Five Retweet Abuses

Sure, it’s easy to retweet someone else’s tweet. But are you overdoing it?

Twitter logoI’ve been on twitter for more than three years now and have sent more than 22,000 tweets into the Twitterverse. These are a mix of the usual inane comments, bits of wisdom, meal reports, witty remarks (or my attempts at witty remarks), links to interesting content, and retweets of other people’s tweets.

It’s the retweeting habit of Twitter users that I want to address here.

A retweet, in case you’re not familiar with the term, is a tweet that someone else wrote that is echoed to the Twitterverse. Retweets come in two flavors:

  • Old-style retweets include the letters RT or via followed by the originator’s Twitter name. For example:
    Old Style RT
    or
    Old-style Retweet
  • Official Twitter retweets appear to come from the originator, but they were retweeted by someone you follow. Thus, they wind up in your timeline from the account of the originator, even if you don’t follow that person. Here’s an example:
    Retweet

I could go into a lecture on which method is better (official retweet, in case you’re wondering), but I’ll save that for another post. Right now, I’m more concerned with how much people retweet and what they are retweeting.

This is where I get into some hot water with some Twitter friends. You see, what prompted this post was the complete retweet abuse I’m seeing on Twitter among a handful of people I follow. I don’t mean to point fingers, so I won’t mention any Twitter names. But if you’re one of the people repeatedly committing one of the following abuses, you know who you are.

  • Retweeting more than you tweet. If you consistently retweet other people’s content more than you create your own original tweets, take a moment to consider why you are on Twitter. Is it your purpose to simply echo the words and links of the people you follow? There are Twitter bots that can do that automatically and they’re only slightly more annoying. Why should anyone follow you if nearly everything you tweet has its source elsewhere? (And if the rest of your tweets are from Foursquare, do yourself a favor and just drop out of Twitter now, before someone has to kill you.)
  • Retweeting content that just isn’t interesting to the majority of your followers — or many people on the planet. You may think the latest Latin language release of the Open Source project, thingamabobwhatchamacallit widget plugin, is the most fascinating thing on the planet. But do you really think your followers agree? And if they did, don’t you think they’d be actively following the same sources of information about that project that you are? Retweeting stuff that few people care about only raises the noise to signal ratio on Twitter. And who likes noise? A corollary to this is retweeting local area content when you have only a few local followers. Your 724 non-local followers don’t really care that the corner antique clothing store is having a big sale on Tuesday. Or that your next door neighbor’s cat has gone missing. Or that there’s a fire/flood/tornado/locust warning for your county. If we wanted local area information on Twitter, we’d follow the same kinds of local information sources you follow — but for our areas.
  • Retweeting other people’s references to your Twitter account. Okay, so @yourbiggestfan tickled your fancy by tweeting about how much he liked your latest book/blog post/tweet/haircut. Do you know how dorky and self-centered you look by retweeting his gushy tweet? Isn’t Twitter narcissistic enough by giving you an opportunity to brag about yourself? Do you really think it’s necessary to retweet the nice things other people say about you, too? Ick.
  • Retweeting the tweets and retweets of others in a special interest group where everyone follows everyone else. This is especially annoying when you use the old fashioned RT or via method of retweeting. It means that everyone who follows everyone else has to read the same tweet six or seven times. Consider the world of Ninja Yoga Masters, which may only have 20 outspoken master members sharing the same few hundred followers. When each of the masters retweets a fellow master’s comment with an old-fashioned RT, we all have to read that comment again. And again. And again. Do you know how annoying that is? Especially when the retweets appear one after the other in our timelines? It’s like the retweeting crew is singing a chorus.
  • Retweeting improperly. Someone came up with some words of wisdom or a good one-liner or a link good enough for you to retweet. But instead of doing it properly by using the official Twitter retweet tool (which is now supported by just about all Twitter client software), you paraphrase to shorten or maybe leave out the source. Not very nice, is that? There’s no reason to incorrectly retweet someone else’s tweet. Click the damn Retweet link or button; Twitter does the rest for you, leaving the original in all its glory and properly crediting the source. This helps other people find and possibly follow that source if they find the retweeted content is interesting.

