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How I Use Twitter, October 2010

In response to an email thread/questionnaire about how various people use Twitter, I sent the following as my reply to the questions. I thought it might be interesting to share here.

I’ve been on Twitter since July 2006, and have been responsible for pushing it into many of our community efforts at work. Here’s how I use it, personally.

Listening & Posting

I keep Tweetie for Mac running on the side of my screen at all times when I’m at my computer. My timeline flows by – I don’t worry too much about reading every post. @Mentions and DMs are highlighted and usually catch my attention, and I have other ways to get notified of those types of communications. I get email for DMs, and I’ve created a search for my Twitter handle, name, and common misspellings at search.twitter.com, and have subscribed to the RSS feed for that search, so I never miss a mention. I have in the past also done this for specific topics I want to follow/be able to respond to quickly, and I think it’s a great “best method” for listening and monitoring. I also use the official Twitter app on my iPhone and iPad a lot – my saved searches sync there, and it’s a very nice way to make sure I’m always plugged in to the stream and able to post or respond quickly, and not be tied to my computer. Twitter is just as usable and useful for me on my mobile devices as it is on my computer.

Reporting and Analytics

Honestly, I don’t worry too much about metrics and analytics. Follower and post count are just interesting numbers, not the be all end all of my Twitter usage. It’s all about the conversations and the human connections to me.

Hashtags

Hashtags usually get picked by the users, and forcing/creating too many specific hashtags is usually counterproductive. Go with the flow. Try to use desired keywords in your actual tweets, rather than relying too much on hashtags. They’re just a way to get a keyword into a tweet when it wouldn’t otherwise be there. Write creatively.

Searching

Learn the advanced search syntax on search.twitter.com. Learn how to exclude terms and people to better hone and filter your search results. Iterate until your search is good enough. Don’t include the # sign in your searches – just search for the word. That will catch what you’re looking for regardless of whether or not the person remembered to type the #. Save searches, and learn to use the RSS feeds for search results, to pipe them into other channels (your reader, email alerts, etc.)

Managing Followers & Bots

Don’t obsess about how many followers you have, and don’t tweet asking for more. You’ll sound like a dork. πŸ™‚ Tweet as if you had the audience you dream of, regardless of how many people follow you. Tweet well, and they will come. Don’t follow people back just because they follow you. I don’t even bother to investigate every new follower I get. Many of them are spammers, and unless I already know them somehow, I won’t follow them back anyway, so it’s a waste of time for me. I do report people who spam me with @replies as spam, and block them, but I ignore the rest. It’s not worth my time. Use Twitter Lists to organize the people you follow. Whenever I follow someone, I add them to one of my lists (work, developers, news, companies, bots, friends, etc.), and I’ve gone through all the people I follow to make sure they’re on at least one list. This gives me a way to categorize the people I follow, and filter on those categories.

Measuring Influence and Reach

To a one, I’ve found these types of tools fun to play with, but ultimately useless. They don’t really provide any significant meaning on the stuff I care about on Twitter, which is the relationships and humans I’m connecting with. Every score-based tool on Twitter does nothing but assign an arbitrary and meaningless number to you. Fun to compare with your friends, but ultimately of not much significance.

This is Just Me

What you do think? I know everyone uses Twitter for different ends and by different means. There is no right or wrong, and I’m won’t tell anyone how they should or shouldn’t use it (unless they ask me :-). Have you given any though to how and why you use tools like Twitter, Facebook, etc.?

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Instagram – a Fun New Social iPhone Photo App

You’ve probably already seen these if you follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Flickr, but here are some random photos I’ve taken over the last couple of days with [Instagram](http://instagr.am/index/) – a fun new iPhone app that focuses on taking quick photos, applying some filters, and sharing them with your friends.

Got an Apple Magic Trackpad. Love it so far.

When the otaku geek “influencers” I follow got all excited about Instagram, and I read what it was, I couldn’t quite grasp why they cared. Yet another app where I have to find and follow my friends? Why not just use the existing networks? And I already have [Hipstamatic](http://hipstamaticapp.com/) and a ton of similar photography apps on my iPhone for when I want to make hipster pictures.

