Sending up the trolls – “Thank You Hater! – by Clever Pie and Isabel Fay” [video]

I have written about haterz and internet trolls before (here and again here) but this video – which includes brief accounts from those who have been the target of spiteful comments, such as comedian and performer Richard Herring – captures perfectly the tone of the troll and how he or she might be dealt with in a humorous way (strong language: not suitable for work).

Some of the comments are funny and insightful – one invokes Godwin’s law, another suggests there should be debate in the video’s comments about creationism – and overall it’s a brilliant lampooning of the trolls and the haterz.

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These are a few of my favourite things – a cultural review of 2011

I won’t do anymore throat-clearing before starting the list other than to say that this list might equally (and more accurately) be called ‘stuff which I listened to / read / watched, etc but that didn’t come out in 2011’. Although many of them did appear for the first time in 2011, many didn’t – this list just means I encountered them in 2011. Since I have an almost preternatural way of seeking out and sharing what you’ve already seen / done /read, this comes as hardly a surprise.

So, that said, here they are, in no particular order…

Favourite song – ‘Video Games’ by Lana Del Rey

I read on Twitter from Caitlin Moran that she had more or less repeatedly listening to Lana Del Rey’s song, ‘Video Games’, all summer long. Clicking the link, I could hear why. It’s amazing. Best seen as well as heard – the video and song work seamlessly together – it has topped the polls for many others, so I’m hardly being original – a theme that perhaps is true of all my list. This piece nicely sums up why we like it. I like it because it will forever remind me of my little bike tour, where I sang it, if not word perfect then with gusto (and aloud), for most of the way.

Favourite album – The Courage of Others by Midlake

I started listening to The Courage of Others in 2010 and I haven’t stopped playing this regularly since. It was the same with Vanoccupanther in 2009. The Courage of Others might 2012’s favourite album, too – I wouldn’t bet against it. I know it will always remind of being here in France and the mountains in particular. It’s so tied up with memories it’s hard to think of anything else which has touched me like it.

Favourite book(s), article

Remainder by Tom McCarthy

Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

‘Two Paths for the Novel’ by Zadie Smith

I’m opening up the idea of a ‘favourite’ book by including two books, both published outside of 2011 and one of which I read in 2009; and by including an article. It’s a bit sneaky, I know. Bear with me and I’ll explain.

Remainder is one of those books that helps you rethink the boundaries of fiction and offer a glimpse of where it might be heading. There are problems with it: the forensics of assembling some of the scenes can drag and some of the red herrings seems a little contrived, by even both of those approaches illustrate how this book is different. That said, it is brilliantly conceived and is packed full of ideas – what time means; how we construct reality; the difficult of being authentic; public and private lives. There’s so much there to think about. Its style is deceptively light: it’s a complicated book with an unforgettable ending that seems to capture what it means to be living now.

I wouldn’t say that either book is ‘about’ cricket but both contain an element of the fine game, so that’s my ill-conceived ‘hook’ to bring them together. Netherland is a novel about being lost in a new country; about expatriation and changing identities; about new worlds and the old. As such, it spoke to me a little following my move to Switzerland, then France. The character of Ramkissoon is brilliantly drawn, the narrator convincing. Alas, it dies a little by the end; but what comes before is enough.

As good as these books are, I would suggest they are best read in conjunction with Zadie Smith’s perceptive work of comparative analysis which considers both books and their contribution to the identity of the contemporary novel. I think Smith (who also wrote a brilliant analysis of the effect that computers have on us, ostensibly as a discussion of Jaron Lanier’s book You are not a Gadget and David Fincher’s film, Social Network) offers two paths that fiction might take, illustrated by these two novels. Remainder and Netherland diverge in many ways, not least in realism and technique – one more conventional, the other ‘experimental’ (that dread word). It’s ok, though – we can read both.

