Twitter Search: The real-time pulse of the world

In an unadvertised corner among Twitter’s servers is a site that allows users to capture the real-time pulse of the world on any phrase, topic, or idea.

It is known as Twitter Search, and it provides an interface with Google-like simplicity for discovering what people are saying about anything from the Tiger Woods debacle (ack!) to health-care legislation (or the lack thereof).

The best part is that Twitter has built in feed capabilities to the site.

A large part of Twitter’s power stems from its ability to aggregate mass sentiment from the public sphere (largely because of its 140-character limit). We seek to connect with the world, especially with large events such as the Super Bowl or the Olympics. Twitter Search allows us to focus more clearly on certain aspects of the public psyche.

With the RSS capability, Web designers can develop a variety of tools — whether it be a simple update widget or more complex mash-ups — to understand how the public is engaging on a particular topic or issue.

NBC tapped into this function to create an Olympic Twitter tracker, which gauges in real-time what people are saying about Olympic stars and events.

Combined with word clouds, the tracker offers a creative interface for navigating Twitter’s Olympic conversation. And NBC smartly incorporates an easy-to-update Twitter interface with a link to its tracker. What better way to become part of the public sphere than making it easy to spread the word?

Google Buzz: A social-media remix

At first, Google Buzz seems like any other status-updating service.

BuzzYou find friends and followers, and you merrily post real-time thoughts and messages to them. You can respond to other notes, as you would using the @reply function in Twitter, and your comments appear in a thread like Facebook. In the mobile version, you can use geolocation like Foursquare.

But integrate it with Google Reader, Picasa, and Gmail, and Google Buzz becomes a formidable social-media remix.

One warning: If you have a Gmail account, Buzz is automatically turned on. There is no opt-in. You have to adjust the setting to turn this feature off. With all of today’s privacy concerns, this invasion seems unconscionable.

Turn off Buzz

To turn it off, scroll to the bottom of your Gmail screen and find the tiny “turn off buzz” link. 

Here are the intriguing parts of Buzz I’ve discovered thus far:

Comment control

Google Buzz adds some of the privacy features that Facebook has included for its status updates. You can choose “Public” if you want the whole world to see your words; “Private” allows you to select which of your followers to include on the message.

Public/Private Choice

The ability to post and see pictures is also built into the status updater. And you can reply to comments, which do not appear to have a length limit, and see the entire commenting thread.

Geolocation

Buzz on the iPhone

I find this feature the most interesting and in some ways, the most disconcerting. When you access Google Buzz via cell phone, you click on the “Nearby” button to see who is around you. You can also see the trail of comments that people have left at that location (as you can in Foursquare).

You, too, can leave comments at the scene for the public to discover.

Have a favorite drink or menu item at a restaurant? Leave a recommendation for others to find. By combining this function.

You can also use the Google Maps function to find others around you, as you would with other geolocation services. Before agreeing to send your location to Google, be aware that everyone will be able to see you.

Easy integration with other services

The link to Gmail makes it easy to find friends quickly, and you can integrate your Twitter and blog streams into your Buzz. It also connects to your other Google services, such as Blogger and Google Reader. Star an article in Google Reader, and you can share it in Buzz.

I prefer keeping my streams separate, updating different items in different places. Yes, it’s less efficient, but I’m a firm believer in active engagement. Updating in several places at once seems akin to the Christmas-card form letter — useful but not very personal.

Buzz appears to have more potential than Google Wave, which offered intriguing conferencing possibilities. However, without a large membership — you had to be invited to try the beta — its utility seemed limited.

Do we need yet another social-media service to master? Some of my friends and colleagues say no.

But I think this remix may make an appearance on the charts.

A new blog — and Part III: What the Dell?

My customer-service debacle with Dell has inspired me to create a new blog dedicated to chronicling tales of customer service.

For those following the “What the Dell?” saga, Part III is available on the site, called The Intrepid Whiner.

I hope you’ll share your tales there as well. Maybe together, we can get the corporate mucks to listen.

Obama’s speech: Watching the new journalism in action

Obama’s State of the Union address
(Word size indicates how often Obama said it)

Today, journalists have to do more than merely chronicle what was said.

The multimedia tools at their disposal allow stories to be told creatively, interactively. In today’s environment, the best news organizations are allowing readers and viewers to discover “stories” in innovative ways.

Take President Obama’s State of the Union address. Instead of a standard story recap, reaction, and analysis, the “story” unfolds in layers today:

  • You can watch the speech unfiltered, without the chatter of network anchors, either at C-SPAN (the nonprofit cooperative of cable companies) or direct from the White House.
  • You can use Wordle.net to see at a glance the keywords of the speech. The Guardian took such an approach to compare Obama’s speech to those of previous presidents.
  • You can search the transcript at the New York Times and see what people were saying in real time, as the speech was unfolding.
  • You can check the BS meter through several fact-checking sites such as Politifact and FactCheck.org to determine whether the president or the Republican respondent was bending the truth more.

It is no longer enough to recount the story. Those organizations that understand how to cultivate the sense of discovery will be the ones to survive.