Voice Twitter – First Impressions

Oh I like this, I like this a LOT.

So much potential for impact, reach out, promotional opportunities, and to really get back to the real fun, personal stuff that Twitter was about in the beginning. For writers and publicists, this is flash-marketing in a nutshell, brilliant.

So: Tweets are 140 seconds (any longer, and Twitter will thread your content), which allows you to read 120 – 150 words aloud. As yet, as pointed out by Adam Christopher, it’s not close-captioned, but you can write the actual Tweet before you send the audio-file, which gives you the chance to explain, tag, hashtag, your content – even if you won’t have space to put an entire reading (just for example). Your Tweets’ attached pictures will just be your avatar, against a suitably-toned plain background. You can also see that the avatar has a movable surround which indicates the audio file.

Trying a reading aloud – it’s actually got more space than you think it has. And, from a user rather than a techie PoV, it’s wonderfully simple and clear – just tap the icon at the bottom left-hand corner of your iPhone screen. (Only on iOS atm, sadly, but we can hope…).

Tweet Example

For author/creator events, this has massive potential for flash readings and/or mini-interviews – it’s the literary equivalent of the ‘hi-speed comics sketch’ that I’ve posted so many times. Very good for creators of words, rather than creators of images, to sample their own work to their fans!

Celebrity events are a bit trickier, because you have to play them by ear and you may or may not have the time – but again, this has so much potential. The idea of some of our celebrity guests delivering classic movie one-liners is just too cool for words.

The best thing, though: this really feels like a return to the earliest days of Twitter when things were still fun. When it was all about experimentation and discovery, and not suffocated by too much formality, or by too many trolls or grandstanders – yeah, you know what I mean.

Well done, Twitter, looking forward to using this in the field!

Ten Years on Twitter: Ten Things I’ve Learned

This isn’t ‘How To Max Out Your Followers Click-Bait-Marketing’, these are proper Old School…

1: Talk to people, answer and retweet them. In the words of the age-old saying: Twitter is like a sewer, you’ll get back what you put in.

2: If you’re using twitter in a professional capacity, don’t use txtspk. You look like a twat.

3: Aggressive marketing is not your friend – don’t spam people with endless links. If people like what you’re selling, they’ll come to you.

4: Don’t buy followers. They won’t give a rat’s arse what you’re saying, no matter how cool you think the numbers look.

5: A picture’s worth a thousand characters; use one.

6: Celebrities are not going to notice you, retweet you, or tweet you back. They don’t know you exist. Get used to it.

7: Don’t ping new followers a DM. People <hate> that shit, and no-one clicks the link anyway.

8: Tweets – even deleted ones – can come back and bite your arse. Be careful what you say. If you wouldn’t shout it aloud, don’t tweet it.

9: Politics is a minefield. You’re entitled to yours, but DO navigate the area carefully. And above all…




Same Old Shit

PageWhen do you reach the end of the Internet? In eight years on Social Media, I’ve watched it change – from friendship and sharing all over the world, to place where people have forgotten their manners. Not everybody, by all means, but enough to leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth. I’ve watched advertising saturate everything, all of it becoming more and more ‘targetted’ leaving less room for creativity and fun. In my earliest days on Twitter, everything was new and original – and I’m not sure if that’s because everything was new and original, or if it’s because I just hadn’t seen it before. Somewhere between the two, I suspect…

…but Social Media has make the world a smaller place, for better or for worse.

And this week, I think I’ve reached the edge of something that once seemed infinite. I’m seeing the same memes and jokes and cat videos turning up on FB and Pinterest time and time again. As Matt Dillon said, take the same meme, slap a Minion and a funny slogan on it, and hey! Clickbait win. And because Twitter is regulated and all about the numbers, and because FB and Pinterest now place the most popular posts, or the posts they think you’ll like best, at the top, I’m even seeing things I posted myself a couple of years ago – coming back to haunt me like last night’s curry.

livesAll the spontaneity has gone. Like the High Street being the same shops in every bloody town, like blockbuster films having the same plots and character archetypes, so the Interwebz has become the same jokes in every feed.

because it’s safe, I suppose, Guaranteed sales, guaranteed bums on seats, and guaranteed Likes.