Favourite internet meme – Ultimate dog tease (hungry dog)

In our house, something that is especially good is now referred to as ‘the maple kind’. If a video is good enough to get you starting you own, minor meme then it has my vote. Honourable mention goes to Fenton. Unusually, it’s dogs, not cats, that rule the roost.

Favourite restaurant – Bistrot des Halles de Rives

This unprepossessing place appears to offer very little if judging by appearances. Sandwiched between the stalls in the indoor (admittedly, gourmet) food market in Geneva,  there really is (for me) only one dish – the steak frites equivalent, served with buerre Parisien and garnish (a rather lonely half tomato). It is uniformly superb. I have to keep returning to make sure they retain their standards.

Favourite computer game – Dead Space 2 (Playstation 3)

I played Dead Space 2 before the first version and nearly didn’t play either. I played the first Dead Space in demo and thought to difficult and unexciting. I was wrong – the difficulty is just right in both games and it could hardly be said to be boring. Rather, the often samey scenes – both games are set onboard spaceships – are deliberately crafted to appear claustrophobic; their uniform design appears authentic and contrasts well with the horrors you find within. A superb game, superior in all departments to any other I’ve played this year.

Favourite Tweet / Status Update

This tweet made me laugh when I first read it – always a good sign:

tashapotamus
#midnight #snack

It introduced a whole new way of thinking about Twitter for me – no content, only metadata. Wow. Perhaps this is how we will communicate in the future – perhaps the modern aside (or soliloquy) will make the hashtag its vehicle? Who knows. This just made me laugh.

Favourite gadget – Apple iPad

I’ve used this more than any other single gadget, mostly for ebook reading, but also for travel – it’s 3G is useful for maps and for learning more about the place your in. I can’t imagine life without it now – and the new iBooks night reader has made it even more useful.

Favourite blog – ‘Heathen’s Progress’, Julian Baggini, The Guardian (Comment is Free)

The latter half of the year saw the start of philosopher Julian Baggini’s excellent blog on philosophy and belief, Heathen’s Progress. This series has sought to further understand the nature of belief as it is experienced. It suggests that rather than a single set fixed dogma, believers often have individual ideas about how to characterise their faith. It has sought to understand, if not to reconcile, without fundamental compromise. The comments are also unexpectedly good; like so many blogs, the author’s by line should be supplemented with a thanks to those who comment.

Favourite photo that I took – Tate Modern (version 5)

Tate modern (Version 5)

Tate modern (Version 5)

I had some trouble with this photo. I asked my Twitter contacts if they could help and they made some good suggestions. But still I couldn’t get the crop right. Even now, when I look carefully, it doesn’t fully work. Still, it’s an interesting image and one that I like because it happened completely spontaneously. They are sitting where I had just sat, to have a beer and a sandwich and watch people flow over the bridge across the Thames.

Favourite photo that someone else took – Black Macaque Self Portrait (David Slater)

You may have heard the story of a photographer – David Slater – who had his camera stolen by a black macaque, who then went on to take photographs of itself, like the one below. A great story – and some accomplished photos. Honourable mention to all those excellent photos I’ve seen on Flickr, too

Copyright David J Slater / Caters

Favourite television programme – The Hour

I think Mad Men was excellent again, now at Season 4. But the show that sticks in my mind was The Hour. It approached Mad Men’s mix of private and public politics – the grand and the great, the intimate and the secret – and I loved (again, like Mad Men) the period feel, only this time it British. Well worth seeing, I hope they make another series.

Favourite film – Rabbit Hole

I was completely surprised by Rabbit Hole (2010). I think Nicole Kidman plays some interesting parts and acts well but I was suspicious it might have suffered from the Hollywood gloss. It hasn’t. It’s very moving, horribly so around half way in – but it captures the horror that few of us will hopefully never know so beautiful and with such dignity. It was also superb at the dynamics of relationships and the sudden escalation of marital arguments.

Favourite artwork – Isenheim altarpiece

I saw the Isenheim altarpiece for the first time this year. I’ve written about it elsewhere (with photos) so I won’t repeat that, suffice to say it was incredible to see in the flesh.

