Friday, August 21, 2009

Twitterfail: Nambu (and other twitter clients) trap social connections data

My previous entry I talked about some problems with Nambu. Twitterfail: twitter.com website, alternative clients, Nambu crashing At the end of that I came to a core problem with Nambu and other social networking applications. They entrap you into using their app by trapping the social connections data you've entered into that application.

In my case I'd spent a fair amount of time with Nambu with the accounts I'm following, dividing them into groups and in all making it into a useful tool. But due to bugs in Nambu the data file got corrupted or something and Nambu stopped working (it would only crash) and the cure was to delete the old data files and start over from scratch.

There are several problems with this picture ..

What if I want to switch between applications? e.g. the guy(s) behind Nambu might fall off a cliff or something and the Nambu Corporation wither into dust. As the Buddha says nothing is permanent and there's a zillion reasons I might in the future switch to a different application or even a completely separate set of services. Making it impossible to take my data with me creates a big barrier to switching between applications.

Let me ask - whose data is it? It's your list of social connections, it's your audience list, etc. It was your work that created the grouping of twitter accounts. What right does Nambu have to prevent you from using that data for other purposes?

Nambu, by using a proprietary binary data format is preventing Nambu users from reusing their data. There's a saying in the DIY community that you don't own it unless you can take it apart and change it. That's the problem with Nambu's use of a proprietary binary data format, it prevents you from taking apart your data and changing it. Nambu is interfering with your ownership rights over your data.

There's a vaguely similar issue going around the twittersphere right now.. The Twitter API's do allow you to retrieve all sorts of your data from your twitter accounts. However the Twitter API's have a limit of allowing only the most recent 3,500 tweets to be retrieved. Hence if you have made more than 3,500 tweets you cannot retrieve those tweets.

Twitterfail: twitter.com website, alternative clients, Nambu crashing

I've been happily using the Nambu twitter client for Mac OS X. After following a few people, and setting up a few accounts, it seemed clear using the twitter website was not very usable. It may be usable if you have one account but as soon as you set up multiple accounts it becomes very hard very quick.

Why set up multiple accounts? In my case my interests are pretty wide spread, and I wanted to have an account for each interest. Specifically the 7genblog account is meant to promote my blog http://www.7gen.com, while visforvoltage account is meant to promote the VisForVoltage forum http://www.visforvoltage, and wwwatts account is meant to promote the electric vehicle blog and podcast directory at http://wwwatts.net. Each has a distinct enough purpose it makes sense they have distinct accounts. Maybe the visforvoltage and wwwatts accounts could be merged since their topic area is the same, but the topic overlap between them and 7genblog is minimal hence it would be useful for them to remain distinct. Maybe.

I came across Nambu originally by default. Looking at the state of Twitter clients awhile back, Nambu seemed to be best. A lot of people googoo over Tweetdeck but it wouldn't run at all on my system.

Nambu generally works well and does a great job with multiple accounts. The traffic for each account is kept separate and it's easy to see which account has new traffic to look at. It's easy when sending a tweet to pick which account to send it as. It can also send info to ping.fm accounts which then gives the chance for your tweets to go to pretty much every social network via ping.fm's reach.

Additionally Nambu has a really great feature: groups. Nambu of course shows the traffic for all the accounts you're following and that's fine so far as it goes. I've found that the accounts I'm following fall into several types. Such as the people I really really really want to pay close attention to, if their tweets are lost in the firehose-like stream then I will have lost the value that twitter is. There's a lot of accounts publishing news-like tweets whose content is useful but not always desired to read. This is what groups solve, the ability to segregate the accounts you're following so you can more easily focus on the ones who are important to you.

Thus came the problem... Nambu has always been less than stable. There's something here about free software (cost=$0) and maybe I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. But it crashed quite a bit. Sometimes it gets really really slow. Whenever it refreshes the display because it has new tweets, the display jumps around which is real annoying if you were actually reading something because whatever you were reading disappears out of view and will be almost impossible to find again.

Then one day it crashed, and then it would only crash every time the app was launched. Ergle..

Somehow I had this notion that letting it rest for awhile would make something different and it wouldn't crash. Well, okay, obviously bits don't heal by resting unlike people.

After a couple days I looked at some of the other twitter clients. I remember using HootSuite, Seesmic, and Tweetdeck. Tweetdeck does work now but it appears to only support one account and the user interface seems horrid to me. I don't understand this multicolumn approach that appears popular in twitter clients. Each of them followed that style, and none of them were as nice as Nambu. Oh and Hootsuite made me tweet into all my accounts that I'd upgraded to v2.0.

Eventually I decided to take a drastic step.

% cd ~/Library/Application Support
% mv Nambu Nambu.broke

Yay! Nambu now launches. But wait, where's all my accounts and everything. That is, I moved the broken Nambu data files out of the way and now Nambu launches. The problem is obviously somewhere inside Nambu's data files. Such as some sort of corruption or other bit of data which is leading Nambu to crash. Unfortunately those data files are in a proprietary binary data format making it impossible to repair the data files myself. The only recourse is to start over from scratch.

The easy part is re-establishing the accounts to watch. But the most valuable thing in the old Nambu data files was the group lists.

Nambu has no way to export the group lists or other account data. So when it crashed it took my old data with it. Bleah.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Twitterfail: multiple accounts, same message

The latest observed twitterfail was a blatant form of multiple accounts posting the same message. There are many ways to do this, I just happen to be unlucky enough to be following two accounts engaging in this practice.

tfail2.jpg

NOTE: Rather than use twitter.com I use a twitter client (Nambu) which means the messages are shown as they would on twitter.com. In any case see how two accounts are speaking the same message one right after another. See it once and it might be a coincidence .. but ..

tfail1.jpg

I saw the first one and immediately saw several more. Hurm, I thought, what's up with that?

tfail3.jpg

First let's ponder why these accounts might be doing this. Clutching for straws... I think the reasoning might be two accounts are better than one. There's a line of thinking in twitter marketing which says to gather the largest number of followers, and you'll get the greatest reward. It's a numbers game where you suppose that m% of your followers will click on the link you send out, n% of those will take a desired action based on the page you send them to, and therefore the more followers the the bigger is the (m*n)% number who take the action you want them to take. The next conclusion from this is 2 accounts full of followers are even more followers to connive into taking the action you want them to take.

tfail4.jpg

Maybe. Or maybe not. It's true the theory is out there that more followers means bigger results. Hence there's a big push to get more followers, and people are selling each other on systems guaranteed(*) to produce more followers. Never mind that no sane person could possibly track the ramblings of 10,000 or 100,000 people, the quest for bigger results means more followers.

tfail5.jpg

Funny thing is a day or two ago I was pondering a very similar strategy. It's so easy to do this in a stealthier way. The problem in this case is it's easily detectable. The owner of these two accounts is simply tweeting the exact same message to the two (or more) accounts s/he owns, AT THE SAME TIME. The way to make this stealthy is to spread out the tweeting. The simple way to do that is to randomly select (or randomly generate) tweets for each account each tweets are generated. That means account A gets message 12 and account B gets message 67. Further one would collect up enough messages so the randomly selected tweets have little chance of overlapping or otherwise being detected.