I rather like that Instagram is the exception. While there are third party apps that will repost from your timeline, it’s not something that I often see. Sarah Langton comments that it’s immediately personal, and used by a lot of artists – who absolutely want original content and to keep their own content original. (Not sold by someone else for ninety grand, thank you). It’ a great showcase for their graphic design.

And it’s a great showcase for fun content. It’s always new. Okay, you might have to to face a lot of pictures of clouds and cats, but at least they’re different every time.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why it’s become so successful – it’s the only thing that seems to have escaped the common-denominator-saturation of everything else.

And thanks to Craig for the inspiration. I’ll never look at SOS the same way…

Social Media, Clerics and a Very Large Gin – the Stuff I’m Doing At Cons

Large GinOkay, you know those ubiquitous blog posts where authors list all the stuff they’re doing at forthcoming Cons? This would be one of those.

But first, a quick apology.

If there *is* still anyone tentatively now brushing aside the cobwebs to see what’s lurking in this abandoned and distopian blog, it will be back soon, I promise. It’s partially a genuine lack of time, and partially an equally genuine lack of getting around to it. Procrastination, it seems, is directly proportional to weariness.

Anyway! As the disturbed dust tumbles from the long-forgotten ceiling, we brush it aside to see the wonders we had so long missed…

Tomorrow, Thursday 7th August, I will be at Nine Worlds Geekfest, and you can find me nailed by my knees to the Forbidden Planet trading table as usual (though I think it’s closer to the bar, this year). Feel free to bring savoury snackage and gin to Alex, Sarah, Craig and myself, as we wrangle both tills and authors into submission.

You can also find me on the Social Media panel on Sunday in County A at 11:45am, along with Tom Hunter, Adam Christopher, Sophie Calder and James Oswald, all of whom will tell you that you need to blog more than once every three months.

Next weekend, I will be at LonCon, again behind the Forbidden Planet table, but also at the following events: –

The Social Media panel (again), Friday 11:00 – 12:00, Capital Suite 10, this time alongside Wesley Chu, Julie Crisp, Max Gladstone, and Emma Newman

And on Saturday 13:30 – 15:00 in Capital Suite 8+11, I’ll be with
Django Wexler, Scott Lynch, Den Patrick and P. C. Hodgell, discussing the humble Cleric – and why exactly your party needs one. Or does it?

In between the two, on Wednesday 13th August, I will be joining a HUGE host of Titan Books and Angry Robot authors at the Summer Invasion of Forbidden Planet.

And honestly, by the end of all of this, I may well be in need of a cleric myself. 4d8 hit points back and make that a double with ice, please, Mother Superior.



The #Rabbit: Social Media and Enthusiasm

RabbitAfter a remark on Twitter this morning, this is a little conversation about enthusiasm and social media marketing. I call it, ‘The Rabbit’…