Favourite memory – pitching a tent by the lakeside on my bike tour

Camping by the lake, Provence

Camping by the lake, Provence

Aside from all those wonderful times I have shared with Jennie (and which remain private), my bike tour provided me with the most pungent memories. But which one? Starting off, thinking I had forgotten to pack something – then relaxing and starting to enjoy it the ride? Arriving on a sweltering hot day in The Camargue, the journey over, and sitting in a bar to order a beer – when the waiter took my dry bidons and filled them with ice and water? All of these – but this one, moreso – making camp on the banks of a lake in Provence; cooking dinner on my portable stove; and looking over the lake, listening to the cricket on BBC TestMatch Special. Oh happy day.

England won, too.

 

That’s it. That was my 2011. Here comes 2012…

 

Can social media support social change? Geneva Forum for Social Change Conference

University of Geneva, 'UniMail', site of the 2011 GFSC conference

I recently attended a conference organised by the Geneva Forum for Social Change called ‘Social Media for Social Change: Bridging the Gap, Creating Impact’, held over two days at the beginning of April 2011. Geneva, Switzerland hosts several international organisations, including the United Nations, The World Health Organization and the International Federation of the Red Cross / Red Crescent, so it’s fitting that a discussion of social media should focus on issues of social change, global development, and humanitarian response.

It was timely, too: recently we’ve seen immense social changes in parts of North Africa and the Middle East, where a groundswell of public dissatisfaction has challenged the dominant power. The first discussion I attended addressed that issue directly and considered the role social media played in facilitating social change. Entitled ‘Social Media and Political Change: The Middle East Today and Civil Society’ we heard from the speakers how Facebook and Twitter, in particular, fulfilled several functions for those directly immersed in these periods of social revolution. Following this panel discussion, I listened to the next panel discuss ‘Innovative Social Media Trends in International Organizations‘ (you can learn who was on the panel and more about them by following the links above). Some members of the panels embraced the notion that social media has supported social change and continues to do so, whilst others probed more tentatively at its potential to harness activity.

We quickly moved beyond the notion that social media is neither inherently good nor bad but its value depends upon its use. The panels took turns to discuss their version of how social media might support social change. For some users, especially those in a repressed society, using social media meant that their story now had a global audience. The Twitterverse quickly understood that a primary source of news was available from those on the ground, intimately involved in events. Users providing updates through Twitter accounts offered an alternative source of news updates from the mainstream ‘old’ media. Yet, despite their apparent immersion in the event, such accounts, one questioner later urged, should be considered only as part of the entire ‘news picture’ we assemble and should not hold any special relationship with the truth. As with all perspectives, they should be evaluated in an objective, balanced and probing manner. Problems of authenticity remained: in some cases, often through no fault of the individual who reports on an event, information is inaccurate; in other cases, those sympathetic to the government are thought to mask their identity and attempt to undermine the people’s case, even posing as anti-regime protestors.

Libya and Egypt: net shutdown and ‘Speak to Tweet’

Even if we remain skeptical of the power of social media in particular and the internet more generally to facilitate social change, it appears that the ruling power in Libya is taking no chances. A well-reported shutdown of internet services, as shown in the graph of net traffic below, demonstrates how those in power there consider it a threat. As you can see, traffic flatlines at around 8am of March 4th 2011, thought to be a result of the Libyan government ‘pulling the plug’ on its net links.

Such examples also serve to show how flexible the net can be when its freedoms are threatened. In countries where net use was suppressed or unavailable, Google and Twitter combined to offer a ‘Speak to Tweet’ service. This was designed especially for those on the ground in Egypt who had little or no access to the internet. Users of the service would call a number and their voice message would be translated into text and tweeted onto a special Twitter account. No internet connection was required at any time.

