The search, it is a-changing

So, pagerank is failing me lately.

Like almost everyone else, I start almost all my web browsing typing words, urls, ideas into a search field – all funneled through the mighty Google. It’s worked for years. Enough web surfing has trained my eyeballs to avoid most ads – and for a while I’ve known to avoid most SEO-heavy topics (you won’t find me doing a lot of “[product] reviews” searches, at least without a fair amount of cursing).

But for the last few days, I’ve noticed a couple of searches failing me. I had a mysql problem earlier this week and all my searches turn up results from 2007. Some due to the fact that the problems date back that long – but there’s newer information that I don’t find, because over and over that 2007 information is what’s getting linked to.

And recently, I am looking for information about using a Mac Mini as a home theater PC. Same results, 2007, 2008. Nothing recent. Again, there’s newer discussion and newer information that I want – but I’m not getting it, because all the links are pointing at that old information.

I’m looking for discussion/conversation/real people experiences, and I’m not really patient to dig through ad-flash-heavy forum packages to find what I want.

And then I remembered twitter search. Not quite sure about it yet, but it’s more of what I’m looking for after a page or two of commentary.

Google is in trouble.

I gave up my buckit

Back in June, I wrote about the use of a dedicated twitter account for system updates. Actually the post is much, much more than that – it’s good reading, I promise. Go check it out. I’ll wait.

See, I told you. So, yesterday, I finally gave up the extensionorgsys twitter bucket. Actually, I gave it up weeks and weeks ago, quietly setting its archive to be protected, while waiting on twitter to enable account deletes again, which finally appeared to be working when I checked again yesterday.

You might ask why? – which of course is a fabulous question..

I wrote up the core reason before:

…it’s not social. It’s broadcast. It’s not following its followers. It’s not interacting. It’s not a conversation.

Could it have been? Certainly. There are individuals ( and companies and organizations ) sticking a real human behind the “generic/faceless” twitter accounts – giving them a real human (though somewhat of an anthropomorphic) voice. With real interaction, real conversation. Without that, there really isn’t much of a point to using twitter for this.

But I already have a twitter account. And I don’t need another one. And @extensionorgsys was even starting to get support requests (that I wasn’t seeing because it was tied to a generic email address, not mine, and I can’t tie it to my mobile number, because I can only tie one account to my mobile number).

But, you might say – that shared account could let more than one person use it! That’s what many others do and with my co-worker Daniel also doing “ systems work” – maybe this was a natural place and case for that.

Maybe so. But I was already being hypocritical about the social networking of having a non-interactive broadcast account – do I need to add hypocrisy about using shared accounts also? (Paranoid system admin say: shared account bad. security good. Practical system admin say: It’s Twitter account, who cares?)

And again, we both already have twitter accounts, and I guarantee when the time comes to post a systems event notice, we’ll have to scramble around to find the shared password, hope the other didn’t reset it, maybe even get confused about which account window is which.

Ah. But what about those that really want to keep up with “ systems” events and don’t want to read about me cursing over wrapping up fra-gee-lee major awards?.

Three words. search changes everything.

Twitter bought summize. And can – in real-time – (well, provided it’s working) – find tweets that contain #extensionorgsys. So now, I can, Daniel can, others can, post tweets relevant extensionorgsys – and you don’t have to follow me to learn the sordid details that I sometimes listen to John Denver.

So the search maintains the information, but also maintains the human, conversational, interactive voice that can directly respond and speak to the issues to which it’s tweeting about.

So what if a spammer uses the same code phrase/hashtag? Or gasp, someone not affiliated with systems? Well – you cross that bridge when you get to it. But it’s not much different than someone getting hold of the shared password for @extensionorgsys. In fact, it’s might be better – because the individual voices themselves bring the legitimacy to the table. When we are out there, interacting, you begin to know who and who isn’t “ systems”. I’m more interested in that here. Too many “Eye-Tee” organizations put themselves behind generic email addresses support “storefronts” – for some very good reasons that you don’t want single points of failure – but it serves to dehumanize the process. It helps to know and interact with the real individuals that bring those services to you. Especially in our case where it’s only two people that are “systems” here.

The fundamental is this, the power of a brand – any brand – is its people. That is doubly true for the business I’m in. And anything we can do to express the brand through the unique, individual, human voices that make up that brand – the better. There is definitely a place for those faceless accounts that have a real human voice behind them interacting, carrying on conversation – but if they don’t interact and the working conditions make other kinds of interaction easier – then you empower the individuals that can provide the voice, and you use the power of search and aggregation to bring them together. And give up the buckit.

And in the end, that is likely way more powerful.

Because Meat Loaf and Twitter are like Peas and Carrots

This week, a colleague from Auburn, and a colleague from Iowa State twittered our mini list of Geek versions of Meat Loaf songs, starting with “2 out of 3 can’t be accurately represented in binary – but close enough ain’t bad” and followed by:

  • “Paradise by the LCD backlight”
  • “NAT out of Hell” (like a NAT out of hell… you’ll be gone when I go to logon)
  • “Skype is a Lemon and I want my money back” (a little Alanis irony that one)
  • “For Crying Outloud [Groupwise], You Know I Hate You” (an Auburn favorite)
  • “I’d do anything for my email (but I won’t do that)”
  • “You took the urls right out of my tweet”

This is why I twitter. are you twittering? you should be.

The internets be stealin mah bukkits

So, I have to go out and and admit before blog and everybody, that I, Jason Adam Young am a social networking hypocrite.

I’m a theoretically learned Computer Science graduate who cut his career teeth in that field colloquially known as “IT”, add to that I’m a classic introvert, and my career has guided me to that Systems Management part of IT.

