10 quotes from Edward Tufte

I took Edward Tufte’s Presenting Data and Information class. Normally I would have tweeted these quotes (especially since Edward Tufte is active on Twitter!) but the room was dark and my phone’s screen would have looked like a spotlight. (This is not my summary of the day. Just some of the tweets I would have sent.)

  1. There are only two industries that call their customers users: illicit drugs and software.
  2. No visualization for little data. Use sentences.
  3. Taking notes shows respect.
  4. Marketing = amateur social science.
  5. It’s just as easy to get fooled by big data as little data.
  6. Just block people. If someone pees in your living room, you don’t want to stick around.
  7. By age 35, all future music will become an utter mystery.
  8. If you have an inherent interest in operating systems, it’s unnatural. (Operating systems was my favorite university computer science class! And my first job.)
  9. All complex ideas can be expressed in normal language. This is what reporters do.
  10. Distrust anyone who replies with character assassination.

And there was also lots of good content.  More later.

How to get the right Twitter or Identica followers

I don’t think you should try to get more Twitter or Identica followers just because you want big numbers. But if you are trying to build up a set of followers that will have interesting conversations with you, here’s what I’d recommend:

  1. Follow people you know first.
  2. Add people you are interested in talking to (but don’t know) slowly. You don’t want the number of people following you to drop too far behind the number of people you follow. It’ll make people wonder why all those people don’t follow you.
  3. Have interesting conversations with people. Reply to their tweets/dents.
  4. Don’t make all your tweets the same. If you want, they can all be about the same topic, but it should be a mix of thoughts, observations, replies, etc.
  5. Follow people after you’ve interacted with them, not before. (This one is a bit tricky, but it’s more likely they will follow you this way. They’ll get a notification about you after they’ve interacted with you.)
  6. Don’t follow thousands of people. If you follow 15,000 people, others are unlikely to believe you are looking for conversation.
  7. Tweet primarily in the language of the people you want to talk to. If they check out your profile and don’t see any tweets/dents they understand, they are unlikely to follow you back.
  8. Don’t bug any one person. Or stalk them. Most “conversations” in the microblogging world go back and forth just a few times. Watch for a bit to see how people usually end a conversation.

Or ignore the whole list and just use Identica or Twitter in which ever way is fun for you. That’s what I do.

Twitter’s friend strategy is not a popularity contest

One of the cooler things about Twitter is that friends are not necessarily mutual. You can listen to whomever you want and anyone can listen to you, and those lists aren't the same.

But I'm amazed at how many people want to keep it a mutual friends game. A game of tit for tat. And for me, that detracts from the power of Twitter. It's much more powerful when it's like blogs. I get to "listen" to people I think are interesting and pass on those things that I think are most interesting without a whole bunch of noise. I especially find Twitter useful at conferences.

Until recently, if someone followed me on twitter, I followed them back. (After making sure they weren't a spammer.)  However, I realized that following over 900 people meant that I didn't really hear anyone. So I created a quick policy.

If I know you (in person or online) or if I'd had interactions with you on twitter, I kept following you.

But if I didn't know the person, had never heard of them except through twitter and:

They follow more than a 1,000 people. (They obviously can't follow/talk to all of them. I know from personal experience.)


They only talked, never replied. (To me twitter is about a conversation and passing on good ideas, not about reading someone's timeline.)


They only talked about their product. (Surely life is more interesting than just that?)


They talked way, way too much. (Then it hides what everyone else is saying.)

Then I unfollowed them. (I made a few exceptions and I'm sure I made a few mistakes, but that was my general process.)

The surprising thing to me was the people that unfollowed me immediately. (It was actually a small percentage of the number of people I unfollowed.) However, it meant to me that they were only following me because I was following them. So obviously they weren't really interested in what I had to say.

So why were they following me in the first place? So they could look like a large number of people were following them? So that huge numbers of people would hear what they have to say? I don't know. It doesn't make sense to me.

Follow people you find interesting. Pass on interesting thoughts. Don't worry about how many people follow you back. It doesn't mean they don't like you! (Unless no one follows you. Then you might stop and consider how
interesting or useful you are being … but that's a different topic.) In the real world we can't have meaningful conversations with 1000+ people every day. The online world is no different. That doesn't mean you shouldn't listen to those you find interesting.

Twitter is an extremely useful tool. But it's not a good popularity contest!

Photo by fofurasfelinas.

Twittering from conferences

I like twittering at conferences. It's a way to take notes, share insights and start interesting conversations. However, I'm always forgetting to append the event hashtag and I eventually get tired of manually typing it, so I wrote a Greasemonkey script to automatically append a hashtag.

To use it, you have to:

  • install Greasemonkey,
  • install my script,
  • use Firefox as your browser,
  • set your hashtag with the Tools/Greasemonkey/UserScriptCommands/Set hashtag. (Note you have to be on Twitter.com to see the commands.)
  • tweet directly from Twitter.com.

Some notes:

  • Thanks to @marnanel for suggesting I use a Greasemonkey script.
  • I had much bigger plans and started out writing a Ruby program with the idea that I'd create a Ruby on Rails app but I soon realized that I didn't really want to write yet another Twitter client. If Gwibber, Tweetdeck or Twirl would add some nice hashtag support, that'd be great.
  • It's been a long time since I wrote code and I've never written any javascript so this took probably 10 times longer than I think it should have. And it doesn't have enough error checking or any number of cool features I would like but it does what I want it to.
  • While I was looking at Greasemonkey scripts for Twitter, I found a couple of other useful ones like updating your twitter home page without refreshing, endless tweets so you don't have to page, seeing @'s to another user, …

I'll be twittering this week at #osbc.