Gladwell and Morozov: the revolution will not be evangelised

The arguments of Malcolm Gladwell and Evgeny Morozov, both of whom insist, in different degrees and through different arguments, that social media does not convincingly facilitate social change, were not represented in the conference. The reader can make up their mind for themselves: Gladwell’s most notable discussion can be found here. Morozov’s book, ‘The Net Delusion’ is available now; sample chapters, which give a flavour of the book’s central arguments, can be found here.

In my view, Gladwell’s assertions serve only to remind us that we shouldn’t rush headlong into the view that social media will revolutionise the frequency and the ways in which people will attempt to challenge repressive authority. Only the naive approach social media with an evangelical zeal rather than a energised skepticism. I don’t think anyone takes seriously his suggestion that social change appeared before Twitter, therefore Twitter cannot be central to social change – this misrepresents the view of those who understand social media to play a part, perhaps a growing one, perhaps even a central one, in the apparatus and resources of those who seek to challenge authority.

Development analytics: evaluating impact

Some panel members at the conference demonstrated their social media sites through slides and videos, mostly of Facebook (and equivalents worldwide), Twitter and other, sometimes bespoke, social networks. Many discussed the culture in which these social networks operated and the kinds of issues they raised. Even if not explicitly addressed, a theme was the two-way communication nature of social media. Users would seek and expect responses from organisational sites. Similarly, some social media services required moderation to prevent disinformation or inaccuracies, deliberate or otherwise.

Social Media for Political Change, a session at the GFSC conference

I asked a question about how the panel members measure the impact of their social media strategy. During the initial stages of projects on which I’ve worked, we’ve been faced with the question of whether to harness the popularity but suffer the inflexibility of existing social media networks such as Facebook; or risk creating a new social networks that could fall outside of everyday use but that would be tailor-made to fit our users. In all cases, existing social networks won and were used. But one insurmountable area of inflexibility is created by the ‘walled garden’ approach of much popular social media. Administrators of Facebook accounts will know that, in many other areas of the web, they might use metric services such as Google Analytics to measure web traffic and exposure: but because Facebook is behind a technological wall of its designers’ making, this is simply not possible there.

So, how does one measure the immeasurable? Needless to say it’s difficult. Both qualitative and quantitative analyses are inevitably cursory and relatively subjective. Members of the panel discussed how the quality of the discussions they found on their social network sites was a source of information of their impact assessments. The number of users or ‘fans’ of the account was less meaningful, given many sign up to such services (including for reasons to impress their friends) but do not actively participate. In addition to this, we have some tools at our disposal and used in conjunction, they can provided some indicators.

Another option is to think about how existing social networks ‘offline’ register impact. Outside of the web, there has been a great deal of research into this area; one might say that, in the absence of technological developments that measure web statistics, then ‘new’ media practice can learn from the ‘old’. Both marketing and the social sciences have been interested in assessing the quality of relationships for some time. We may also turn to businesses practice in thinking about our metrics, too: the branding of our international organisation often shares as many similarities with commercial marketing as it does differences.

Steve Bridger, the chairperson of the panel on social media innovation, was right when he retweeted the response of someone who said: ‘The only metric that really matters is ‘impact”, where impact means something like real tangible change to people’s lives. We all hope that these tools are employed to the benefit of those who use them. But if we’re interested in creating and/or facilitating impact, then thinking about the seemingly rather dry, seemingly rather bland areas of data analytics and metrics should be an integral part of any initiative which aims to inspire social change through social media.

The anti-social network

It started quietly, as most things do.

I was flicking through my list of friends on Facebook when I noticed I barely recognised half of them. It didn’t seem right using the term ‘friends’ for people I hadn’t met in person, or online; hadn’t met for years, or even forever.

Just before I starting deleting friends I saw a programme on TV about de-cluttering your house. Removing all that old junk – an empty tin of boot polish, a single sock, several heavy wire supermarket baskets – was a way of lightening the mental load, boosting your energy, getting a fresh start. Who doesn’t want that? I suppose this must have stayed in my mind, because I started to delete people from my social network. De-clutter a bit. Get a grip.