So, what does that all mean? It means that I like buckets. Big ones, small ones, short ones, talls ones, green ones, mauve ones. I like them all. Ok, maybe not mauve. When it comes to computational and information problems, I love compartmentalizing things, categorizing things – finding the bucket to which it belongs (perhaps it’s part of that whole control mentality that “eye-tee” is endowed with).

Compartmentalizing computing problems is a pretty good strategy. But bucketizing information is not. Information is messy, chaotic, it wants to be free. It’s associative. Consider for a moment, human memory. It’s not like we have a file somewhere in our a brains where we somehow catalog all the spoons we’ve seen and can recall them every time we stop and think “spoon, wooden, 12 inches” But smell a little marinara sauce cooking on the stove, and you’ll hearken back to the 12 inch wooden spoon your Italian grandmother would chase you out of the kitchen with (no, I’m not Italian, nor was my grandmother, it’s an illustrative thing. I mean, really, there is no spoon).

There’s a lot of directions I can go with this, but let’s get back to the bucket. In February 2008 – I created a dedicated twitter account for system updates. I mean it seemed like a good a idea at the time. A little experiment that I helped self-justify with the idea that maybe I’d wire it up in some automated fashion to some systems service. Mainly it was just about separating the system stuff (“The Server is Down, the Server is Down, Auntie Em!”) from my own crazy phatic messages into a different bucket.

By all measures, it’s a minor (very minor) success, there’s people that will follow that extensionorgsys account in twitter, that don’‘t follow my twitter account. Ostensibly, I assume it’s because it’s easier to follow this abstract icon that posts messages about servers being down – that are nowhere near my verbosity level. Additionally perhaps there’s a certain amount of legitimacy associated with adapting the logo with a little green, and some drop shadow, and iphone glass effects and posting my work under a nom de plume. It seems a little more ‘official’ then having a head shot of Opie with a NCSU hat on his head and some random guy posting about the server.

I was fine with this bucket arrangement until it hit me last week that I was being a complete hypocrite. We have Yahoo! Answers-like application (only better) that we run that provides for routing questions from the public to Extension personnel in various locations and subject matter areas. And one of our groups is looking for “assignment to a queue” – only that, because we don’t have that queue-based assignment yet, one of my colleagues was proposing the use of a generic account to handle the role of the queue.

Which, honestly, is not really a bad use for the account until we can get the queue implemented, it’s not used for logins, it’s just used for routing. But I took a pretty adamant stance against enabling that generic account, with the concern being that we have to maintain accountability down to an individual. And that anonymous/generic accounts break the conditions that make social networks work. That is, that you are facilitating human-to-human contact.

Like, you know, using a generic account to bucket off my work as a system administrator. Um, er, yeah. Whoops.

This is a hard issue, really. There are successful “brand” twitter accounts. Think Zappos for example. Or SouthWest Airlines – which Kevin Gamble wrote about today. The extensionorgsys account helps to build the eXtension brand. It’s a very open and very transparent conduit for talking about the state of our system. And it both builds and benefits from the brand, it has some authoritative power that I don’t have as much just being “jasonadamyoung”. It’s a real human being – namely me – that’s sitting behind it. For that one small part of our organization, I have been the decision maker, the marketer, and its voice. Which is why it’s named ‘extensionorgsys’ – I have been systems, but I’m just a part of the overall picture (that’s changing as we grow, and add other voices like Daniel’s to the mix) And it doesn’t take but a few clicks to really figure that out. But still it’s not social. It’s broadcast. It’s not following its followers. It’s not interacting. It’s not a conversation.

Is that okay? Is there a need for a simple, just-the-facts, output. “The FAQ server is up” “The news server is down” – and you use it to point toward that jasonadamyoung guy for the more phatic messages: “Argh, blankety-blank-$&*%$! software updates again” Maybe, sometimes, you need just the facts.

But, I’m not so sure that facts and phatic really shouldn’t be mixed – I mean really, the facts really only exist to empower conversation between two or more other people. And that’s really the expectation of today’s internet. Actually, it’s always been the expectation, it’s just finally dawning on people that they can use this technology thing to facilitate that contact beyond their village boundaries.

I don’t know what the end result will be for extensionorgsys. It still might be good to keep for the brand, and for the facts, and just step it up so that it’s more conversational. Or just dump it, and folks can follow me, or Daniel, or others on the eXtension staff to keep track of the state of the system (and more!). It’s time to have a real conversation about that.

But I do know one thing is for certain. For those of us classically trained in IT? Or any other field built on a foundation of compartmentalization and categorization?

We better learn to give up our buckets.

Wow that’s fast

After seeing Anne’s Twitter about problems at the Georgia Dome – I turned to Google wondering what might be going on. I wondered if this was some current event, or like, maybe issues with the facility itself being talked about during the basketball game there.

The Wikipedia article for the Georgia Dome ALREADY HAD INFORMATION ABOUT THIS:

March 14, 2008 Storm

A storm blew through the downtown Atlanta area during the 2008 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament causing some damage to the dome. The storm occured during the overtime of the Mississippi State/Alabama quarterfinal game and stopped play.

I can’t find anything about this in the major media outlets online. Clearly a potential tornado that damages a building holding thousands of people in a sporting event should be news right?

But Google is beginning to find comments in weather forums, and links to some local media outlets (and their blogs!) with the story.

Moral of the story? User-generated content (and corroboration from local news outlets, utilizing modern tools) wins again. In short order, Twitter, Google, and Wikipedia, combined with local media give me a picture of what’s happening at the Georgia Dome, faster, and more accurately, than any major media outlet.

I bet there are flickr pictures and twitters from people actually there too that won’t take long to find.

[updated to add: Anne re-tweeted within minutes this output from tweetscan]