Saturday, March 28, 2009

ghost tweeters

Twitter may be limited to only 140 characters, but that hasn't stopped some celebs from hiring their own ghost tweeters. Props to Shaq and Lance for staying real, but 50 cent, Kanye and Britney? Not real(ly).

I have to admit that I've never understood the allure of Twitter. I guess you can argue that the phenomenon provides an interesting study in cultural anthropology. In any case, it's a great way for someone famous (or somewhat famous) to keep the dialogue with friends and fans. And for fans, there's something pleasant about the faint connection with that celeb you think you know. Which is why the idea of having a ghost tweeter just strikes all the wrong chords. 

That Twitter has become a powerful marketing tool for brands, I totally understand. What brand doesn't want another means for speaking directly, intimately and openly to their consumers? So while Joseph Nejman, former Britney consultant, can cry hypocrisy when he argues -- "It's O.K. to tweet for a brand, but not O.K. for a celebrity. But the truth is, they are a brand." -- I'm just not buying it.

The point of social media is to have "real" conversations. This includes both companies as brands and celebrities. It is O.K. for people employed by a company to tweet on behalf of their brand (as long as they disclose their affiliation, of course) -- after all, companies are rarely about just one individual. But, the celebrity brand is all about the individual. So while some celebs might want to cower behind fake tweets, it might help to know that only real tweets by a real person ultimately make for a real brand. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Q&A on wiki day

Today is the 14th anniversary of the very first wiki. To celebrate I've invited Sarah Rudolph, an editor at Marketswiki - an open source for financial market information - for a brief Q&A. Sarah will give us some insight into the process of creating and editing Marketwiki articles, as well as some of the challenges they face. I know she has been super busy and her responses couldn't have come at a better time. Sarah - thanks for taking the time!

Q: How did the idea of creating a Marketswiki develop?

SR: My boss, John Lothian, felt there was a need for one large knowledge base for information about the financial industry--focusing on exchange trading, derivatives, over-the-counter markets and environmental markets. There is a lot of information out there, but he felt it would be useful to aggregate it all in one place. He wanted it to be open source, like Wikipedia, but more closely monitored, with contributing and editing restricted to people who are experts on the markets. So besides a staff of paid editors who are all long-time financial journalists, only those who subscribe to The John Lothian Newsletter can actually get in and edit pages on Marketswiki. Anyone can access the information, however.

Q. Can you explain your role at Marketswiki and the process of editing article entries? For example, how quickly does the community's self-correction process kick-in when a problem is identified?

SR: Along with the other 4-6 editors working at Marketswiki (the number has varied since we began the project), I am responsible for putting information into the wiki, fact checking, and editing my own and other people's entries. It is a very collaborative effort. We are always looking at each others' work and that of other contributors. (The editing process is transparent--all the editorial changes are recorded, so everyone knows what changes have been made and who made them.) Also, we are always talking to people in the industry--exchange leaders, heads of technology and software companies, traders, etc. Most of them have seen Marketswiki and often have information to add or change. If we hear of something that needs fixing, we almost always fix it immediately.

Q. How does an article page start on Marketswiki? Do editors create entries or do they only edit articles that have been created by others? If editors also create articles, how do they go about selecting a topic?

SR: From the beginning, the Marketswiki team (which includes John Lothian, who has been in the financial industry for many years) have created all the article pages. The editors who first seeded the wiki had spent years working at and/or reporting on the exchanges, in particular the Chicago futures and options exchanges. They put a lot of work into initial articles on those exchanges, and many of the important companies and people in the industry. There are a great many ways we select topics--at first the editors tried to lay down a base of crucial industry players, terms, and we can get inspiration from the news, from finding gaps (red links) in other articles and filling them in, from talking to industry people, and just from noticing what's missing.

Q. What are some of the challenges of having an open, collaborative format like Marketswiki?

SR: It is challenging getting people to contribute. However, we try to make it as easy as possible: we go to company offices and demonstrate how it works, from the technical aspects to our editorial policies (we use AP style, for example). Of course it's challenging to find the best and most up-to-date information and make sure it's correct.

