Location ain’t everything (or, how you’re ruining Twitter)

February 14, 2010

Edelman Digital’s David Armano recently tweeted out a thought that pretty much sums up Twitter’s future:

It’s unlikely people will abandon networks unless they become so polluted we have no choice.

Twitter can be pretty awesome. I use it every day to catch up on local news, national news and tech news. In the past couple of weeks I’ve found a service I needed desperately, gotten some help with some tricky code, donated some cash to help fund childhood cancer research and even helped answer some InDesign questions. It’s the quickest, easiest way to crowd source, to track zeit geist and just see what people are talking about. It’s a good place to make connections (folks all over are holding tweetups to meet Twitter friends in real life) and it’s an even better place to go when you just want to scream into the void — when you have nobody to talk to but yourself.

Because of all of those things, Twitter is addictive. And when something’s as addictive as Twitter, Armano is right: Users are unlikely to walk away.  But Armano would be more accurate if he said “People will abandon the network when it becomes so polluted we have no choice.”

Enter foursquare, Gowalla, and the “check-in” phenomenon.

You could already argue that Twitter is a cesspool. Besides the bots, spammers, automated feeds and the like, there are too many people who still fill feeds with what they’re eating for dinner, what physical activity they’re partaking in or where they’re doing their laundry. Do. Not. Want. If this is you, you will be unfollowed. Let’s add to that crowd the number of PR, SM and SEO types who talk incessantly about Twitter, as if anyone with 1,000 followers or more is suddenly qualified a social media expert. And while we’re at it, let’s add the fake celebrity tweeps. I have no problem with celebrities on Twitter; I hate spokespeople for celebrities on Twitter.

If you add all that up, Twitter is already headed to that deep, dark place MySpace and Facebook entered a few years ago — that pit of despair filled with spammers, porn and slimeballs peddling junk.

But you can add to that mix the location-based check-in games, which MySpace never had.

Frankly, I don’t care where you’re having dinner. I don’t care that you’re at the airport. I don’t care that you’re at the grocery store. I will not be meeting you there, and no part of me is grateful for the knowledge of your location. I don’t care that you’re the mayor of Starbucks on Main Avenue and I don’t care who you ousted to get that title.

I skim Twitter for thoughts, recommendations, ideas. I’m looking for things that are actionable. The most annoying thing ever is “I’m at Taste of Philly” and a link…that takes me to a foursquare page. Here’s what I like: “Taste of Philadelphia has the best cheesesteaks in Syracuse!” Maybe link me to a photo of the sandwich you’re about to devour. Next time I’m out to lunch I might give the place a try, and I’ll credit you with the recommendation.

The point is there’s nothing inherently interesting about what a person is doing or where they are. The interesting part is what they’re thinking…how they view the particular place or activity. Think of it this way: Do you call your mom, best friend, significant other every time you walk into a building? Of course not. Don’t do that to your Twitter followers either. It’s lame, and it pollutes my stream. I know, I know: “If you don’t like it, don’t follow me.”

Okay. You’re unfollowed.


This guy threatened to kill me.

June 8, 2009

I was outside my office Friday, testing out a video camera, the last time my life was threatened.

As I swept the lens across the streetscape, a shirtless “gentleman” rode his bicycle through my field of vision. I didn’t even notice him. He asked if I was pointing a camera at him. I turned off the camera. What followed was a string of expletives aimed at me, including this gem:

“If my picture shows up on the Internet, I will hunt you down and I will kill you.”

Awesome.

So, here’s the offending video:

I don’t put this up because I want to be hunted down or, indeed, killed. I do, however, want to clear up a few misconceptions this gentleman, and many others as well, have about privacy. I’ll go through his argument point by point. I will leave out the curse words.

1. “It is illegal to point a camera at someone without their permission.”

Wrong. I can legally point a camera at whomever I’d like. Furthermore, most of us are caught on camera several times a day, at stores, street corners, gas stations and ATMs. Consent is not necessary.

2. “This is an invasion of my privacy.”

Wrong again. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy on a public street. That’s why it’s called public. If I want to, I can take your picture and run it anywhere I’d like — on the front page of a newspaper or magazine, on my website. I can’t use it in ads or commercials, but as many newspapers do, I can sell prints of your image. The copyright holder — the guy with all the rights — is me.

Want to know something that will bug you even more? It’s entirely legal for me to take pictures of you in your house! If I can see you from the street, I can take your picture. I’m not allowed on your property, but if you happen to be washing your unmentionables in front of your livingroom picture window, you’re fair game.

3. “I’ll call the cops and have your camera confiscated.”

Wrong. There is a clause in our Constitution that protects against illegal search and seizure. My property cannot be taken from me without either a warrant or “probable cause.” If the police have no reason to believe I’ve broken the law, they cannot detain me, search me or take my property without my consent.

4. “We’ll see what my attorney has to say about this.”

No we won’t. Perhaps you will hear what he has to say, but I believe you’ll be sorely disappointed. And I doubt you’ll want to fill me in when your lawyer tells you to get out of his office.

If I seem a little bent about this, I apologize. I don’t mean to sound rude. It was, however, more than a little upsetting to be treated that way. I explained to him that I wasn’t using the footage for anything, that I was only testing the camera, and that I planned to throw the footage away. I even explained that I didn’t actually intend to film him — he rode through my shot. None of those things mattered, though.

So, I have thrown out the rest of the footage. I am, however, preserving the bit above for posterity.

Way to go, guy. Hope it was worth it.