Why, yes. I *am* wearing a Hello Kitty bandage.

But with Instagram, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. It does have great integration with Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and even Foursquare. It is super quick to take a picture, apply a filter, and share it. And there are lots of really nice design touches (especially in the News tab) that make it a joy to use. And it’s free.

Narcissism

That’s not to say that it’s perfect. I quickly discovered that the images it uploads (and saves to your local Camera Roll) are only 612×612 pixels. That’s tiny.

Instagram pics are only 612x612 pixels. WTF?

After I [complained about this on Twitter](https://twitter.com/jabancroft/status/26575739137), the Instagram folks invited me to [submit a full resolution picture option as an improvement on their GetSatisfaction page](http://getsatisfaction.com/instagram/topics/give_the_option_to_save_share_pics_larger_than_612x612), where lots of other people chimed in, and the developers agreed it would be a great feature. Hopefully it will come soon.

Sync in Progress. Story of my Life

So, if you have an iPhone, and like pictures, grab Instagram, and follow me (I’m jabancroft there, same as everywhere else), and get ready for lots of hipster-ized random photos that make no sense, but look real nice. πŸ™‚

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iPhone HDR Comparison: iOS 4.1, Pro HDR, and True HDR

Now that iOS 4.1 is out for my iPhone 4, I loaded it up to try the feature I was most looking forward to: [HDR photos](http://www.apple.com/iphone/features/camera.html). HDR stands for [High Dynamic Range](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_dynamic_range_imaging), and is a way to get a photo where neither the shadowy areas or the bright areas are overexposed. It can also be used or “abused” to commit crimes against good taste. πŸ™‚ I’ve been using two iPhone HDR apps for a while, [Pro HDR](http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pro-hdr/id347104281?mt=8) and [TrueHDR](http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/truehdr/id340741871?mt=8), and now that Apple’s thrown its hat in the ring, it’s time for a comparison.

Here are the examples, and below them, my thoughts. The following photo was taken in my driveway last night (sunsets are generally good fodder for HDR photos). The four shots are, in order:

1. The original “non HDR” photo that iOS 4.1 optionally saves when you take an HDR shot.
2. The Apple iOS 4.1 HDR photo
3. The Pro HDR photo, taken in “Auto HDR” mode
4. The TrueHDR photo, taken using “Take Pictures” mode.

All photos are unretouched, uploaded at full resolution (available on my Flickr – click to embiggen) directly from my iPhone 4.


###Original iPhone 4 Non-HDR Photo

iPhone iOS 4.1 HDR Sunset Comparison - Original Apple Image

* __The Good__: Fast, easy, and simple. Colors captured pretty well.
* __The Bad__: Shadows and dark areas underexposed. Could have touched the dark areas to get them exposed correctly, but then the sky would be overexposed and blown out. Hence the need for HDR.
* __The Verdict__: The iPhone 4 still has an amazing camera with great saturation and color. Unless you really need HDR to make a photo better, this is all you need.


###Apple iOS 4.1 HDR Photo

iPhone iOS 4.1 HDR Sunset Comparison - Apple HDR

* __The Good__: Fast and subtle. Takes three exposures (instead of two, like Pro HDR and TrueHDR), and takes them near instantaneously (within two seconds or so). It’s still possible to get motion blur/ghosting, but it’s an order of magnitude faster than the other apps. Seems to go for realism rather than the over the top “ZOMG HDR!!1!” look. Free (if you have a device that can run iOS 4.1).
* __The Bad__: Subtle. May not give as much of that “HDR” effect you’re looking for. Colors aren’t as bright, and the image can appear a little washed out. Dark areas are still really dark (compare the grass and balloons on the left side).
* __The Verdict__: An great capability added to an already amazing camera. Will make a lot of photos better for almost no effort at all.


