UK Times journalist Rod Liddle can barely hide is contempt for Twitter and its proponents who claim to be “changing the World in 140 characters”.  Liddle is referring to the uncompromising (sometimes pompous) pronouncements made by politicians to various leaders of the Libyan government:
• “My message to Saif Qadhafi today: violence we are seeing against the Libyan people is unacceptable” (@WilliamJHague; UK Foreign Minister) 
“Great honour to Egypt today. People Power has forced regime change. Needs equal focus and discipline to bring in something better” (@DMiliband; ex UK Foreign Minister)

Given that these messages appear aimed directly at the regime of another country; I wonder if Twitter is the most appropriate medium. 

“I tried to see if ol’ Saif had responded online to this stinging rebuke — perhaps with an ‘Oh, bugger me, you’re quite right, William — we’ll call off the bombings and relinquish power immediately’. But no luck. Saif probably tweets under a different name,” muses Liddle of Hague´s message.

“ . . one assumes the bloodied and determined Egyptian democrats stopped in their tracks at this important missive and immediately gathered together to thrash out a more disciplined and focused approach to social change. Thank you, David — valuable advice. Please go on,” he adds with respect to Milliband´s words of encouragement. 

In the most blatant example of ‘bigging up’ the medium, Rio Ferdinand, Manchester United and England football captain, claimed that he and other Twitter users “are involved (if not directly)in a powerful #movement ! …” (@rioferdy5).

With all due respect Rio . . . . we are not. We are simply exchanging opinions on football, the state of your back injury, Man Yoo’s failed attempt to rebuff a rejuvenated Liverpool FC this weekend, quite how Ferguson continues to flout broadcast regulations, and how he is turning into Kevin The Teenager.

And here is the shame . . . . As a social media platform Twitter can provide a valuable and unique support for those looking to deliver the most sensitive message to the most specific of audiences; the key is that Twitter not just about the Tweet.

The Twitter platform can provide a wealth of information about a particular audience, where it meets, what subjects it cares about, with what frequency and style it communicates, who are the idea starters, who are the amplifiers.  It can also provide this level of detail about a subject or theme; who is leading the discussion, do these people remain constant or does leadership vary over time or cyclically, on what other platforms are these themes addressed (traditional media, blogs, other communities, physical meetings etc)?  Tools such as Edelman’s TweetLevel can deliver analysis by audience or theme, level of engagement, the trust or authority associated with each contributor, all of which can be broken down on the basis of geography or language.

This powerful insight can be delivered without the necessity of making a single Tweet.  The shame being that for many – from Rod Liddle to Rio Ferdinand – Twitter simply means Tweeting. 

And this misapprehension gives social media in general a bad name because it assumes that – in the final analysis – everything can and should be broken down to 140 characters; which is really missing the point. 

In some instances Twitter may be the most appropriate medium on which to communicate or participate in dialogue with a given audience; but in others it is wholly inappropriate.  Perhaps discreet diplomatic channels would have been more appropriate method of influencing the Libyan regime (telephone calls, summits, relationship meetings, official (confidential) memos etc).  Government to government communication via Twitter just seems wrong in this context.

However, the insight that platforms such as Twitter can provide into a target audience or theme remains both invaluable but all too often neglected.   This analysis should help define how a given message can be credibly delivered whether through face to face meetings, traditional media, telephone calls, roundtables, third party events, blogs, conferences, or – indeed – a Twitter feed. 

A final word to those Twitter incontinents out there; to “use Twitter” does not necessarily mean to “Tweet”.


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Gordon Brown had hardly uttered the last syllable of the word ‘bigoted’ and already the Twitterverse was awash with Tweets about the Prime Minister’s supposed gaffe. Opposition Tweeters were gleeful in their condemnation of the PM – using tags like #bigotgate to propagate the story – while ordinary folk – yours truly included – waded in with their views in 140 characters or less. Strangely, the Labour Tweeters were – at the time of writing this post – noticeably silent. I don’t blame them to be honest.

Ignoring the rights and wrongs of the PM’s comment, this issue highlights yet again the power of Twitter in the run up to the general election. Writing in the Media Guardian on April 26th, Roy Greenslade said it was impossible to say how influential Twitter will be have come May 6th but the tone of his article suggested that Twitter would and already was having some form of influence. I agree completely.

Thanks to Twitter, I’ve found out that a former male glamour model who was kicked out of the Lib Dems for sending sexually explicit texts has been barred from standing as a Labour candidate in the election. I also know that Vince Cable has become a popular muse for musicians looking to pen a tune about installing him as Chancellor and that David Cameron can be made to look like Elvis with just a few strokes of a black marker. Marvellous.

Silliness aside, for me Twitter is making the election far more engaging. Reading endless political blog posts is dull, whereas I’ll happily read Tweets from all sides of the house. Like most people I suspect, I’d rather stick red hot pokers somewhere intimate than watch an election broadcast on TV but I’ll happily read a policy Tweet and click through to link on a party’s website. Twitter is also ace for debating with friends and randoms without getting drawn into heated debates that normally end with the line “I can’t believe you vote ***king Tory.”

The fact that I’m going to ***king vote at all is probably down to Twitter and I encourage everyone to get involved. Follow a few good (in terms of active) political Tweeters . Diversify, don’t just stick with your political allegiances and don’t be afraid to engage in debate just make sure you have something to say with your 140 characters.

And for PRs reading this, you can pick up real insight into how stories are broken and managed by following how a political story breaks and then develops within Twitter. You get a 360 view of all sides of an argument or incident and thanks to the 140 character limit, you tend to get the key information rather than the associated waffle that you get in the off-line world.

