Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: February 2009 (page 1 of 2)

Twitter and Open Culture

I woke up one morning last weekend with visions of Twitterplums dancing in my head. In other words, I was mulling over the concept that I hold so dear: that Twitter enables, rather, encourages open communication in a way that was never before possible.

The examples are abundant: there’s the open sharing of the Twitter API and all of the programs that utilize it; the use of Twitter for customer service (check out @comcastcares or @zappos); and then there’s my favorite, the use of Twitter to enable free and open discussion between a number of parties who probably never would have connected otherwise.

Oddly enough, shortly after I woke up and was mulling this over, I looked up at the TV to see ABC’s John Berman (aka @abcdude) talking about Twitter. I turned up the television; Berman’s piece, which featured Twitter power user @MCHammer focused on the basics of Twitter, mostly for the uninitiated, and in that sense, it was a success. I think even my mostly-computer-illiterate father could grasp Twitter from that piece.

But what about beyond?

In our culture, we hold certain people to a higher esteem: doctors, lawyers, writers, and of course, celebrities. Weekly tabloid magazines feature columns to prove these famous folks are just like us, while average folks snap photos with their cell phones at the very sighting of an A-lister. And while most TV reporters are able to walk the streets without harassment, we still regard them as the other – something that I like to think Twitter is about to change.

Unknowingly, John Berman and JuJu Chang contributed to just that idea with their piece on Good Morning America that morning. As they were explaining Twitter, JuJu exclaimed “I’m tweeting the color of John’s shoes right now. Sure enough, she did (a later photo on Twitpic confirmed the shoe color). And for his part, as John explained Twitter, his name, @abcdude, was displayed on the screen. I immediately followed him of course, and was surprised to note he had less than 300 followers (that number has since jumped to 680). I decided to try communicating with him and sent him a tweet that said, “Great piece on Twitter, well done! Though I’m remiss that you didn’t talk about Twitter’s great business uses.” He quickly responded:


That, in my opinion, is what makes Twitter so great. Every day I am able to converse with a diverse group of people from all over the world whom I would otherwise not have had the pleasure of speaking with – not even through Facebook (how would I have found them?) or other social media. And the fact that some of those people are celebrities, journalists, and writers who otherwise may never have spoken to me is the icing on the cake.

There are, of course, celebrities who don’t quite get Twitter, just like there are regular folks who don’t get it, and it can be frustrating when it seems that someone is having a monologue, rather than a dialogue. But for every @ShialaBeouf, there’s an @MCHammer or a Talib Kweli (@RealTalibKweli) using Twitter as its meant to be used – as a tool for communication.

(Note to readers: I plan to add my thoughts on how Twitter should move forward, as well as a bit of analysis on Twitter Search and why I think it’s failing its users…soon to come)

Teaching my Mom to Twitter

A couple of weeks ago, I made a pledge to teach someone how to blog or use Twitter.  The initiative was suggested in GV’s internal e-mail list and everyone immediately embraced it – and so Valentine’s Day 2009 became Social Media Kisses day.

I was willing, of course – the problem was that I couldn’t think of anyone in my daily life who doesn’t already blog or use Twitter.  After all, I do work at the Internet frontier.

But thanks to the great work from the rest of the GV community, it suddenly occurred to me this morning who to ask…My mom!  She’s very busy, so I couldn’t see her blogging, but she’s also very Internet-savvy (and more knowledgeable about computer hardware and networks than I am), so I figured she could catch on quickly to Twitter.

And, of course, she did:


So go ahead – follow my mom on Twitter!  It certainly won’t be the weirdest thing you’ve ever done.

And if you’d like to join the initiative, sign the pledge and tag your tweets #SMK (social media kisses).

I Love Bruegger’s Bagels, or Why Panera Can Seriously Bite Me

My love-hate relationship with Panera Bread has officially turned to all-hate, all the time.  I spent the majority of last Sunday at Panera’s Brookline location, in an effort to plow through my workload uninterrupted.  Mind you, the food at Panera is delicious for fast food…ever since my high school days of sneaking away to Panera for a cheap PB&J on whole wheat, I’ve respected the chain’s healthy fast food mentality.  But after my first thirty minutes online, I was a bit annoyed when I had to refresh my browser and accept the Panera wifi TOS all over again.  Still, it was worth the small effort…until my battery wore down a bit and I noticed that the store only had two electrical outlets accessible to customers.  Ooookay.  I found a new spot near one, set back to work, opened Twitter, clicked a link and…discovered tinyurl was blocked?!

You’d think that would have been the last straw, but no – I stayed for the rest of the day. Then I blogged about it, and attempted to make contact with Panera and SonicWALL, their filtering software company.  I noted to SonicWALL that tinyurl is not, in fact, a circumvention tool (their response was to tell me that they thought it was and will continue to mark it as such).

And then I got in touch with Panera. I explained to them that, while tinyurl appears to have circumvention properties, if a site is in fact blocked by SonicWALL, then tinyurl will not allow one to bypass the filter.  For example, Panera blocked access to http://playboy.com; if I send you a tinyurl link that redirects to Playboy (assuming tinyurl were unfiltered), you still would not be able to access Playboy.  Panera’s response?  Totally lame.  They had a disclaimer on it, so I can’t repost the entire message, but here’s the gist:

Tinyurl is blocked because the site is well known as a source of potential malicious activity and presents a risk to our general WiFi user community

While it does appear that tinyurl has been used for malicious purposes, I think “presents a threat to our general WiFi user community” is a bit strong. And that statement still doesn’t explain the fact that SonicWALL classifies the site as a circumvention tool.

So today I ventured back to Brookline Panera to test out more sites. I’d just settled in, started to create a list of blocked sites, then noticed my connection had disappeared. And when I went to refresh and log back in, Panera told me that I had exceeded my thirty minute peak time limit. Nevermind the fact that the store was half-empty.

And so I moved to Bruegger’s Bagels down the street, where the food may not be as great, and the soup selection is weak, but they serve great (Green Mountain) coffee, and invite you to stay as long as you like on their network:


Additionally, their TOS is quite amenable (containing even a clause on Usenet News!) and they don’t block tinyurl or a whole lot of other allegedly offensive sites that Panera does (including a number of sites I might use for work purposes).  I don’t dare check if they block porn (wouldn’t want to violate the TOS!), but if you find out, let me know!

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