The World Forces Split Identities in Social Media

i-am-a-pc Hodge The Cat

Growing up on a farm, as I did, provides a freedom that never leaves you. My parents lived on and immersed directly in their work: the farm. It surrounded them, day in day out. I am sure I absorbed this environment in a way where I expect little to no separation between work and my personal life. From this stems workaholism and dedication. A deep protestant work ethic.

There are significant downsides to total work immersion. Especially in this new world of always-on social media. You tweet a response to a work related question at 11.32pm, and follow up with a tirade against an airline cancelling your flight. The seamless melding of what is work and what is your life is one of the beauties of social media. We are all connected.

Yesterday, one of the downsides firmly bit me on the bum. One of my personal opinions; a flippant tweet has caused an ongoing kerfuffle at Microsoft. This is not the first time I have come unstuck on the social media frontier; and sadly I am not alone. Nor am I the last to be bitten. There are many bums with bite marks.

Until now, I have resisted the urge to have separate twitter identities. To me, creating and using different identities is the antithesis of social media. To be frank, I wish that I could be one identity on twitter.; but there are forces in the wider world does not accept the separation of personal identity and an employer’s identity. As I found in recent events, there is always the risk that someone will take an utterance out of context, and use this as a cudgel in pitiful internal office politics. Or, as others have found, fodder for gossip.

The cleaving of identities is a topic upon which I have struggled throughout my Microsoft career. Being true to myself, whilst attempting to comply with the weight of an employer’s expectations.

As stated yesterday, I have created a new twitter identity @RealNickHodge which is a private, for people only account. Each follower is vetted. I am being careful not to let in bots and sensationalist journalists. I am also wary of "brand name" twitter identities. I follow real people; people who are smart enough to realise my opinions are mine, and mine alone.

My old twitter account is now clearly identified @NickHodgeMSFT, with a profile stating my position and employer. As at the time of posting this blog entry, it has 4803 followers. I do not imagine the follower count will increase dramatically. Thankfully, formal Microsoft accounts such as @MSAU are doing an outstanding job of presenting a formal social face of the organisation.

Within 24 hours of creating the new account, I have about 200 real followers, less noise and I trust more freedom to be real. Or at least the freedom from guilt in speaking as me, being who I am.

From @NickHodge to @RealNickHodge

I have been on twitter since February 2007 as @NickHodge. Nearly 4 years. In that time, my account has gathered nearly 5000 followers. Whilst I have no accurate data on these followers: it is fair to say a majority are spambots or dormant accounts. There is absolutely no way I am that interesting to 5000 people.

Considering my twitter persona has been cheeky and somewhat iconoclastic, even to my present employer; and the content of 90% of my tweets are not related to work — I find it surprising to gather so many pieces of moss.

5000 followers does put the @NickHodge account into the top 20% of Australian twitterers. Being an open (not locked) account, this puts my utterances on twitter into the funnel for social media monitoring engines. Their systems will determine my follower count (and retweet count, and other metrics) puts me into a "must watch" list.

I base this assessment on my work use of social media monitoring engines. Keywords, key people. Associated, and you are prime bait for engines to watch filter and report to their corporate stakeholders.

Some people crave this attention. In fact, it is their life blood. I am perfectly fine with their need for followers, readers, fans if you will. But this is not for me. The direct association between my employer and what I say and think is not direct. At best, it is loosely coupled.

There is no quick mechanism to completely delete all your followers, and who you are following in twitter. As an immediate solution, I have suspended posting from the @NickHodge account and created @RealNickHodge. I am being strict as to whom I follow; the account is locked.

For me, it is back to feeling free to comment without the fear of causing collateral damage.

You are being watched.


Only the paranoid survive. Even the paranoid have enemies. And the list of paranoid quotes goes on.

Within the last 18 hours, I’ve had two experiences with twitter that are worth sharing. If only for twitter bragging rights.

Firstly, whilst ABC1’s Media Watch was shown last night – what I considered a long “advertorial” piece about tablet devices and their impending saviour status for newsprint. I tweeted:

Someone should #mediawatch#mediawatch for 15 minutes of "Apple iPad" advertisement. NOT F***KING HAPPY MARK SCOTT

Within an hour, the host of Media Watch, Jonathan Holmes, responded:

@NickHodge ah! U work for Microsoft! Wondered why u were SO upset!