###Pro HDR Photo, “Auto HDR” Mode

iPhone iOS 4.1 HDR Sunset Comparison - Pro HDR, Auto Mode

* __The Good__: Auto Mode evaluates the scene, decides which bright and dark spots to expose for, then takes the two photos. Manual mode (where you pick the bright and dark spots) still available. Nice slides to adjust contrast, saturation, etc. available after the merge is complete. Does a better job handling the extremes of bright and dark than the iOS 4.1 HDR mode. Colors are bright and not too “unreal”. Only $1.99.
* __The Bad__: Even Auto mode isn’t fast enough for moving subjects. A “halo” is sometimes visible where two areas blend together (see where the trees meet the sky on the right). Sometimes the colors just _go wrong_. Merging the photos takes a few seconds (longer than iOS 4.1, but not as long as TrueHDR).
* __The Verdict__: If you’re a photography nerd like me, iOS 4.1’s HDR mode probably won’t be enough to scratch your itch. Pro HDR is a great tool for the virtual camera bag, and I recommend it without hesitation. If iOS 4.1 had never added HDR, I’d still recommend Pro HDR for taking cool HDR shots on your iPhone.


###TrueHDR Photo, “Take Pictures” Mode

iPhone iOS 4.1 HDR Sunset Comparison - True HDR, "Take Picture"

* __The Good__: Often more subtle and realistic than Pro HDR (see the balloons and grass on the left side). Doesn’t exhibit the “halo” effect as much. Does what it says on the tin. A little birdie tells me that an “auto” mode might be coming in a future update. Only $1.99.
* __The Bad__: Slowest of the three to process/merge the two photos. No adjustment sliders for contrast, saturation, etc. Colors don’t “pop” as much as Pro HDR. Sometimes the colors just _go wrong_.
* __The Verdict__: Still a great HDR app, and future improvements could move it right into parity with Pro HDR.


What I’ve written is based on these four photos, plus the experience I’ve had using both Pro HDR and True HDR for a couple of months in various situations. The differences between those two apps are small, and sometimes performs better in one situation than another, with the opposite occurring under different conditions.

In the end, if you’re an iPhone photography geek like me, you’ll want to use the built in iOS 4.1 HDR function _and_ one of the third party apps. Which one to choose is a tough call, though. If it came down to it, I’d say get Pro HDR. But software updates can change the landscape quickly, and TrueHDR is a great app, too. You won’t go wrong with either of them.

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Gone Markdown Crazy

I’ve gone a bit [Markdown](http://daringfireball.net) crazy today. It’s an easy way to write for the web. As someone who writes for the web a lot, it’s the most useful thing I’ve learned in ages. What took me so long?

First, I grabbed the [MarkdownMail iPhone app](http://www.secondgearsoftware.com/markdownmail/), started testing it with [my Posterous](http://jabancroft.Posterous.com), then enabled it here on TinyScreenfuls.com with the [WordPress plugin](http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/markdown-for-wordpress-and-bbpress/). Now I’m looking for ways to use it other places – Mail.app on my Mac, on my iOS devices, etc. Share any cool tricks or tools you know, please.

You probably already write at least partly in Markdown, and just don’t know it. I did.

_Update:_ I’ve switched to [Steven Frank’s branch of Notational Velocity that supports the Markdown preview pane](http://github.com/panicsteve/nv/downloads). I also discovered that [Tumblr](http://tumblr.com) and [MarsEdit](http://marsedit.com) support Markdown natively. I added Markdown and [SmartyPants](http://daringfireball.com/smartypants) as Unix Filter to [TextWrangler](http://www.barebones.com/products/textwrangler/) using [these instructions](http://mactheweb.com/software-review/markdown-speed-up-your-markup/). I also [added Markdown and SmartyPants as Mac OS X system Services using Automator](http://gothick.org.uk/2010/08/04/installing-markdown-as-a-os-x-service-using-automator-in-snow-leopard/), so I can use them anywhere on my Mac (in TextEdit, etc.). I’m also going to install [the Markdown Syntax MediaWiki extension](http://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/Extension:MarkdownSyntax) on Intelpedia, our big internal wiki at work.

See? Markdown crazy.

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Fire Drill During the Apple Event Broadcast – The Solution!

As usual, my Apple nerd friends and I gathered around one of the big TVs in the “living room” area at work, so we could watch the Apple event and announcements live. Usually, it’s me flipping through all the liveblogs, seeing what tidbits we can glean as they dribble out. This time, since there was a live video stream for the first time since 2002, we were sitting pretty – we were watching and listening to Steve Jobs live on the TV. It was great.