Person 1: I want to give your business a rabbit!
Person 2: A rabbit.
P1: Yes, a rabbit. It’ll be free – we’re not going to charge you for it – and it’ll be a fantastic social media win. Think about it, cute creature, it’ll go viral in fifteen minutes.
P2: You want to put a rabbit in my business.
P1: Yes, absolutely. In the window! It’ll have our logo shaved into its fur. It’s part of a nationwide promotion—
P2: A nationwide promotion of rabbits?
P1: Well, you know what they say! No, seriously, we’ll be encouraging people to take pictures of them and hashtag them #rabbit – it’ll be fantastic, we’ll be trending in no time. And we’d love you to be a part of it!
P2: Okay, okay, hashtagged rabbit, I get it. But I have a couple of questions.
P1: Go for it!
P2: I take it you’ve already sourced this rabbit?
P1: Yes, it’s a black one – we saw it and thought of you.
P2: Great, thanks. So – how are we going to feed it?
P1: Oh, that’s easy. You can just bung it some lettuce or something.
P2: And how about water? And cold? And who’s going to look after it?
P1: You must have an animal lover on your staff – they can take it home with them in the evening.
P2: On a London Tube? And if this poor thing’s in the window, then what about hay, and bedding, and rabbit poo? And who’s going to keep shaving the logo – your logo – back into its fur?
P1: Um…
P2: And then I really have to ask: if you’re nationally hashtagging this wee beastie #rabbit, and it’s bearing your company logo – then how does its presence benefit us specifically? How it does it make us stand out? I don’t mean to be corporate, or anything, but if I’m going to offer you essentially free advertising space, how does this #rabbit actually benefit my business?
P1: But – cute creature, on twitter, everyone will love it! They’ll take pictures! Be like that street bloke and his cat!
P2: Look, I get where you’re going – of course everyone loves a cute bunny, and there will inevitably be pictures. But it requires a lot of management, it carries your logo rather than ours, and it doesn’t differentiate my business, or make my brand stand out. And, forgive me, unless this rabbit’s pooing chocolate drops, it doesn’t give me something that I can actually sell.
Person 1: So – you’re saying no to a free rabbit? In your window? Twitter viral win?
P2: With the best will in the world, I’m not sure this one is going to work for us. Come back to me when you’ve got something in a #wampa. That’s right up our street, and that shit, I know we can move.

Social Media enthusiasm is great. But when you’re making a proposal, please think it through.

‘RT to Win’ – the Big Joke

I’ve always baulked at ‘RT to win’ competitions – no bloody imagination, cheap and soulless marketing. They’re lazy, they don’t actively involve the customer (you know, the way we all learned to do at the beginning) and they show a sad absence of any kind of personal touch.

Over on the FP twitterstream, you’d more usually find me doing something stupid (never!). I’d ask a question, and invite – and retweet – the best answers, turn it into a game that everyone could share and play. Yeah, idealism. Got to love it.

They’ve always done quite well – they’ve been fun and they’ve given the FP twitterstream its quirky humour which has always been its strength.


Yesterday, I succumbed. Swamped with catch-up and signings and Gods-know-what, I actually did an ‘RT to win’ – to win this, in fact.

And it went batshit.

Over five hundred retweets, over two hundreds new followers – and ‘Forbidden Planet’ became a city-wide and nation-wide trending topic. Massive Social Media win – look at that, I’ve become some sort of Viral Wizard (sounds itchy).

Viral Wizard or no – I feel like I’ve sold out. There was no creativity involved in that competition, no personal touch other than a couple of humour tweets. It was easy, it completely ran itself and the massive amount of reach was largely due to to the  VERY cool prize (thank you PGW).

Success it may be – huge – but I feel almost like I’ve cheated.

Ah, irony. You’ve almost got to laugh…

How To Sign An EBook – Part Two

The Sharpie has dulled.

Why? It’s the answer to the industry’s most burning question – ‘how do you sign an eBook?’ – and it’s called ‘Autograph Now!’. It allows the author to sign, not the device, but the ebook itself.

From social networking site BookieJar, this new technology permits the author to sign on any touch screen device, or on any PC with a mouse. They can create a generic signature for all of their readers, or respond through BookieJar to dedicate a signature to an individual, or make drawings or sketches. There are also various security methods to ensure the facility isn’t abused.

In short, it looks very much like the thing we’ve all been thinking about every time the nice delivery man asks us to sign for our groceries – and it has a reader/writer self-pub network to back it up.

But will it catch on?

At a public event, being able to ‘virtually’ sign an eBook is a very cool thing – I’ve seen the looks on readers’ faces when William Gibson (who else?) does exactly that. It’s little piece of techno-future, a thrill of new.

As a site, BookieJar does virtually what a signing does in person – it connects authors (directly) with their readers, and vice versa. It makes the retailer in me nervous… but my twitter self jumps up and down and squeeees like a girl. It’s the logical progression of the #amwriting hashtag – and adding the signature gives it the personal touch of a real connection.