For the record, I don’t think Twitter is going to dictate who wins the general election but I do think it has allowed many more people than would previously have gotten involved in the debate to easily access and engage in the election process. So it’s definitely played a part.



There’s an interesting story on the BBC website today about cheating in school exams, specifically the use of technology in both aiding and catching cheaters.

For me, the companies selling the products, the schools buying them and the exam watchdog Ofqual have got this all wrong.


Technology presents us with an opportunity to change our antiquated, almost draconian exam system which puts a premium on a person’s memory and wrist stamina as opposed to their ability to find, process and place into context information relevant to a subject.

For one thing, a clampdown on ‘technology cheaters’ smacks of hypocrisy and sheer bloody-mindedness. In an age of rampant digital piracy, how can you expect kids to take a moral stand on not secretly using the Internet in an exam, when everyone is ripping music, films and software from the Internet? The music and film industries have accepted this and adapted their business models. Education resolutely refuses to budge.

Secondly, technology has changed irreversibly the way in which we all communicate and interact. To try and remove from an exam situation a reference tool such as the Internet is so counter intuitive it actually offends even an 11 year olds intelligence.

And thirdly, unless you’re sitting a technical or scientifc exam where defined answers can be copied without going through a necessary process – therefore demanding a certain amount of isolation – the written exam is just about the worst form of test imaginable.

Course work has already been scaled back due to issues around quality, so surely we should be embracing new technology as a way to find a new way of testing pupils and pushing them to the limits of their mental ability? Instead we seem to be demonising children for doing what now comes naturally when they’re tasked with answering questions.

All of the main political parties in the UK are banging on about information superhighways and the importance of getting families on-line, so why are schools getting all Stasi on our children at a time when, arguably, the Internet could be of the most benefit too them? It makes no sense.

What’s needed is a root and brand reassessment of the written exam with the express intention of putting the Internet and other technologies into the examination hall as a tool, not threatening pupils with expulsion if they try and Google Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Boots Cash Chemists Ltd [1953] for their law GCSE.

Of course there is a great temptation to cheat and copy verbatim answers that are already on the Web, but we have developed sophisticated methods of authenticating and filtering information on the Internet. It’s hardly a technological stretch to checks papers against text already on the Net.

And besides, we should be setting exam questions that can only be answered by original research and thought. We should play to the strengths of controlled, time-limited exam conditions not view them as strict rules of governance within which careers can be decided depending on how individual pupils perform.

The bottom line for me is that unless you’re planning a career as a magician or a card shark, memory tests are no measure of intelligence. It’s about time our education authorities realised that, rather than coming down hard on the Internet generation.



I must confess that I was never much interested in graphs and statistics because I’ve always found them somewhat necessary but boring, dull, static, not to say that they’ve always seemed to lack what we call usability after all.

For my surprise, a couple of years ago I was zapping some content on TED when I found this great talk by doctor and researcher Hans Rosling on his new data presentation software which is really amazing (it’s a 20 minute video but I strongly recommend you take the time to watch it whenever you get a chance).

I’ve shared the link with many friends and even talked about it during my classes at university, but since then, no other guru had really grabbed my attention until last week when the December issue of Yorokobu magazine landed on my desk. A two-page interview with London based writer, designer and author David McCandless, who recently launched his book The Visual Miscellaneum, a colourful guide that help readers like me make sense of the countless statistics and random facts that constantly bombard us.

According to David, people are gradually passing from text to images when consuming information especially in a media saturated landscape we are experimenting today. McCandless makes use of his knowledge in usability – result of years of experience in web design – to condensate his investigations in clear, concise and neat graphs.

Besides collaborating with The Guardian and Wired, David also shares his work in his blog Information is Beautiful as well as his Flickr, where you can find all kinds of information varying from the probabilities of dying in a plane accident to the hierarchy of digital distractions.

I’ve selected some of this work here – truly wish I could use some of his talent when drafting my next proposal or results report

from @vaneribeiro

Some interesting stats about the much-trumpeted Twitter community – visualized!



Billions spent on this. Billions spent on that. What does it all look like?

A concept-map exploring the Left vs Right political spectrum. A collaboration between David McCandless and information artist Stefanie Posavec.

I have said that there is no such thing as local in the social media whirl.  It appears I was wrong, certainly in the area of politics according to a recent piece of in house research.  The Staffer Index shows that not only is all politics local, but also political digital media, is local. When asked which sites policy advisors turn to first thing in the morning they revealed it is primarily their local mainstream online outlets such as BBC in London. Other online sources such as dedicated political blogs and their respective government policy sites also emerged as points of interest. The one exception to the rule was Google/Google News which was the only site that was accessed across all markets.

Z - Graph 1













So are policy wonks remorselessly parochial, tied only to the latest local twitter storm and the needs of their constituents?  The research and common sense reasoning would suggest yes – of course they scrutinize the world anxiously for anything that gives an edge in the local debate.  But I do feel that there is another need that feeds this constituency focus and that is the need to be a digital citizen and one that takes a global view of issues comparing policy stances between different nations.  A great example is the US healthcare debate where the very local American decision about the model for the US industry has become a global conversation.

Another surprise is that a fifth of the policy shaping class have changed their position based on an online resource.  Seventy one percent of respondents say they first hear of a policy development via online media.   My instinct is that there are two forces at play firstly the local needs of the digital constituents and secondly a bigger more strategic need to be a digital citizen who is engaged with the international dimension of the policy debate.

Z - Graph 2