Until, five minutes into the thing, the building sirens go off, and security comes over the PA and announces that the building is being evacuated. It was just a scheduled drill, but it was SO HARD to drag myself away from the new and exciting announcements we were just starting to hear!

As we filed out of the building, I brought up the stream on my iPhone (which worked beautifully – as a video streaming guy, I appreciate how difficult it is to get this right on such a large scale). We marched to the evacuation area in the parking lot, and by luck, my car was parked nearby. So I had an idea.

We all piled into my car (which also got us out of the rain), stuck my iPhone and the Apple stream into my car dock, and we continued to watch and listen to the event in my car during the fire drill evacuation. It was a nerd drive-in movie! πŸ™‚ Never underestimate the ingenuity of an unabashed fanboy.

Fire drill during an Apple event? Stream it on the car stereo in the parking lot! Nerd Drive-in!

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Scenes from Gnomedex 10

Posting some of the photos I took at Gnomedex 10 in Seattle a couple of weeks ago. Gnomedex is my favorite conference, and I look forward to it every August as a “family reunion” of my geek people. This year was bittersweet – it was likely the last Gnomedex ever. I took lots of notes, and intend to write up a few more meaty posts on some of the thoughts I had. But for now, I’m posting these, mainly to push down my lame “Site was hacked” post, which has been sitting here for too long. πŸ™‚

All photos were taken with my iPhone 4 – I decided not to lug a “big boy” DSLR with me, and I have to say, the photo quality of the iPhone 4, coupled with the amazing apps I can use to manipulate the photos “in camera” (like Pro HDR, Autostitch, etc.) blew me away. This is now my “pocket carry” camera, and unless I really need a DSLR, probably the only one I’ll carry from now on.

IMG_1851

Made this combination panorama and HDR shot on my iPhone 4 with Pro HDR and Autostitch, two of my favorite photo apps. Taken from the front steps of the Bell Harbor Conference Center in Seattle, home to Gnomedex for the last five years.

IMG_1817

Chris Pirillo

IMG_1843

The End of Gnomedex

IMG_1720

Seattle Waterfront Panorama. Using Autostitch, of course.

IMG_1729

Seattle Waterfront, Unretouched from iPhone 4. Love the colors on this one.

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Site Was Hacked – Let Me Know If You Get Redirected

I was notified this morning by a friendly reader that my site was redirecting people to a malware site. Sure enough, upon investigation, it seems I was hit by this exploit, as written up at mediatemple.

I’m pretty sure I’ve cleaned it all up now – I can’t find any traces of infection. But I’d appreciate it if you could let me know if you see any strange behavior on the site, get redirected somewhere unexpected, etc.

I apologize for the inconvenience.

I hate spammers. πŸ™

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Testing Pro HDR for iPhone

My previous favorite two-exposure HDR photo app, TrueHDR, gave me a bit of frustration in Germany. The output wasn’t saved at full resolution, and the grain/noise was a lot more noticeable on the iPhone 4’s retina display.

So I’m trying out Pro HDR ($1.99). Works the same way (take one bright and one dark exposure, merge them), but claims to save full resolution (3MP or 5MP), and has some nice sliders to adjust saturation, warmth, etc. before you save (the HDR process sometimes does funky things to color).

Just did this test shot on my back porch. So far, so good. The sky and the flower pots are both exposed pretty well. I think I’ve found something that improves upon TrueHDR, and another tool in my iPhone photography arsenal.

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Some Meals from Bavaria – What We’ve Been Eating in Munich

I have a ton more pictures to share from our first couple of days in Munich (all shot on my iPhone 4, which is turning out to be a perfectly wonderful pocket camera). I’ll post more later, but here are some of the meals we’ve had.

Not sure what order these’ll post in, but it’s breakfast at the hotel, “churrasco on a plate” from the Brasilian restaurant Ver o Paso, and wurst mit sauerkraut and apfelstrudel from Hofbrauankeller. Yum! πŸ™‚

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