At first this was easy. I could see the faces of those I hadn’t spoken to for a while from looking at their profile picture. Ah, I remember her, I thought. What does she do again, how do I know her? That must be her husband. Funny looking fella.

It was more difficult for others, because some of the profile pictures didn’t have faces and I’m not very good with names. Instead, they had pictures of dogs or cats, or signs you might find hanging in offices, saying things like ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ or ‘You don’t have to be mad to work here – BUT IT HELPS!’ in bold red letters. Even more had pictures of their kids, some before they were born.

I deleted these friends first.

I reckoned, as much as we love our kids, if you’re not going to put your face on your own personal profile then you’re missing the point. I got rid of the ones with pictures of dogs and cats, and those with the ‘funny’ signs, for much the same reason.

It was a victimless crime, really. They would probably never notice, or care. They were gone in a click (or two, I had to confirm if I really wanted to delete them first). I thought – you probably only added me as a friend so you could snoop around my profile, see how fat or bald I’d got (one out of two isn’t bad), what kind of car I drive or who I married. I could always re-add them as a friend later. But I didn’t.

Then there was this one, he sticks in my mind – kept on putting up pictures of his new home in France – the swimming pool, the mountains, even pictures of their fancy lunches – and banged on about much better and hotter and cleaner it was to live there compared to where they used to live. Where I live now. I hate show-offs. Gone, simple as.

At first it was easy. There were so many reasons to get rid of someone. Too easy, I’d say – too many went too quickly. I deleted one because she had a name I didn’t like – double-barrelled, probably – and another wore a zany wig and had fat arms in a photo at a nightclub. I’ve never liked nightclubs.

Text-speak was a no-go zone, too. I wanted to message them ‘U R DLTD’ just before I hit the button, but I didn’t. ‘LOL’ would do it, too. Although I was a bit of a hypocrite there, since I used it.

That reminds me, I’m a bit embarrased to say, but using some words or phrases alone would get you deleted. ‘Scrummy’ was one, especially when applied to non-food items. ‘All good’ – all gone. I didn’t much like ‘loving it’ – with or without the ‘g’ – but I tolerated it. For a while. ‘Simple as’ would mean the end and one that really got me – ‘kthxbye’. He went straight away.

Then there’s those who write about their dreams – goodnight Vienna – and those who go into every detail of their day. I’m not interested in what you’re doing at work. I’m quite interested in what you’ve had for breakfast of lunch though. I’ve always liked food.

Of course, I’m not going to be interested in your intimate details either. Someone posted something about their toilet habits. Terrible. Another friend of mine replied to them that this was ‘TMI’. They’re right, it was Too Much Information, but I had to un-friend them. I don’t do three letter acronyms.

A couple of so-called ‘friends’ would post leading phrases or questions, like ‘Oh no, I can’t believe it just happened!’ or ‘What am I going to do now?’. Some were more mysterious, like ‘The watch stopped on three’ or ‘They’ve all gone’. We’re not stupid, you know. You want us to ask what just happened, or you are just  looking for sympathy. Well, I never replied. And if any of my friends asked them, I’d delete them too.

I’m on a roll now. I remember having a thing about song lyrics. It was OK to post song lyrics if you’re marvelling at their beauty, or wondering which song a lyric came from. But just you try to update your status with just a song lyric! The amount of times I have read ‘Excuse me while I kiss the sky!’. Ah, Jimi would have spun in his coffin. Write your own update, stop pinching someone else’s.

I hid one from my wall because they kept publishing terrible photographs, loads of them. It was clutter, like that programme on the telly said, and that’s the last thing I needed. I post photos, too. So, I started to say nice things about their photos, commenting of them, or ‘Liking’ them. I thought – if they never comment on mine (I posted a lot, most days), then I’m going to hide them from my wall. They didn’t, so I did. I hid them and their photos. After I changed my mind, and just deleted them.