Q. I recently interviewed law professor Eric Goldman who said that Wikipedia cannot be both high-quality and freely editable - it has to choose one or the other. What is your take on this?

SR: I won't say anything about Wikipedia--for all I know, it can be both--but our model is to aim for the high quality and not make it freely editable. We do want people in the industry to participate--the more the better--but we feel our model is much less susceptible to vandalism, slanted articles, and dandelions.

Q. Despite the fact that Marketswiki is different from Wikipedia in that it [Marketwikis] is powered by paying subscribers, do you sometimes come across some dandelions? Can you share one?

SR: Not too many real dandelions come to mind. I guess the worst one we had was when an intern who apparently didn't really understand the process copied and pasted an entire Wikipedia entry in as an article on MW. AND it was one that had been designated as suspect because it had no references in it. The article was immediately deleted and replaced, and my boss explained to the intern that we don't use Wikipedia as a reference. We do try to use a number of different references for each article.

Q. What are your three FAVORITE dandelions?'s hard to think of them! How about the last three things Bill O'Reilly said?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

fair and balanced?

Fox News seems to be spreading some dandelions of its own lately. First they defended Aaron Klein's fake Wikiepedia entry about Obama's birth certificate, and then last week they aired an old clip of Joe Biden that they tried to pass as new. This week, Fox News' Trace Gallagher said that the Dow was up 28 points when President Obama began his stimulus package speech and dropped to -28 by the time his speech was over. But, this just wasn't true.

The video from DailyKosTV shows that during President Obama's speech the Dow actually gained six points. After starting at -34, it ended at -28 points by the time he was finished. Never mind that it is completely ridiculous to tie Obama's speeches to our gyrating markets. What's most disturbing is Fox News' motto: "Fair & Balanced." Unfortunately, I don't see a lot of fair and balanced when it comes to Obama. I mostly see dandelions.

I guess this is what Stanford U's Robert Proctor meant by agnotology. I can only imagine that the next time I see my mother (a Fox fan and Sean Hannity devotee) she'll bring up this dandelion Dow as a way to say she told me so. And even if I tell her it just wasn't true, it will already have been too late.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

ebay's fakes

Unlike a lot of women (and men) I know, I am not a shopper. Ok, maybe I'll do the very occasional, irrational spending spree - usually when I'm feeling rebellious - but I've never gotten a thrill from scoring a bargain. I do, however, know many people for whom bargain hunting is a sort of therapy - for them, eBay is almost always the first place they'll go. But buyer beware.

As Tiffany vs. eBay goes to the U.S. Court of Appeals, eBay reveals some pretty alarming stats about their counterfeit goods problem. According to Nicola Sharpe, eBay's spokesperson, 2.1 million listings were removed in 2008 and 30,000 sellers suspended for hawking fakes. That's a whole lot of dandelions. While I know my friends are savvy and will know how to tell between a fake and the real thing, some fakes are so well made that it's difficult to distinguish.

I don't think that the blame should fall on eBay, so I don't agree with the lawsuit. It's almost impossible for eBay to police counterfeits - in addition to having 2.7 billion live listings globally over a year, it's also not the business they're in. Sharpe did continue to say that 100% of reported listings were removed from the site last year, and usually within 12 hours. So, there is some consolation for my bargain loving friends. While it may turn out that one or two of their bargains weren't bargains after all, at least these fashion dandelions don't go unnoticed.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

a-twitter about premium access

Despite the fact that Twitter doesn't actually make any money, there has been a lot of (every day) fuss over it lately. Even the company has acknowledged that they're not quite sure how to generate revenue, which doesn't bode well for the future of Twitter at all.

Back in January, Silicon Alley Insider hosted "Create Twitter's Revenue Model" contest and received some pretty compelling entries. But I have to say that none was more entertaining than the fabulous little dandelion that had Tweeters all a-twitter today.