That same touch that William Gibson gives when he signs an eBook in person.

Signing ebooks is becoming a necessity; we all know that. Close as our SF/F community is here in the UK, and much as we all love our tactile bookshelves, the ereader has crept up on us, picking us off, one at a time.

For the moment, BookieJar is still growing – but if the idea expands beyond self-pub, or if this technology could be used through Twitter, or Facebook, or G+, or even through author’s own sites…

Then the future has arrived.

(See the previous article to this one on my old blog).


Twenty-four hours without my iPhone…

…and the symptoms are starting. The shakes. The craving. The fidgets.

Oh all right, I’m exaggerating. But not by much.

Seriously, while the irrepressibly wondrous Stephen Fry may have placed the smartphone in unlucky 13th, I’ve had a whole sodding day without mine. It’s been like missing a sense, or a limb.

What’s been worst?

There’s the OCD – the inability to constantly check and update my Social Media net – Twitter, Facebook, G+, plus my email account.

There’s the Texting – I feel isolated without my friends; I miss having them in my pocket.

There are the Photos– particularly now there’s instagram (amazing how those filters make everything look so moody), I have to take pictures and upload them…

There’s the Location Checking – all those missed Fousquare check-ins!

All of this adds up: we know this theory. We have to share, dammit – though whether that’s the desire to communicate the wonder that’s our next cup of tea, or just our narcissistic need for validation, I’m not sure. Frankly, after more than four years, I’m buggered if I know the difference.

Okay sensible for a minute – is it just the SoMe (pun intended) fripperies? Maybe not.

I’m adrift without the map – Isaac and I got lost in Canary Wharf today (not a place to be a Scuffy) and I was absolutely flummoxed.

I’m equally adrift without my news feeds and information updates. My world has shrunk, and that makes me oddly uncomfortable.

I miss Evernote – my creative Memory Palace (though I’ve had a Moleskine with me today).

And lastly, there are the games and the educational apps – Planets and Molecules – that my son and I share. I’m convinced he learns by osmosis. (They also keep him quiet on trains).

A comment was left on my twitterfeed yesterday about smartphones making us ignore our children – the usual implication about lack of social skills blah blah. Yet I see it like this: someone else using a smartphone is antisocial. When you’re using your own, it’s a window. They make our world bigger – we see more – and so our social skills have simply adapted. A smartphone is like any tool, it’s how you use it that counts.

I may have phone OCD, but it’s for a reason. My phone has become my information and communication, my location and education, and I’m absolutely lost without it.

Though according to last night’s gadget list, if I want to amuse my son on a train, I should maybe give him a cigarette lighter.

Wait… what?

Twitter – Don’t Be A Cunt

Earlier this month, Mashable did a piece on Twitter and ‘the happiness divide’ – does the site divide the happy and the unhappy?

Positive energy attracts positive energy – we know this – it’s hardly Social Media genius to realise that Twitter encourages you to be upbeat and outgoing. If you’re bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and you provide interesting communication, then that’s what you’ll attract. Eventually, we become the centre of our own audience.

But perpetual optimism can be fake. Can’t it? Shiny-shiny? Aren’t we supposed to be socially genuine? Well, fuck yes – we all have crap days. When your personal life is in disarray and you’re dealing with too much Big Shit, the chirpy-chirpy tweet-tweet can be both ludicrous and facile. No-one says you have to be positive all the fucking time – and good riddance to those who leave your list because you’re human.

Certainly, Twitter is a Bird With Two Beaks – I’m just not sure that they’re positive and negative. If you’re genuine, you should have both.

No, I think they’re something else completely.

As an illustration, the Little Blue Bird has today given me communication, support and outlet. On this day of protest marches, it brings sight of the outside world; lets me feel a part, even though I’m apart. And with tragic news, it gives a sense of community and closeness when we all feel like we’ve lost a friend. I’m under House Arrest and Twitter is insight, human and company.

And the opposite?

