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The Lie of Twitter

This was originally composed back in 2009, when Twitter was just a slip of a thing, steadily growing toward the beastly maturity is has long since attained. I’ve changed clients a few times since, but was back to Seesmic on my Cleverphone (they aren’t really smart, they just make you think they are…) until it forced a migration to HootSuite this morning.

Upon re-reading this, I realize that nothing has really changed. There are still lots of Big Name Tweeters for whom you are just a number. Oh, there are still some that will engage to the degree they’re able, and for those, my view of twitter-celebrity is a bit less tarnished. Then again, perhaps it’s the intervening years since I first joined Twitter that have further shaded my view. But, for me, Twitter has become a performance arena more than a place for chance conversations beyond friends.

And now, the aged post…

I admit that I probably spend too much time with Seesmic Desktop running in plain view, monitoring my Twitter streams (I’ve got several accounts I monitor, of which @biblinski is one.) I follow a lot of the better known names of Twitterdom. Dropping names is too much like link-baiting, so if you’re really interested, check out my following list at Twitter. Some use Twitter for self-promotion, either of themselves or services and sites they have. Some seem to be more casual about using Twitter, with comments and observations of things they encounter online, either on websites or in their Twitterstreams. Some are quite informal about using Twitter, with comments and observations of things they encounter in their daily lives. Over time, you get a feeling that you’re starting to know people through the things they tweet. And that, I’m afraid, is the lie.

You don’t really know them. You’re seeing what they want you to see, or at least what they don’t care if you see. A handful have embraced the public life and you could probably approach them on the street and they’d converse with you to the extent they could. But the vast majority are using the social networks as marketing devices, and for them, you’re just another seat in the audience. They appreciate you, but they’re not interested in becoming pals with you. Even if their tweets make you feel like you’re already there.

And with that, I’ll re-vanish into the mists, perhaps to reappear in another 3 or 4 years…

Posted by biblinski on 13 September 2013 at 2:20 pm

Revisited: I rarely look at Twitter these days. It's gotten to be too full of personalities that are too full of themselves. Just my opinion, of course.

Oh how I love cynicism...

Fred Thompson explains this whole economic crisis thing to us out here in flyover country...

Posted by biblinski on 23 December 2008 at 6:03 pm

Revisited: I always liked the late Fred Thomspon. Maybe it was his sense of humor...

From the other side of the counter, part 1

I just read a tweet from Jeff Jarvis () about a foodservice issue.

Jeff Jarvis via Wikimedia, photo by Robert Scoble

What’s hard about keeping the supply of ready-to-serve product full is the actions of the customers. Lots of things come into play here. First, Starbucks has developed the expectation that when you order coffee, you’ll get it right away. Not a bad expectation to build, but it does set you up for problems when you don’t meet that expectation. And you will fail to meet that expectation at some point.

In this case, all it would take is for one or more customers to buy more than what the system (designed to build those high expectations) could accommodate. One customer ordering ten coffees for the office when there is only enough for ten coffees brewed means the next customer or next few customers is going to have to wait. There isn’t much that can be done to avoid that. There is, however, much that can be done to address it when it does happen.

The situation should have been explained to Jeff. “I’m really sorry, but we just had someone come in and order a dozen coffees to go, and it ran us out. We’re brewing more right now, and it’ll be a few minutes before its ready.” That would probably have blunted Jeff’s initial frustration at Starbuck’s not meeting his expectations. Any questions Jeff may have asked at that point would have been an opportunity to tell the Starbucks story of fresh vs. stale coffee and maybe the suggestion of an alternative that could have been made ready quickly – at the same price. In any case, Jeff should have been given a card for a free coffee at a later date, as a gesture of contrition for not meeting the expectations that they’d created.

Whether Starbucks has a policy where any employee can do that kind of damage control, I don’t know. If they don’t, they should. They had no idea that Jeff would tweet about it to his 2665 twitter followers, but his greater reach into the public shouldn’t matter. No customer should walk out of any store or shop angry that the expectations the store or shop has built for themselves weren’t met. Meet the expectations and make sure you can cover those rare times when you don’t meet them or work to build new, lower expectations that you can meet.

Posted by biblinski on 6 August 2008 at 11:03 am

Revisited... Here it is, a little more than 8 years later. I've retired from the other side of the counter, but I wouldn't change anything here. As a side note: @jeffjarvis now has 263 thousand followers.

My Service Thing

“Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others, cannot keep it from themselves.” – James M. Barrie

I mentioned my ’service thing’ a couple days ago and said I’d post about it later. I guess it’s later…

I’ve been in the foodservice business for over 30 years now. I’m sure many of my high school and college classmates see me as an underachiever, because they see me working in a hot kitchen, serving a pretty basic menu of food, still in my hometown. Many of them hold high-level jobs in industry, government and academia. I’m glad for them. I hope they’re happy. I am, and I think it’s because I hold service as not only a valid career choice, but if done correctly, a noble one. That’s my goal. To do it correctly.