All the time I deleted people I never gave them the reason. I wanted to warn a couple of them, especially about the grammar, but that sounded cranky. And besides, I’d made a couple of errors of my own. None of them contacted me, either, after I de-friended them. I guess they cared less; about as much as I did.

When I only had a handful of friends left, I introduced a ‘three strikes’ policy. For example, three status updates with basic grammatical errors would get you deleted. You know the sort of thing – mixing up ‘their’ and ‘there’, using ‘no’ instead of ‘know’. I got carried away with this one and deleted someone for a single use of ‘your’ when it should have been ‘you’re’. I didn’t feel bad about it.

So, don’t think I just randomly deleted anyone. There was always a good reason. Or a reason, anyway. And the more I deleted, so the reasons became more complicated. It wasn’t always easy you know. Some had to really try hard to be deleted. In the end it got so the remaining friends – unknown to them, of course – would have to tread very carefully around Facebook.

I can’t remember when I deleted the final friend. I just remember days later, thinking that the only updates I can see on my wall are the ones I’d written, alongside the adverts for weight loss and credit cards.

Twitter, the economic crisis, and Ralph Wiggum’s broken heart

Can you pinpoint the exact moment when a new technology becomes passé? Maybe it’s when the newspaper you dislike the most writes about it – perhaps linked to some heinous crime involving, in the case of social networking tools like Twitter, a violation of privacy. Perhaps it’s when marketing, business or celebrity have their interests piqued long enough to take part. Maybe it’s when your gran is using it, exhibiting their new found skill like a dancing uncle.

The exact moment Lisa breaks Ralph's heart: has Twitter's heart broken?

The exact moment Lisa breaks Ralph's heart: has Twitter's heart broken?

Perhaps the tipping point is when a ‘web celebrity’ and one of its key advocates thinks it might be past its best. Robert Scoble recently declared it stunned, if not quite fallen off its perch:

Scoble: Twitter is broken

Scoble: Twitter is broken

What does this kind of message mean for Twitter? A comparison with the current economic crisis is illustrative (formerly known as the credit crunch, but despite its cutesy alliteration, ‘crunch’ is not aggressive enough: ‘crisis’ retains the sound pattern and ups the ante). Scoble’s not saying it’s dead: just that it has problems – but other less high-profile commentators are similarly expressing their dissatisfaction.

Before we learned that banks made massive loses, that people became unemployed en masse, and that UK police anticipated a summer of  civil unrest and even riots, there was a pervasive feeling that the media had not just innocently reported on the predicted downturn but contributed to it. How so? Because we know that the markets depend on a constant drip-feed of cloying confidence-building, like a petulant child with low self-esteem. Only today did the markets lose millions – because the traders were shifting nervously in their seats. As a result, when he hear the BBC remind us on an hourly basis that we are in for a rough ride, it had a kind of self-fulfilling quality about it.

I think people recognise a pattern in that potential users might feel sceptical, familiar and then addicted to new tools, only to find the passion fade before the tool becomes the object of derision, cf. Facebook, before something replaces it as the new best thing, cf. Twitter. Twitter will go through the same phase, eventually. Could Twitter withstand competition from the next best thing now – I doubt it, but that idea was unthinkable six months ago.

Like the economy, confidence is clearly a factor. Networks are sustained when users are confident in them – not just their stability but that others use them and find worth in them. Investing time and effort is otherwise pointless. But like the broadcast channels that precipitate a downfall, comments like Scoble’s – and there are other naysayers that agree with him, almost through instinct it seems – might have more influence than otherwise thought.

Is Scoble’s comment and those like it the blood in the water that the sharks will smell? Perhaps it’s just one of many ‘death of’ sensationalist pieces which appear from time to time to create a stir. We’re all familiar with those who consider something over only moments before it began: like chopping down the tall daisies, it’s a phenomenon we’ve all become familiar with. But it’s hard to agree that broadcast news can influence the path of history without admitting that comments such as Scoble’s aren’t ringing the death knell for our beloved Twitter.