Oops, sprung. Well almost. My twitter bio is clear about my employer. As I had already responded to the iPad shills, I responded similarly to Jonathan. The ABC must be above spruiking products; it is a part of their editorial policy. I will admit that my tweet is tainted with the perspective of my present employer: for sure; no-one is truly independent from their source of income. But I do expect all commercial organisations: including Microsoft, to be treated equally in terms of publicity on our ABC.

A thankyou, Jonathan, for being concerned about your show and looking at “the stream of conversation.” This shows you care.

Second incident. Only a few hours later, in response to Tony Abbott appearing on ABC TV’s Q and A: a promising TV show that has fallen below my expectations. Tony, in response to a questions on Catholisism mentioned that another leader, Kristina Keneally – the NSW Premier, being not so harangued about her faith. My tweet:

ooh, @KKeneally is at least a serious Catholic as @TonyAbbottMHR ..#opusdei !!!

Very early this morning, 5:47am Sydney time, the Premier responded:

@NickHodge hi Nick this is an old and false rumour. I’ve never been a member of opus dei. My area of interest is feminist theology. Cheers

Oops, sprung again. My response to her was a public, hopefully graceful mea culpa. I doubt that I would vote ALP in the next State election – but that fact that Ms Keneally took time out to respond to mine – and other questions on twitter shows a level of care. And she spelt rumours correctly.

So, two famous people responded to my rather cheeky, specious and snarky tweets. In both cases, apart from the individual tweets these people do not know me. Nor the somewhat satirical/childish nature of my tweets.

In the context of “social media” for organisations – can personally responding to individual tweets like mine scale? Whilst NSW has 6 million residents, only 4000 follow her on twitter. If twitter goes mainstream like Facebook, one could expect a Premier of NSW to have up to 2 million followers (30% of Australians are on Facebook) . No one, magical person can respond to them all.

Here at Microsoft in Australia, a few product groups have been experimenting with social media monitoring tools. Watching the conversations, and responding where appropriate in a formal way. This also involves an escalation process for response to queries that include PR, Customer Service and Evangelism. I know of other organisations doing similar for their products and services – Internode, for instance.

So, be careful out there. You are being watched. And if your comment is not satirical, hopefully responded to. Personally.

The long search for the perfect WPF Twitter Client. Over.

Twitter; Facebook and friends is the place where I spend most of my day. For work and play.

Separating work and play is difficult in single-column twitter clients. Enter mutliple columns, filtering as base requirements for my perfect twitter client.

Stuck in closed-source TweetDeck; or moving through a myriad of AIR based applications. Subjecting myself to unknown security issues, slow performance – and no ability to contribute – has frustrated me no end.

Then @aeoth create MahTweets. It’s MS-PL. It’s extensible (via MEF). It has IronRuby for scriptable extensibility.

It is awesome.

Use it. Contribute. Let’s make the world’s best WPF Twitter Client.

2765 Words

For various reasons, I am on another sabbatical from Twitter. This is not my first, and I dare say not my last. Duration, unknown. Frankly, I am boring myself and slowly sticking my foot in my own mouth. To fill the now empty space, I have spent more time thinking and writing. So, for instance these are some raw numbers from the last few days. This is by no means scientific.


Average Tweets per day: 100
Average size of each tweet: 100
Total Words: 10,000
Estimated Percentage valuable (ie: valuable content): 10%
Words of Value = 1,000


Average Tweets per day: 100
Average size of each tweet: 100
Total Words: 2,765
Estimated Percentage valuable (ie: valuable content): 90%
Words of Value = 2,488

So, the question remains: are the conversations on twitter worth 2.5 times the publishing via blogs?

The Group Twitter Account Conundrum

On my Soapbox, I have been somewhat negative (and somewhat vitriolic) on blind group twitter accounts. My argument has been that no-one talks to brands; humans tend to and would prefer to connect with rather human. There is a perspective I missed: where organisations want people to represent them, and the individuals see themselves are distinctly separate from the organisation.

My particular job is unique; not all organisations invest in weird people who name themselves a Professional Geek and describe themselves as Iconoclastic and Mercurial. As a daily part of my job,  I becone a lightening rod in a small community for a large and historically faceless brand. At one end of the daily continuum there is kudos/whipping for everything that brand does; and the other I attempt to be whatever “me” is at this moment.

