Writing in the long form
May 26th, 2012

Worlds collide: one degree of separation

As a codicil to the post about how things online, especially with social media, seem to inevitably converge so at some point everyone seems to be directly connecting and speaking to everyone else.

A local colleague retweeted a tweet from someone I’d never heard of and didn’t follow, @ftrain. Though on checking, he’s followed by half a dozen people I follow, including a work colleague from a previous career.

The tweet was good. And a good reply followed by someone else I’d never heard of before, @mulegirl.

Because the reply was worth sharing, grabbed it as a screen picture, and pasted it on Facebook:


Within three minutes an ex-work colleague, Tony – the manager of the JISC elib ADAM subject gateway in the 1990s who has since moved to Brooklyn in New York – and also another previous colleague of @danbri – added a comment, pointing out that …


Aarggh. #WorldsCollide. Continuously.

Update more from @danbri who is also intrigued by the connections with @ftrain. Dan points out that ten years ago, Paul wrote A bit of commentary on Google and the Semantic Web (while now Dan works on taking RDF mainstream), plus more recent stuff on the Semantic Web. And more from Dan:

In 1997 Tony Gill told me RDF wouldn’t be ready by next summer, and wasn’t wrong. And i still work around models for describing Mona Lisa.

One of Dan’s other projects, FOAF, was useful in highlighting coincidences and less apparent connections. All of this is more data, anecdotes, links towards a (personal) long-held suspicion that:

  1. the whole Internet/Web data movement over the last twenty years has been actively driven, engineered, moved forward, by a surprising small collection of people, several hundred or just a few thousand at the most.
  2. some forms of “social media”, but especially Twitter, are gradually enabling and highlighting direct connections between these particular people.

Update #2 so I went to the 30th birthday party of an ex-housemate, Samira, who now lives in the house the party is in. Samira is heading west to San Francisco soon for a new life, which is great. There was a bloke wearing a hat there; I’d met him before briefly, and he looked … familiar in some way. I dropped Samira’s card in the punchbowl (oops), spoke to some people (two of whom I recognised from somewhere else, but again not sure where), then left for a sleep.

A few days later finds me looking at the twitter stream of my next door neighbour, and realising that she is tweeting the same bloke (orangejon) about going to the same party. So I follow him, then look through *his* twitter stream to see chats with my neighbour, the cheap cafe I eat in, a load of other places I’ve eaten or drunk in, an ex, several friends, a fellow library campaigner, several organisations on twitter I’ve also chatted to in the past, and a whole bundle of friends/contacts of friends. Of whom @dubber and @gridinoc are of particular personal interest (though I’ve never met either of them), as we have mutual twitter friends (more than just followers; people chatted to) from every period of my life since escaping from the Vale of Evesham in 1988.

Oh, and Mr O. Jon has also retweeted Mike Ellis. Seriously, everyone I know seems to know and/or retweet Mike Ellis at some point. I’ve never met the guy (though we’ve twitter-chatted and I like his life philosophy) but I know many of his colleagues and friends, far more than most of the people I’ve met in the real life.

Retweet by Mike Ellis

The thing is, it’s not like Orange Jon and myself follow and communicate with millions of people each on Twitter. It’s just a couple of hundred, especially when you remove organisations. And yes, there will be coincidences; a lack of coincidences would be strange. But the accumulating number of links, and @ chats, is really odd for someone I do not know and have chatted to for approximately 15 seconds in real life, and do different things and “move in different circles” to.

Perhaps @orangejon is the anti-me, like anti-matter, and if we shake hands either we will cancel each other out and disappear, or the universe will implode, or we would be immediately replaced by an exact replication of Mike Ellis.

Or twitter would crash.

(Thinks a while. Or, and scarily there is a strong argument that could be made here, the Matrix does exist and it is in fact Twitter. I feel a paper coming on…)

Oh. And I forgot to ask why he’s called “Orange Jon”.

And as a further afterthought and back on the track of “breathing”, a retweet a few minutes later by @ppetej (an ex-colleague and metadata guru who used to be at Eduserv but now works at Cambridge University with twitter followers of Becky, who maintains a list of metadata and cataloguing people on Twitter) is a refreshing analogy on not being unnecessarily distracted from writing that is to be done.


And, as an even further afterthought, tonight I “went viral” – as in one of my tweets being retweeted several thousand times – for the only time this year. During #eurovision.


And the only time I managed it in 2011, was … during #eurovision.


Digital games in education, libraries, geocaching, digital library developments, anything else; a mild amount of retweets. On a good day.

But Eurovision? The tweeting floodgates doth open.

#DoingTwitterVeryWrongly #BahHumbug

May 1st, 2012

TO MOVE: Why I unfollowed you on Twitter

I’ve unfollowed a fair few people on Twitter over the last month. A couple of these have noticed and asked “Why?”, which is always an amusing question – asking someone why they’ve unfollowed you on a social media system runs the risk of getting a negative, personal or hurtful response back.