So, with apologies to Winston Churchill: Now this is not the end of Twitter. It is not even the beginning of the end of Twitter. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning of Twitter.

@realTwitter

Assuming identities wasn’t invented with the internet: it just made it easier. Twitter’s recent rise in popularity means that it has been of interest to those with less than honest intent. This is sometimes manifest in spammers assuming identities of the rich and famous. Earlier this year, a co-ordinated phishing attack hacked several high profile accounts. For a short time, President Barack Obama’s Twitter account offered users ‘Free gas’ when they clicked the link in his latest tweet. He’s good, but he’s not that good.

Other ne’er-do-wells scramble to secure a famous name before the famous person gets it. This has lead to using the prefix ‘thereal’ and others to underscore authenticity. One can imagine an increasingly desperate attempt to reclaim an identity: @therealPhilGreaney might become

@honestlythisistherealPhilGreaney

and would culminate in something like

@trustmeIamthereallivingandbreathingasyoustandtherePhilGreaney.

Before you knew it, all 140 characters would have been used on a name alone.

Sometimes assuming identities has been used to satirical effect. Pranksters used the moniker @Cliffy_B to ape the eccentric Gears of War games designer Cliff Bleszinski. Imagine the power to – temporarily, it turns out – assume the voice and persona of someone else. It’s the Being John Malkovic moment that we all think about from time to time. Eventually it all turned sour when they went a little too far, at least in the eyes of his lawyers: the account was terminated.

Other Twitter assumed identities are less controversial but no less revealing. David Griner wrote:

Late last year, my family found a line-a-day diary maintained by my great-aunt from 1937 to 1941. She was in her early teens, living on a small farm in rural Illinois with her two brothers, one of which was my grandfather.

It’s a fascinating account of life in a bygone era, a time when my family’s only connections to the world were schoolhouse chatter and a neighbor’s radio.

Looking at the terse journal, my sister quipped, “This is the Twitter of the 1930s.” We glanced at each other and almost immediately began planning the Twitter account that would become Twitter.com/Genny_Spencer.

It’s a touching stream of tweets with a great deal of insight and doesn’t exploit the diarist or cheapen her memory. Rather, it brings an identity sharply into focus that might otherwise have been lost and reminds us that we’ve been speaking to one another – sometimes in short, abbreviated chunks of or around 140 characters – for some time.

Right on, Twitter!

Several high-profile celebrities have begun using Twitter, most notably (here in the UK at least) Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross. They discussed it recently on Ross’ chat show, giving it as much publicity as it has ever had I suspect.

Yet I sense a growing unease at the celebrity use of Twitter by those that use it. I think it stems from a tension between its primary function as a place for two-way, open communication and the tendency for celebs, followed by thousands, to broadcast rather than discuss.

This illustrates a number of issues related to the broader issues of social software. Aside from the kinds of affection that tools such as Twitter create, it points to the ideal of a democratisation in use, the notion that no one individual should be above its rules and conventions when part of its network. Naturally some users will be more productive, perhaps even more useful in their contributions, than others. But rather than the top-down dissemination model, Twitter users appear to favour – at least in my non-scientific observations – the creation of a community in which discussion is privileged. And that means celebs are as welcome as anyone, as long as they get involved in two way discussions or it pay lip-service: just don’t spam its users with news of your latest product.

Some celebs, including the self-confessed technophile Fry, have immersed themselves thoroughly into the Twitterverse. His guidelines to Twitter are a lesson for all those using Twitter, celebs and non-celebs alike. What’s more, his conduct on Twitter tells us he puts his money where his mouth is.

This example of Twitter and celebrity illustrates a principle which many of those interested in the uses of social software hold dear: the renegotiation of the dynamic between users and dominant traditional power structures, and a desire to move towards a self-sustaining democracy which invites a plurality of users and ideas.

Right on, Twitter!