Brian Briggs of BBspot - a tweeter himself - writes that Twitter co-founder Evan Williams announced a new business plan around premium access accounts. Premium access looks something like this:
  • Sparrow ($5/month) – Users get 145 character limit, 5 extra random followers.
  • Dove ($15/month) – Users get 160 character limit, 25 extra random followers, 1 random celebrity follower, auto-spell check, "Fail Whale" T-shirt.
  • Owl ($50/month) – Users get 250 character limit, 100 extra random followers, 2 random celebrity followers, 30 minutes on recommended list, auto-spell check, "Fail Whale" hoodie.
  • Eagle ($250/month) – Users get 500 character limit, 1000 extra random followers, 3 celebrity followers of their choice, 5 hours on recommended list each month, Twitter Concierge for Tweeting while user is asleep or busy (and more), auto-spell check, "Fail Whale" tuxedo, custom "Fail Whale" page when service is down.

Nevermind that this seems highly unlikely, it still had people thinking that the plan "could really change things." If only.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Is the web making us smarter or are we more ignorant than ever? With so many facts at our digital fingertips, access to information to gain a deeper understanding of just about anything, you would think that we have more knowledge. But with all the dandelions in cyberspace - like the latest fumbled attempt about Obama's citizenship - perhaps the argument that we've entered a "disinformation revolution" actually has some merit.

Robert Proctor, a Stanford U historian of science and technology, believes the more we know the more uncertain we are. He coined the term "agnotology," which is the study of "culturally-induced ignorance." Proctor testified against the tobacco industry in the late 90's and cited the tobacco industry's attempt to suppress information about the cancerous risks of tobacco consumption as an example of agnotology. He argues that special interest groups seed doubt because it's in their interest to suppress the truth. Hence, those dandelions about Obama being a Muslim, or the tragic rumor about global warming not caused by man, are actually attempts by special interests to create utter confusion so that we reach a point where we just "stop caring about what's true and what's not."

We're not all doomed to ignorance though. Although one can argue that the internet has "inherently agnotological side effects" I believe that it actually does a good job of nurturing awareness and knowledge. The good news about the web is that bad seeds are almost always exposed, and rather quickly I might add. The bad news: it's hard to reverse ignorance, especially when that bad seed has already spread.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

promoting harmony

Creating dandelions are hardly ever done for good cause, except of course when promoting "harmony." The grass-mud horse could very well be one of the most ingenious dandelions ever created - not only has it gained widespread popularity in China, from children to intellectuals, it could also be the catalyst for an inevitable shift in Chinese power.

This mythical creature has become something of a phenomenon since it first started circulating on the web in January. The fake "grass-mud horse" was created to slip past rigid Chinese government censors since the word sounds awfully close to "f**k your mother" in Chinese, which of course is totally taboo. Now it has become a sort of icon of Chinese resistance. A video children's song, grass-mud horse dolls (see photo below), and even academic papers have sprung up to celebrate the fantastically creepy animal. Watch the video of the children's song.

The grass-mud horse - actually an alpaca - lives in the "Ma Le Ge Bi" desert, which apparently is a subtle variation on "your mother's vagina." The horses' biggest obstacle is defeating the nasty "river crabs" devouring their land. Another pun, "river crabs" sound like "harmony," which in China has become synonymous with censorship. According to the New York Times, banned bloggers often say they've been "harmonized," which pokes fun at their government's censorship as a way of promoting a harmonious society (I imagine the word "censor" might also be banned). In the end, through their "courageous, tenacious" spirit, the grass-mud horses defeat the "river crabs" (censorship) to live happily ever after in "Ma Le Ge Bi" (your mother's you know what).

Pretty clever, right? As Boing Boing says, it's "definitely best misheard lyrics since 'wrapped up like a douche bag in the middle of the night.'" Yeah, you totally know what I mean.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

creating dandelions about dandelions

As if life isn’t confusing enough. Valleywag writes that Aaron Klein, WorldNetDaily's Jerusalem bureau chief and frequent contributor for Fox News, just created a fake scandal about a fake scandal.