Now I’m not saying that my tweets are perfect. They’re not. There are too many of them to all be good. Indeed, I’ve committed all of these abuses at least once in the past 3+ years. But the growth of Twitter has made abuse like this unacceptable. It’s causing people like me to limit who they follow and to drop Twitter friends because of their annoying retweeting behavior.

What do you think about the retweeting situation on Twitter? Do you have any pet peeves I neglected to include in my list? Don’t be shy! Share them with us. Use the Comments link or form for this post to let us know.

And do me a favor: retweet this post to spread the word. Twitter would be a much better place without so many retweets.

Get more from your software.Want to Learn More about Using Twitter?
Learn online at Lynda.com. Recently revised and expanded, my Twitter course includes more than three hours of video training material that’ll help you get more out of Twitter. Check it out. If you’re not a Lynda.com subscriber, be sure to visit to try some of the free videos. I think you’ll be hooked.

On Becoming a “Power Blogger”

I define a new [to me] phrase.

Last week, I was one of four guest panelists on the WordCast podcast. The topic was blog productivity — tips and tricks for blogging more efficiently — and a phrase I’d never heard before came up in the discussion: power blogger.

Let me take a few steps back before I move forward. Although I’ve written extensively about blogging from the blogger point of view and I’ve also co-authored and authored various WordPress training materials (books and videos), I’m not someone who keeps up-to-date with the world of blogging. I don’t know the buzzwords or phrases, I don’t follow the hot trends. I just obtain the tools, use them the way they work for me, and try to publish new blog posts regularly. Along the way, I provide a sprinkling of advice for bloggers in my own blog posts.

So the phrase power blogger was brand new to me.

And meaningless.

When the question, “What advice can you give to people who want to become power bloggers?” came up, I felt a tingling of stage fright. Surely I’d sound like an idiot if I admitted I had no idea what the phrase meant.

Fortunately, another panelist spoke up. I listened carefully to glean meaning from his response. And what I learned was that he — and the others — considered the quantity of blog posts a major component of power blogging. By their definition — at least one post a day — I was a power blogger!

I sure don’t feel like one.

When it was my turn to speak, I proposed my own definition of power blogger. I don’t remember the exact words, but it went something like this:

The number of blog posts a blogger publishes should have nothing to do with whether he’s a power blogger. Instead, it should be the influence the blogger has over his readership and beyond. What’s important is whether a blog post makes a difference in the reader’s life. Does it teach? Make the reader think? Influence his decisions? If a blogger can consistently do any of that, he’s a power blogger.

I recall comparing Twitter — which is, after all, “microblogging” — to blogging. Someone can tweet dozens of times a day, but if there isn’t any value in what he’s tweeting, what good is it? There are plenty of bloggers out there simply rehashing the same material, over and over, without adding anything new to the mix. They might post five or ten times a day. But if it isn’t worth reading, how can you consider them power bloggers?

And I guess that’s the advice I want to share in this post: If you’re serious about blogging, don’t go for quantity. Go for quality.

Make a difference with what you post.

Why I Stopped Following You on Twitter

Breaking up is hard to do.

Despite all efforts to conduct my life in a rational way, I have a number of stupid, self-inflicted superstitions.

For example, when I receive my author copies of a book, the first book I remove from the box becomes my copy. It goes on the bookshelf I have reserved for my author copies in the chronological order of its publication date. Translations of the same title come after it on the shelf. I don’t write in, discard, or give away that book for any reason. I don’t even lend it out. If I need another copy of the book after all author copies are gone, I buy one. My brain tells me that something bad will happen if that book isn’t saved with the others.

That’s just one example. Hopefully, another will spring to mind before I finish typing this blog post. Otherwise, it’ll have to do.

I have a Twitter superstition, too. It tells me that I should always follow the first person I followed on Twitter. I didn’t know this person — we’ll call him Number One — when I began following him. Twitter was much smaller in those days and I found Number One on the public timeline, which I used to check periodically to find interesting people. (There were no Twitter tools for finding interesting people as there are now.) I followed him because I thought his tweets were interesting and, after all, I had to follow someone.

I’ve been on Twitter for more than 2 years now, so I have been following Number One for that whole time. And he tweets almost as much as I do.

The trouble is, I have absolutely no interest in 98% of what Number One has been tweeting for the past six months or so. He has different interests, his life has changed, his job has changed. He tweets about these new things. I can’t connect with them. They simply don’t interest me.