My own number of followers goes up and down daily; so be it. Some people probably find my tweets boring, irrelevant, offensive, crude, too frequent, politically incorrect or different to their own. Whatevs. Getting obsessed, or worried, about being unfollowed is unhealthy – and, pointless. Social media connections are simply not the same as friendship connections. Following someone on e.g. twitter is merely stating “I wish to receive your tweets automatically in my tweet feed”. It does not mean “I now regard you as a friend” or “I like you unconditionally” or “I have more respect for what you say than all of the people who I do not follow”.

This is illustrated by the reasons why I chose to unfollow some people. Non of these were agonisingly long decisions; there simply is not the time to have a long think about whether to follow someone, or not follow them, or to unfollow them. If you do invest lots of time in that activity, you need to seriously have a hard and honest look at how you spend your very finite time. Some of the people I’ve unfollowed I still regard as friends in the real world. And some of the people I still follow I don’t regard as a friend(*), and possibly don’t even like, or would avoid in the real world. In some cases – certainly not all cases – I’m following you on twitter because your tweets are useful, but I certainly don’t want to go out for a curry with you.


To ram this point bluntly home; see this graphic from xkcd.org. If this happened to you – and at some point in your life you will become seriously ill or die – then do you want a large chunk of the “before the bad time” episode of your life timeline to just be “considered in great details who to follow, or unfollow, on social media networks.”?

Anyway; why I unfollowed some people lately:

  1. You tweet-ranted about the “evils of advertising” in exaggerated detail. Then, straight afterwards, tweeted every time someone bought a copy of your fucking book. (Not a book about sex; it was just deeply annoying to see the same tweet over and over). Strike out for hypocrisy.
  2. You bitched about your ex, openly, in public, in intimate gynecological detail. Whether he or she was a good person or a bad person, I didn’t want to know these details. They’re probably false anyway as you obviously hate them. Also – any future partner who comes across your tweets will run a mile away.
  3. You made unamusing jokes about rape, sexual abuse or domestic violence. Unacceptable; to me, anyway. One of the downsides of twitter in particular is “trending topics”, where you become aware that you’re sharing the same social network with a lot of people who have a very different mindset to your own. That’s one thing, but when people who you had respect for, and thought were, well, better than that start picking up on the very dodgy hashtags and trends, it’s enormously disappointing. Not sure I want to spend time with you in real life, let alone on a social network.
  4. 92 tweets in one day (yes, counted them) was too much, blocked out much other stuff from my tweet stream. While tweeting a conference is good and often useful, tweeting literally every sentence a speaker said: not good.
  5. “The library is dead.” Oh just fuck off.
  6. “This [bad thing done by right wing politicians] disgusts me.” Here’s the thing. I agreed with most, possibly all, of your tweets. But with a 24/7 avalanche of news, and much of it bad things done by conservative politicians in the US and the UK, I know what you’re going to say, and seeing many tweets per day – or hour – of the same ilk means I ignore them and miss your occasionally useful tweets. In other words; your tweets are completely predictable, so it’s a waste of time reading them.
  7. [When no football on TV] “Sport A is boring. Sport B is boring. Sport C is boring. Sport XYZ is boring.” [When football on TV] “Oh great shot. Nearly scored. Another shot. Oh he misses.” Yadda yadda yadda. There’s a peculiarity with football in particular that more than a few fans seem remarkably and vocally intolerant of everything that is not football. I don’t like it for many reasons (who benefits financially, and the violent culture which surrounds it, being two) but I accept that many do like it. Tweet that you find football boring, however, when there’s a football match on and my god the reaction is often extreme and just bizarre. Even from above average intelligent people who you mutually follow, and seem to undergo a 90 minute temporary lobotomy when the match starts.
  8. “I’ve donated to [worthy cause]. And so should you.” Do not tell me how I should spend my money. Do not try and guilt-trip me. At best, come up with a dispassionate reason. You glowing in self-worthiness of donating is not a reason, irrelevant of the cause.
  9. “Here’s my latest blog post:” (nothing till next day) “Here’s my latest blog post:” (nothing till next day) “Here’s my latest…”. One I am guilty of myself, and I will probably hypocritically do by tweeting this post as soon as it’s finished and live. If you do this, at least try and tweet other things, rather than use twitter solely for self-promotion.
  10. “I’ve changed my avatar to protest [cause x]; change yours too”. “My twitter count for this week is up 3 followers, 14 retweets, 7 being an asshat, whatever these automated things vomit out.” “My klout score today is 73.3% pretentious douchebag.” “I have joined InstaHipstaGram. Follow this link to join.” One or two automated messages; okay. A regular flow of them, and they’re all vacuous; bye.

The common thread? To save time, and get a higher quality over quantity information feed from the collective herd of twitter.

Off the top of my head, that’s just my personal list of reasons why I’ve unfollowed some people in the last month or two. Your list will be different. Each to their own. Some people use filters to block out hashtags, or people who talk about certain things, but after some experimenting, it’s yet more time spent/lost on fiddling about with people and what they say.

(*) insecure people: please don’t DM me with “Did you mean me when you typed that?” :-)