I’m steering away from the obvious. For example, I don’t mean the Time Sink – we’ve all fallen into that one. We’re used to the spammers and the porn and the soulless marketeers. The banality is inevitable, the narcissism quintessential. We’ve learned how to manage this stuff.

No, the Dark Side I mean is Twitter’s real negativity: lack of consideration. Information is sensitive stuff. It’s not about optimist or pessimist – it’s about responsibility.

Throwing up other people’s delicate personal information; preaching exaggeration and melodrama in order to gain attention. Deliberate misuse of your audience to make yourself feel important. If you want to shout the loudest, be the biggest, or play pointless pretty flame-wars, fuck off and visit a forum. National, political or personal, take a moment and think before you fucking tweet.

Be positive, be negative, be sarcastic, be banal – have an opinion and speak it honestly.

Just get a grip on your fucking ego.

And don’t be a cunt.

Culture Shock

Culture Shock is a very strange beast.

It’s not the big stuff – the high-rise Miami condos and the golden beach – that’s expected, absorbed parts of the background noise. In a Brit’s constant exposure to American culture, both tele-visual and through Twitter, some stuff just sinks into your subconscious.

No, it’s the little stuff that has the power.

Some of it’s half-expected, but still humorous – driving on the wrong side of the road, overhead traffic lights and ceaseless intersections, fire-hydrants and strip-malls, the guys who put their bikes on the front of the bus (yeah, that one absolutely foxed me). Some of it’s sheer ‘I-don’t-fucking-believe-this’ comedy – the juxtaposition of sunshine and palm trees with Christmas decorations. Sign-spinners (tell me they’re not real)… and what is it about the denizens of Miami and bloody pom-pom dogs?

Some of it, though; some of it just brought me to a dead stop.

Partially it’s the poverty. There’s no shortage of it in central London, but seeing it another context is both surreal and, rather uncomfortably, too real for words. The suburbs are a tessellation of street-art, chickenwire and urban decay; over them, the skeletal overlords of the empty skyscrapers stand grim against flawless blue. Miami smells like concrete, like sun-baked stucco; I hadn’t realised how much the absence of rivers and parks bothered me until I got home.

In a city built on a swamp, where hurricanes are a fact of everyday life, such ‘urban’ things as I take for granted are luxuries. That’s kind of an eye-opener.

Coming back to the tele-visual thing – I seemed to be forever walking into filmsets. The Tobacco Road bar was waiting for Arnie and a shotgun; the very poverty itself was straight out of Robocop. The fantastic, 50s ‘Art Deco’ buildings seemed two-dimensional – had I leaned far enough over, I could’ve nudged them to fall flat. Seeing white bird feathers decorating a grave… it took a minute for me to realise that the ritual employed had, yes, been absolutely sincere.

No Danie, just because it’s a churchless graveyard doesn’t mean it’s an episode of Buffy…

The tourist in me took in The Everglades (damn those ‘gators are big!), the Coral Castle, the KidRobot store, and wandered along the sprawling pretentiousness of Art Basel… evidence of which was washing up on the beach a couple days later. Plus a shout, here, to the wonderful Tate of Tate’s Comics and Videos – when he realised who I worked for, he and his team granted me Ambassadorial status. That’s a whole new and different form of Culture Shock!

In all of this though, there’s one thing that stands out as the greatest Culture Shock of all.

Twitter has made the world smaller; broken it into bite-size pieces and allowed everyone to find their own involvement. It’s also become saturated with spammers and life coaches and soulless marketeers – it’s very bloody noisy.

And it’s all too easy to lose track of your friends.

The opportunity to meet some of those friends – people I’ve been talking to for nearly four years, people from the Little Blue Bird’s first nesting days – was a wondrous thing; I have no words to really do it justice. However small the world may shrink and however swiftly its changes may pass us by, some things are worth taking a moment to remember, and to take a hold of.

Just like the city itself, they have to be done in person.

And that’s not just Culture Shock. It’s magic.

You can read another viewpint on my visit here.