“We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.” – Herman Melville

Service, to me, is about extending a helping hand. And in some way, you always get compensated for your service. Not always with money or stuff. Or with public recognition or acclaim. Or any of the myriad other rewards that drive people to do things for others. Sometimes, the compensation is internal – you know you’ve done a good thing and that made it worthwhile. For me, the drive is almost always internal. Sure, money and stuff is nice. (Public recognition and acclaim… meh.) But knowing that I’ve helped someone – that’s a payoff.

If Herman was right and we really are connected by invisible threads, helping someone radiates out from us and hopefully resonates, so that person helps another, and another, and before you know it, the whole world has been touched by the pyramid scheme of service. I’m sure there’s a spiritual lesson in there. Karma. Good Deeds. Whatever. But it seems simpler to me.

Doing good makes me feel good about myself. Easy to do, get rewarded almost right away, can be repeated as often as desired. What’s not to like?

Posted by biblinski on 25 June 2008 at 11:53 pm

Evolution is history, observed in retrospect

I continue to be amazed at how many people either don’t understand just what evolution is, or don’t communicate what it is very well at all. The recent news of a species of E. coli bacteria that now ‘eats’ citrate is a prime example. Here’s an excerpt from the linked article:

In nature, there have been a few reports of E. coli that can feed on citrate. But these oddballs all acquired a ring of DNA called a plasmid from some other species of bacteria. Lenski selected a strain of E. coli for his experiments that doesn’t have any plasmids, there were no other bacteria in the experiment, and the evolved bacteria remain plasmid-free. So the only explanation was that this one line of E. coli had evolved the ability to eat citrate on its own.

The way that’s stated, “this one line of E. coli had evolved the ability to eat citrate on its own,” it sounds as if the line of E. coli had taken some action to develop that ability. E. coli didn’t take any action beyond living, reproducing, and dying. The citrate-eating ability showed up in one flask of many after more than 33,000 generations. Somewhere along those many generations, a mutation that allowed the cell membranes of one E. coli bacterium to pass the larger citrate molecule through took place. That one bacterium passed that genetic trait on to at least some of its offspring, who passed it along to some of their offspring, and so on.

In a closed environment (a lab flask in this case), the population of E. coli reaches a certain point and then maxes out because the environment won’t support any more. But as more bacteria gained that citrate-eating trait, the environment could support a higher population. The mutant bacteria could utilize both the glucose that every E. coli bacterium could utilize and the citrate that only the mutant bacteria could. They were better equipped, because of a random mutation, to utilize the nutrients in the environment than the non-mutant E. coli were, so their numbers increased while the non-mutant population decreased from lack of suitable nutrients to sustain reproduction. The bacteria didn’t do anything to cause the new trait. They just capitalized on its presence by surviving and reproducing.

What isn’t said is that there were undoubtably many, many other mutations that occurred over the 33,000 generations. But they were mutations that didn’t provide any advantages over the normal genetic makeup of the bacteria. Those mutant bacteria didn’t have a survival edge over the non-mutant bacteria, so they lived and died like the non-mutant bacteria. Evolution is survival of the fittest, and only occurs when a mutation provides some kind of survival benefit in the environment where it occurs. Having cell membranes that allowed larger molecules to pass through was a survival benefit in that environment where citrate was apparently the only ‘large’ molecule to be found. Had some other ‘large’ molecule that was detrimental to the bacterium’s survival been present, the mutated bacterium would likely have failed to live long enough to pass that genetic trait along and the ability to eat citrate would have died along with it.

So, a change in environment can end the advantage a particular genetic trait gives to the organism that has it. The evolutionary process is tied to genetic traits that provide certain abilities in certain environments. Change the environment and the process is altered, sometimes to the detriment of the organism involved. How many species died during an ice age because they lacked the genetic traits that allowed survival and reproduction at colder temperatures? How many species died when the climate got warmer because they lacked the genetic traits that allowed survival and reproduction at hotter temperatures?

The evolutionary process is also tied to the number of mutations that occur, which is dependent on the number of offspring produced. Number of offspring increases in two ways. More generations of offspring and more offspring per generation. It may be that had the E. coli been bred in a larger environment, the number of generations it took for the citrate-eating genetic trait to occur might have been smaller (larger number of offspring per generation), because an equivalent number of offspring had been produced.

Evolution seems to be the province of the winners of the cosmic crapshoot of mutation. There are untold billions of mutations that did not provide any survival benefit in the environment where they occurred. Only the mutations that provided a survival benefit in some kind of genetic trait that was passed along to the next generation are part of what ends up being called the evolutionary process.

One can observe the changes wrought by mutation along the way, but only when the changed survive and reproduce better than the unchanged can one describe it as evolutionary. Evolution is not a play-by-play one can report as it goes along. It is history, observed in retrospect.

Posted by biblinski on 20 June 2008 at 12:56 am