Klein reports how one “Jerusalem21” was given a three-day Wikipedia suspension for challenging Obama's identity by editing the Obama page – which was removed in an impressive 2 minutes – with the following faux birth-certificate entry:
"There have been some doubts about whether Obama was born in the U.S. after the politician refused to release to the public a carbon copy of his birth certificate and amid claims from his relatives he may have been born in Kenya. Numerous lawsuits have been filed petitioning Obama to release his birth certificate, but most suits have been thrown out by the courts.”
According to Klein, Wikipedia considers this to be “fringe theory,” hence their reason for banning it. But, Fox News picked up on the story today and now it’s making waves on the web.

The real story here, however, has nothing to do with Wikipedia or Obama at all. “Jerusalem21,” our ex-communicated Wikipedia editor, is more than likely Aaron Klein himself, your trusted WND journalist and Fox News interviewee, who just decided to create a dandelion about a dandelion. Talk about challenging identity.

I don't know any newspaper or media channel that would let this kind of deliberate dandelion making slide. And I'm happy to know that Wikipedia does have some pretty stringent standards in place. Maybe they aren't so "high quality," but then again certain media outlets - ahem, Fox - can't claim to be either.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

turning dandelions into budding flowers

The pizza was soooo greasy. I am assuming this was in part due to the pig fat.”

A few days ago I wrote about the dandelions at Yelp. This past week, the New York Times dug a little deeper and now it seems that Yelp is getting some of its dandelions blown right back.

Since I don’t have both sides of the story, I can’t actually claim what local businesses have – that Yelp posts negative reviews or removes positive ones when businesses decline to advertise. But, what’s interesting is how one local business has found a genius way to fight back. Rather than go after Yelp’s dandelions in the digital forum, Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco has taken the battle to the real world.

Staffers at Delifina are now proudly wearing printed t-shirts with negative reviews the pizzeria has received from Yelp users, or perhaps Yelp itself. Some of Delfina's favorite one star reviews have made it on the tees, like "The pizza was soooo greasy. I am assuming this was in part due to the pig fat,” or "This place sucks."

So, while local businesses can’t actually respond to any of the claims made on Yelp’s forums, nor can they take anyone to court, they can take the matter on for themselves. And the tees are apparently a hit with Yelp users, which just shows that all it takes is a bit of creativity to turn those dandelions into budding flowers. Bravo Delfina!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

dandelions about you

A co-worker of mine recently googled her name and came across a myspace page that said she was a “fucking whore.” She totally flipped. The myspace profile belongs to somebody else with the same name (it really does), so unfortunately there’s not much she can do about it. But what about those false claims on the web about the real you? Well, it seems it’s not so easy to get those down either.

Mark Cutts, head of Google's Webspam team, recently wrote about “Why Google won’t remove that webpage you don’t like.” He says that regardless of whether Google takes down the page, it still exists in the wider web. (Yes, Google is not the only search engine.) So if someone is posting major dandelions, spinning and twisting your words, he offers two ways to fix it:
1) Either contact whoever put up webpage B and convince them to modify or to take the page down.
2) Or if the page is doing something against the law, get a court to agree with you and force webpage B to be removed or changed.
I can’t say I’m keen on either option merely because the end result is not up to you. In option 1 you’re pleading with mr snarky, anonymous poster for retracting something he said that you claim is untrue. What does he care? And in option 2, you’re left with paying a lawyer plenty of money to plead to a court that may or may not judge in your favor. Think of all the money and time you could potentially lose because of mr snarky! So, why be dependent on others when you can take the matter on yourself?

I find that the best way of catching the dandelion is by exposing the false claim on your own site (that’s the beauty of the web) and making snarky, anonymous poster regret he ever messed with you. What I wouldn’t do is ignore it completely or rely on others to do it for you.