Number One is not the first person I follow on Twitter to drift out of the sphere of what interests me. (Or perhaps I’m the one who has drifted.) In most cases, I simply stop following that person. I don’t mean to offend anyone, but if a person’s tweets don’t interest me, I really don’t see any reason why I should let them clog up my timeline. It’s nothing personal — it’s all practical.

Unfortunately, the longer I’ve been following someone, the more difficult that unfollow decision is. And this decision — with the first person I followed — has me stuck.

Because of that stupid superstition that tells me I should keep following him.

You need to understand that unlike many people on Twitter, I actually follow the people I follow. Their tweets appear in my timeline and I read them. I respond to them when I have something to say. I don’t collect followers: Twitter is not a popularity contest. I’ve found that following more than 100 or so people overwhelms me, so I don’t generally follow much more than that. In order to follow new people, I have to drop old ones that aren’t as interesting as they once were. I need to “make room” so to speak for the people who do interest me.

Learn it all.So Number One has got to go.

If you’re reading this, Number One, you know who you are. Please don’t be offended that I stopped following you. I certainly won’t be offended if you stop following me — which you may have already done.

Twitter Etiquette: What Do YOU Think?

Help me write a blog post about Twitter Etiquette.

Twitter logoI’m still doing research on Twitter use and I’d love to get some feedback from Twitter users. Today’s topic is Twitter Etiquette: The Dos and Don’ts of Using Twitter.

You probably know what I’m talking about. There are the basic ones, like don’t spam, don’t exceed the 140-character maximum per tweet by blasting out four tweets in a row as a long sentence, don’t be rude.

But what’s important to you? What’s your “pet peeve” on Twitter? What do you wish your fellow Twitter users would stop doing — or do more often?

Take a moment to comment on this post. I’ll be assembling the responses in a future post — and possibly using them in a related project I’m working on. Be sure to include your @name on Twitter so I can give credit where credit is due. And retweet this (please) to help me get the most responses.

Thanks!

In Defense of Microsoft Word

It does the whole job.

About a month ago, I was having trouble with my Mac and decided to head off any serious problems by reformatting my hard disk and reinstalling all my software from original program discs. In the old days, before we all had hard drives measured in gigabytes, I did this every single time there was a major system software update. Nowadays, it’s a lot of work and I avoid doing it if I can. My 24″ iMac is just over a year old and shouldn’t have been giving me problems, but I figured I’d try the reformat before bringing it to a genius. (Turns out, it was the swapping out of 2 GB of RAM for 4 GB of RAM that probably fixed the problem.)

For some reason, I didn’t do a typical install of Microsoft Office 2004. I thought I’d save disk space by omitting the proofing tools for the languages I don’t speak — which is every language except English. Word, which I use daily, worked fine — until I noticed that it wasn’t checking spelling as I type. Although my spelling is above average, I count on Word to put red squiggly underlines under my misspellings and typos. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get this feature to start working.

I sent an update to my Twitter account about this as I went about troubleshooting the problem. The result was an outpouring of suggestions from my Twitter friends for replacing Word or Office with other software, ranging from Open Source Word or Office replacements to Google Docs.

Whoa!

I fixed the problem by uninstalling and then reinstalling Word. Life went on. But it got me thinking about Office and Word and why so many people go out of their way to avoid both.

Word and Me

I should probably start off by saying that I have been using Microsoft Word since 1989 or 1990. Although I got Microsoft Works with my first Mac, I soon learned Word and began teaching it in a classroom setting. It was Word 4 for the Mac in those days; I don’t know what the corresponding version in Windows was because I didn’t use it or teach it. I’m not even sure if Microsoft Windows was a player back then.

I’ve used every version of Word for the Mac since then.

My first book about Microsoft Word was The Macintosh Bible Guide to Word 6. Word 6 sucked. It was a processor hog. I remember working with it in beta as I wrote my book about it. I remember whining to my editor, asking if he thought they’d fix the performance issues before the software went out. They did, but not very well. I disliked Word 6 and the way it handled outlines and “master documents.” Everything seemed to be “embedded.” It seemed as if they’d prettied up Word to look more Mac-like and had done the job by pouring maple syrup all over the inside of my computer, bogging things down.