This is somewhat OK for me, but sometimes risky for the brand when I fly off the handle. As as wise man at Microsoft counselled me earlier this week, we are all human. Social media will mirror this humanity. Whilst fraught with misinterpreation, it is better than bland corporate-speak, any day.

Living the organisation you work for is a legacy of my on-farm upbringing. You live in the work environment. There is no escaping large or small jobs. That, or I have a form Institutional Stockholm Syndrome. Ultimately, I am doing what I am paid to do.

So how do individuals represent the organisation, service or product they work for when there are multiple individuals in the team where the individuals see themselves distinct from the organisation? There are valid reasons why a solution needs to be sought.

Lower latency conversational mediums such as twitter, there is no time to review a tweet by a group before tweeting on behalf of the said group. By the time the group has agreed, the conversation has moved on. l’esprit de l’escalier en twitter.

Enter The Multiple User Twitter Conundrum. I’ve seen a recent innovation on twitter which I support. It is a good compromise between my idealism, and the hard-nose marketing oriented “brand is everything” divide.

Let’s review the Microsoft Bing team’s Twitter Profile page. It shows the five people who twitter on that account/address, with a name and caret (^xx) underneath the pictures of the humans. xx represent the initials of each individual. Tweets such as “SteveB at D (video incl. Bing at AllThingsD) ^betsy” indicates Betsy, or ^BA tweeted this nugget. I now can identify a human behind that tweet, that conversation from the group twitter account.  This caret-xx only takes three precious characters out of 140.

As a further step to my idealistic people conversational mode of social media, it would be cooll if each individual should put their personal twitter id on this profile page. Or email address: ideally some mechanism to double check the identity of the person to stop twitter spam-bot miscreants.

Maybe in the future all we will just have twitter ids. They will become more valuable than ego URLs.

But then again, I am possible stepping back up to that very small platform of a soapbox.

Three Witches of the Australian Twittershpere

@stilgherrian, @kcarruthers and @nickhodge. Yes, we are all on Twitter, twittering to the Twitterati.

We were waiting for Pia Waugh, one of Australia’s leading Linux and Open source experts to show us the Art Deco Theatre.

Excellent photo taken in the main street of Yass, New South Wales by @ApostrophePong. More Photos on ‘pongs site.

16 ways to know you are addicted to Twitter

  1. You received a tiny URL to this list via Twitter. And links to the other n lists of “How do you know when you are addicted to Twitter” via Twitter.
  2. You have re-followed @ev just to send him dm’s about features that were once in twitter, and have disappeared.
  3. Without thinking twice, you grok #2.
  4. Before a conference or meeting, you stress about which #hashtag to use
  5. When meeting people IRL (real-life) you immediately start talking to them where their twitters left off. “So, is your partner out of hospital now?”
  6. Your avatar based on your mood, season, latest craze or just random stuff. Never a normal picture of yourself.
  7. Of the 400-odd twitter client applications, nothing really works the way you want it to.
  8. There is a twitter client, or at least bookmarked in all your internet-enabled devices.
  9. You have twittered whilst over caffeinated, intoxicated or medicated.
  10. After friends make fun of you on twitter, you have regretted #9. But now you are a dead-set legend for a few days on twitter, so it all works out.
  11. Each day, you speak to more twitter friends than IRL friends. In fact, you would consider your twitter friends as real friends, anyway.
  12. Twittering is the first thing you do before calling, writing or speaking to someone after a life-event.
  13. Before going to a news web site (or let alone the TV), you jump onto twitter to see what is going on.
  14. You lose concentration after 140 characters of a sentence. In fact, you miss the character count when typing blogs or emails.
  15. Rather than emailing a work-colleague, you dm them a link. To a twitter message.
  16. You will retweet this link almost as second nature.

Selling your Identity Stunts your Intelligence

As mentioned by Duncan Riley in “Rocketboom Founder Puts His Twitter Account On Sale“, Andrew Varon Baron is “selling his twitter account” as a stunt.

As at posting, the bidding is at US$510.00

I am not sure how this ID is valued, and it seems strange that it has value when decoupled from the person selling the name.

Unless you are another Andrew Varon Baron, or are a competitor to RocketBoom – and in either case Andrew should really just twitter-squatter on his identity.

One never knows where twitter IDs are going to be useful in the future.

Interesting, if unintelligent, stunt.

(edits thanks to @bck)