Tuesday 18 January 2011

Is history repeating itself?

This is a capture of a recent jokey conversation at Facebook which I was involved in. I have the uneasy feeling that history is making a stab at repeating itself. Right now it appears we have a dotcom bubble getting within sight of bursting point. It may not be such an idiotic and hysteria-driven bubble as the one a decade or more ago, but it may yet prove to be an even more tragic crash because of the stupendous amounts of money being thrown around. Ten years is about half of recorded history in Internet terms, so I guess a large number of today's players were too young to notice the first time. Their elders should know better. A bit of quiet reflection might be in order.

(If the images are too small to read, click on each to enlarge)

Monday 17 January 2011

How to Auto-tweet Calendar Events

Generally speaking auto-tweeting is not a good idea. Your followers on Twitter will be thoroughly turned-off when they discover your tweets are impersonal and robotic. In a word, they will be seen as spam, nothing more. Auto-tweeting naturally falls into a similar numb category to auto-following based on a keyword.

However, that is not the whole story. There are a number of circumstances when auto-tweeting is the perfectly acceptable and time-saving solution. One of these circumstances is calendar events. What better way to provide your followers with useful information about your activities than have your public calendar tweet event reminders automatically? This must be useful for a huge range of individuals and business types: a musician tweeting tour dates and a cinema tweeting programme changes; companies announcing which exhibitions or trade shows they are attending, and university departments, societies and clubs of all kinds posting event dates and fixtures.

Automatic calendar event tweets can be the sole output of a particular Twitter account if it is made perfectly clear in the bio that that is the modus operandi, and you feel that that is the best way to serve your purpose. However, I suspect that in most cases these kind of tweets best form just a part of the output.

Back in the middle of 2009 I wrote a piece call "Do a bit of plumbing with Yahoo! Pipes." It described two methods of producing an On This Day In History type feed for a learned history society, the Crimean War Research Society. The first method was by iframe and javascript, the second used RSS and Yahoo! Pipes. Since then I have set the whole thing up on a Google Calendar and processed it so that every event is posted at Twitter. It works very well as an illustration of the method described below.

This method for auto-calendar event tweeting is not unique to me or Glanton and there are other ways of doing it. However, this is the method I find most satisfactory. One side-effect of the process is the creation of a blog of all the automated events (to which the auto-tweets link) which can in turn be automatically processed further - for example with geo-location.

The method involves using a Google Calendar with email reminders, Googlemail and Google Blogger, plus Twitterfeed. For simplicity and to keep control of the process I recommend setting up a unique Google account to handle the calendar, mail and blog. You can always import other calendars into the main one, and having another Google account gives you an extra lump of potentially very useful cloud storage space.

When setting up the Google account I suggest choosing an esoteric or even coded name - remember this account is not intended to handle emails other than those generated by the calendar and you don't need punters trying to use it as way of contacting you. Similarly shut down the profile of the Google account to the barest minimum. Whatever you do, you will get some spam in the inbox of course, so you will need to visit the email account every so often to perform housekeeping tasks.

Now, using your new Google account, set up the blog at Blogger. Like the calendar, this part of the system is public: it is where people will come when they click on the shortened URL in the tweets. Each tweeted event will have its own blog post, or rather each reminder from the calendar will be posted at the blog, which in turn will be tweeted by Twitterfeed.

Next, start populating the calendar with one or two events. Set up the reminder(s) for each event, and also the location if relevant. Make sure you put concise details of the event in the title field as this is the bit that will get tweeted along with a link to the blog post. Remember that it is only 140 characters long and will always be preceded by Reminder: , which is 10 characters including the space, and will have details and shortened url for the link to the blog stuck on the end. So it is best to keep the title to around 50-60 characters, or at least get the important information in that space, because anything over that will be chopped off.

Each reminder will be tweeted, so think about what is going to be the most effective sequence for each event. If geo-location is relevant, add the event location and check to see if it gives you the right map. If not, edit it until you get the right response. (Clearly if the event is to take place in Conference Room 101 at Head Office, then you just need the location of Head Office.)

So you can see the whole system working, I suggest setting up a dummy or test event only a matter of a couple of hours or less into the future so you can check it all works.

Now go to 'Settings' in your intergrated account blog. Click the 'Email & Mobile' tab and then look at 'Posting Options' (see below). What I have changed to 'account-name' will show as the first part of your Google account name. In the field that I have changed to pink you will be invited to enter the 'secret words' part of your special posting email address. When filled in, make a note of it and 'Save Settings'.

Next, return to the email account armed with this special blog-posting email address. Set up forwarding by creating a filter: click 'Settings', 'Filters' and the 'Create a new filter'. Fill in the Subject field just like this below and click 'Next step'. (Every email from the calendar will have 'Reminder' in the subject field, so it is a good choice of keyword. However, if you can guarantee to always use an even more esoteric word in the event title field - perhaps the initials of your company - then you could use that instead.)

Fill in 'Forward to' with your special blog-posting email address and click 'Save filter. You CAN set up forwarding using the 'Forwarding and POP/IMAP' facility, but that will forward every incoming email straight to the blog and you don't want to risk those few spam mails that get in your inbox being blogged and then tweeted! That would be very confusing for your followers, and excessively generous of you towards the spammers.

Now you need a Twitterfeed account. Set up a new feed to catch every new post from the blog's RSS feed and send it to your Twitter account. Use the 'Advanced Settings' to tweet 'title only' and make sure 'Post Link' is ticked.

Don't forget that you can have Twitterfeed do the same for other blogs too: tweet a reminder that there is a new post at any of your blogs. And you can have Twitterfeed post to Facebook too, if that is your game. (In fact this is one of the best ways to keep an FB page appearing fresh). Other end services offered are StatusNet and Hellotxt, either or both of which could be the right place to send your calendar event reminders, depending on your particular circumstances. The possibilities are endless - but work out what is best for you and your audience, rather than over-egg the job by trying everything! Consider also that in the next year or two there is almost certainly going to be a big shake-down and streamlining of Social Media apps: the same services - in fact more - will be available, but they will be provided by fewer companies and sites.

If you would like to see a simple calendar event tweet set-up in action, go here to the blog and here to the Twitter account. This is the one I set up for the history society mentioned at the top of this piece. It tweets one or more events per day from the Crimean War, covering the period of the war, 1853-1856. There is at least one event for every day of the year, and every event has a map location. The calendar is set up to repeat every event every year ad infinitum and send out the reminder just before the event. The Twitter account also receives irregular and infrequent automatic posts when the society's website is updated, plus occasional manual tweets about new books and Crimean War related websites. I hope it acts as inspiration!