Word 98 was a vast improvement. From then on, each version of Word was an improvement. The interface remained basically the same but features were added and solidified. Some of the features worked with Microsoft server software, which I didn’t have, didn’t want, and certainly didn’t need. All I cared about was that Word did what I needed it to do, using the same interface I knew from years of experience as a user.

The End of the World as We Know It: Office 2007

Then Office 2007 for Windows came out with its ridiculous “ribbon” interface. What the hell was Microsoft thinking? Take a standardized interface that your existing user base knows by heart and throw it out the window. Force them to learn a whole new interface. Keep telling them that it’s easier and maybe a handful of morons will believe you.

I had to use Office 2007 for two Excel books. The only good thing I can say about it is that the complete, radical interface change — I’m talking menus vs. ribbon here, not spreadsheet basics — made a book about the software necessary. How else would users figure out how to get the job done? Fortunately (for users, not authors) Office 2007 adoption is slow.

Woe is Me: Office 2008

Word 2008 Splash ScreenOf course, I’m a Mac user and use the Mac version of Office. I held my breath when Office 2008 came out. Thank heaven they didn’t get rid of the menu bar — although I don’t understand how they could. Office 2008 retains much of the Office 2004 interface. It just adds what Microsoft calls “Element Galleries” and the usual collection of features that 1% of the computing world cares about. Fortunately, you can ignore them and continue using Office applications with the same old menus and shortcut keys we all know.

I would have switched to Office 2008 — I even had it installed on my MacBook Pro — except for two things:

  • Its default document formats are not compatible with versions of office prior to Office 2007. That means someone using Word 2003 for Windows or Word 2004 for Mac can’t open my documents unless I save them in an Office 2004-compatible format. This isn’t a huge deal, but it is something I’d have to remember every single time I saved a document. I’d also have to remember not to use any Office feature that only worked with Office 2007 or 2008.
  • It does not support Visual Basic Macros. One of my publishers makes me use a manuscript template that’s chock-full of these macros. Can’t access the macros, can’t use the template. Can’t use the template, can’t use Office 2008.

(I wrote about these frustrations extensively in a Maria’s Guides article.)

So I’m apparently stuck with Office 2004 — at least for a while.

But do you know what? I’m perfectly happy with it.

Why I Like Word

I like Word. I really do. It does everything I need it to do and it does it well.

Sure, it has a bunch of default options that are set stupidly. I wrote about how to set them more intelligently in an article for Informit.com. (Read “Three Ways Word Can Drive You Crazy[er] and What You Can Do About Them.”) It certainly includes far more features than the average writer needs or uses. And despite what Microsoft might tell you, it’s probably not the best tool for page layout (I prefer InDesign) or mail merge (I prefer FileMaker Pro). But it does these things if you need to.

I use all of the basic word processing features. I use the spelling checker — both as I type and to correct errors. I like smart cut and paste, although I have the ridiculous Paste Options button turned off. I like AutoComplete and love AutoCorrect (when set up properly). I use all kinds of formatting, including paragraph and character styles, tables, and bulleted lists. I rely on the outlining features when preparing to write a book or script for video training material. I use the thesaurus occasionally when I can’t get my mind around the exact word I’m looking for, although the word I want is usually not listed.

I’ve used some of the advanced features, such as table of contents generation, indexing, and cross-references. These are great document automation features. Trouble is, I don’t usually use Word to create documents that require these features. I use InDesign for laying out my books, which are usually illustrated. (And I admit that I’m looking forward to trying out the new cross-referencing feature in InDesign CS4 for my next book.)

I don’t jump on board with every new Word feature. I prefer the Formatting toolbar over the Formatting Palette. I write in Normal view rather than Page Layout view. I create my own templates but don’t use the ones that come with Word.

I don’t use the grammar checker; I think it’s a piece of crap designed for people who know neither grammar nor writing style. I don’t like URLs formatted as links. (Who the hell wants links underlined in printed documents?) I don’t use any of the Web publishing features; I’d rather code raw HTML than trust Word to do it for me. I very seldom insert images or objects or anything other than text in my documents. I have InDesign for serious layout work. I don’t use wizards. WordArt is UglyI think WordArt is ugly and amateurish. I keep the silly Office Assistant feature turned off.

