Every search is visualized and offered as widget to embed on any external site. Really useful!

Klout
It’s not a secret that people on Twitter like to compare themselves to other users, to see how much influence they have, how many people they reach with their tweets and so on. Most Twitter users are vain. Klout helps them to live that out. After you have entered a Twitter username, the service does some algorithm and analytics magic and shows you some figures and statistics about the influence of that respective user. The main figure is the “Klout Score”, a measurement of an user’s overall online influence on Twitter. Of course, this is nothing that you can go around and tell everyone, since no one really knows how relevant the Klout Score in the end actually is. But for all users active on Twitter it could be interesting to see how much influence Klout thinks they actually have, and how they compare to their peers.

TweetStats
You want to know if you used Twitter more heavily half a year ago? Or which day of the week you publish most tweets? Or what time of the day you are most likely not to tweet? Then you should check out TweetStats, because this tool tells you all this, and even a little bit more, visualized in useful and easy to understand graphs. It’s a lot of fun and might tell you some surprising background about your personal Twitter behaviour.

Twingly Live
At Twingly we are very humble, which is why we mention our own Twingly Live service only in the end of this list. Imagine there is some specific event or keyword you would like to monitor and to see what people are saying about it on Twitter. But you don’t want to refresh the Twitter search all the time, you want to see the results in real time, AND you want to embed this as a widget into any blog or website. Twingly Live let’s you do exactly this. Click here, create your Twingly Live channel for a specific keyword or hashtag, and you are set. It’s really easy.

Google Reader (or any other RSS feed)
You are probably wondering how Google Reader (or any other RSS reader you are using) has made it onto this list. Yes, it is no real Twitter tool. And still, any RSS reader can help you to improve your Twitter experience and to help you monitor what’s being said on Twitter. It’s easy and very efficient: Go the the Twitter search and enter your Twitter username. On the result page, get the RSS feed URL and subscribe to it in Google Reader. For some reason, most Twitter clients don’t show you all the replies and retweets you are getting. Why is unclear, but a useful work around is to subscribe to the feed with your username in Google Reader or other RSS readers. By doing that you will get all the @replies and retweets for your username, and you can be sure to not miss anything anymore. Of course you can subscribe to any other keyword or phrase you would like to monitor in the RSS reader of your choice.

/Martin Weigert

t-online.de connects with bloggers!

The biggest German general interest portal t-online.de started to reach out to bloggers!

Since a couple of days there is a little Twingly-box with linking blog posts to the down-right hand side of each news article.

And there are a lot of top news to link to – from the smallest electrical driven car to name dramas and the latest gossip around the German football team in the World Championship to come.

So take the opportunity and be part of one of Germany’s largest websites – we hope you get lots of new readers by linking to t-online.de!

As for us, we are just very proud to support t-online.de’s social media strategy and look forward to a strong and successful partnership.