I admit that I don’t use any of the project features that work with Entourage — although I’d like to. I decided a while back to switch to Apple’s e-mail, calendar, and contact management solutions (Mail, iCal, and Address Book respectively) because they’d synchronize with .Mac (now MobileMe) and my Treo. Entourage probably does this now, but I really don’t feel like switching again. Am still thinking about this.

The point is, I use a bunch of Word features and I completely ignore a bunch of others. The features are there if I need them but, in Word 2004, they’re not in your face, screaming for attention. (Wish I could say the same about Word 2008.)

iWork with Apple Computers

iWork '09Lots of people think that just because I’m a Macintosh user — an enthusiast, in fact — I should be using Apple’s business productivity solution: iWork. For a while, I thought so, too.

I own iWork ’08. I just bought iWork ’09. I’ve tried Pages. I’ve really tried Pages. I wanted to use it. I wanted to break free of Microsoft Word.

But old habits are hard to break. No matter how much I tried to use Pages each time I needed to create a document, when I was rushed, I reached for Word. No learning curve — I already know it. After a while, I just stopped trying to use Pages.

Why Use a Bunch of One Trick Ponies?

I know a bunch of writers who swear by one software program or another for meeting their writing needs. They use special outliners to create outlines. They use special “writing software” that covers the entire screen with a blank writing surface so they’re not distracted by other things on their desktops. They use special software to brainstorm, footnote, and index.

I’ve tried these solutions and do you know what? They don’t make my life easier. Instead, they just give me another piece of software to learn and keep up to date and interface with other software. They make more work for me.

I’m not going to forget my Word skills and Word isn’t going to suddenly disappear off the face of the planet anytime soon. In fact, it’s far more likely for one of these one-trick ponies to disappear than a powerhouse with millions of users worldwide like Microsoft Office.

Thought PatternI remember ThoughtPattern, a program by Bananafish Software. I saw it demoed at a Macworld Expo in the early 1990s and thought it was the greatest thing in the world for organizing my thoughts and ideas. I was sure it would make me a better writer. I was so convinced, I bought it — and it wasn’t cheap. I used it for a while and rather liked it. Evidently, I was one of very few people who’d joined the ThoughtPattern revolution. In April 1993, it was discontinued. I was left with software that wouldn’t work with subsequent versions of the Macintosh system software. Worst of all, the documents I created with ThoughtPattern were in their own proprietary format. When the software stopped working, the contents of those documents were lost. (Do you think it was easy to find a screenshot from software that was discontinued 16 years ago?)

So perhaps you can understand my aversion to one-trick ponies that promise a better writing experience.

Will the same thing happen with Microsoft Word? I don’t think so.

I Don’t Compute in the Cloud

Google Docs was one of the solutions suggested to me by my Twitter friends. I guess they think it’s better to avoid the evil Microsoft empire in favor of the “we’re not evil” Google empire. Along the way, I should give up the interface and features I know from almost 20 years of experience with the software and rely on an online application that could change its interface daily. Oh, yeah — and keep my documents on someone else’s computer.

Yeah. Right. Good idea.

Not.

Until I’m part of a multinational corporation that requires its employees and consultants to keep all their documents on some remote server for collaboration purposes, I will not be computing in the cloud.

One of the things I like about keeping my documents on my own computer — rather than a remote server accessible by the Internet — is that the Internet is not always available. What do I do then? Stop working?

Security is an issue, too. While I don’t usually write much of a confidential nature, I don’t like the idea of not having control over my documents. Servers get hacked. I don’t want my work suddenly accessible to people who I don’t want seeing it.

I will admit that I use MobileMe’s iDisk feature to keep some documents on an Apple server. This makes it a tiny bit easier to access them from my laptop when I’m away from home. But I’ve recently moved to a new strategy. I bought a pocket hard drive that’s bigger than my computer’s Home folder. Before I hit the road with my laptop on a trip for business or pleasure, I sync this portable drive with my Home folder. I then have every single document on my computer with me when I’m away. The added benefit: complete offsite backup.

That’s My Case

That’s my defense of Microsoft Word. I rest my case.

Please understand that I’m not trying to convince a non-Word user to switch to Word. If you’re happy with something else, stick with it! That’s the precise reason I’m sticking with Word. I’m happy with it.

I guess the reason I wrote this post was to assure other people like me that there’s no reason to be ashamed of being a Word user. You do what’s right for you. There’s nothing really wrong with Word. If it makes your life easier, why switch?