The power of the third place, and why Twitter ain’t it.

I believe so much in the importance of The Third Place.  The bar, the library, the club, the place you spend time when you’re not at home or at work.  (incidentally, this is at the heart of Starbucks’ model.)  A third place instills a sense of belonging to something larger, of having friends, of being loved.

Courtesy MITThis is not the same as an online community.  Although bonds can be formed and connections can be established, there is a limit to the depth of relationship you can have without breathing the same air.

It just doesn’t replace the third place situation.  It cannot.  So much of the experience is sharing a real space, sharing real energy, sharing your stories and laughing together. It’s real connection on a human level, divorced from specific professional or pre-existing social context, and it just can’t be found in its entirety on Twitter or Ning or anywhere else.

One of the reasons I don’t go to many industry conferences is because (for me at least), they don’t function as a third place.  Most of the conversations I hear are around “lets talk about Twitter or about how much we don’t like talking about Twitter.”  It’s not really a third place, its an extension of one of the first two. Meet me for coffee afterward.  Those are where the bonds are formed.

I guess my point is this.  I’m honestly worried that we (us younger folks especially) may be duped by the rhetoric around technology into thinking IMs, Texts and Twittering are meaningful as a ‘real connection’, and that we will settle for a life with wider swaths of shallower connections and not know what we’re missing.

So, if you run a local business, work at a school, have any connection whatsoever with a space that could serve even sometimes as a place for people to connect, meet up, have good times, talk about their shared experiences and generally feel warm and fuzzy, why the hell aren’t you bending over backward for people to have those experience in them?

Why wouldn’t you want people to have those kinds of experiences and connect them with your space?  It’s never been easier to incentivize people to come give your place a try.

Be a Third Space.  Breed connection.  Save intimacy.  Don’t let Starbucks have all the fun.

A hidden value of Social Conversations: Recognize the Suck

[Originally posted on NewCommBiz]

This isn’t a post about how, as @MegFowler puts it “If you make a crappy product and treat your customers badly, all the “connecting” and ‘conversation’ in the world won’t save you”. We have lots of posts about how Social Media raises the expectations of customer service, and those whose non-digital customer service is sub-par will run into bigger problems.

This also isn’t a post about how Social tools magnify both the opportunities and the flaws inherent within a company’s structure.


This is a post about Recognizing the Suck.

The most valuable feedback a company gets, be it through twitter, Facebook, customer service hotlines, op-ed pieces, ANYTHING is this: Your product sucks.

“But Jeremy!” I hear some of you already starting to scoff “Our products are great. Just look at these revenue charts for FY ’09 vs FY ’08!”

You’re wrong. People buy stuff that sucks all the time. Anyone who has paid for a hot dog on the streets of New York can attest to that. Quality and Sales have very little (if anything) to do with each other. If they were always linked, the New York Philharmonic would be giving a tribute to the music of Justin Bieber.

There are many reasons totally unrelated to quality that lead a person to make a purchase. Here are but a few.

  1. Lack of options – If you are the only act in town, or my only choice (see: Health Insurance).  Chances are, I resent having to give you my money
  2. Price – This is a big one.  If you’re the cheapest of my options, and I don’t really care that much, you may get my money.  This is an important point, because while you may get my money, what you don’t get is my loyalty.  Next time, the other brand of frozen pizza may be on sale, and there goes your spiffy charts.
  3. TrendSlap Bracelets. Nuff said.

“But Jeremy!” I hear some of you saying, a smug smile on your faces “What do we care why people give us their money. We have shareholders to think of. Have you seen our charts?”

Here’s the reason you care: People are talking about the Suck. And everyone can see it.  And people who are on the fence about whether or not to buy your product are reading it, and being influenced.  Don’t believe me? do a Google (or a Twitter) search for “mybrandname +sucks”. See what people are saying.

In the 20 minutes I’ve been writing this post, there have been 1800 new twitter postings containing the word ‘sucks’. Make of this what you will.

Here’s where we get into reactivity.  Maybe your first thought is ‘how do we take these sites down’.  Maybe it’s more like “Who cares?”  Well, at least some percentage of the 2+ billion people online do.  For sure people looking into making purchase decisions do.

Lest you think I’m all doom and gloom, I’m about to get to what this post IS about.


Learn to Recognize the Suck.

Take a step back, breathe.  This is a learning opportunity.  This is free. This is a way to optimize your products to maximize ROI.

You don’t have to build out an entire community dedicated to suggesting product improvements, as Starbucks did.  Just listen.  This is customer insight you used to have to pay millions for.

Its not the customers who have a sucking problem. We do just fine. We’re just the ones pointing it out. We’re trying to help.  We want you to listen and hear us and fix it.  If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t complain.

Do you have the humility, the savvy, the smarts to take it seriously?  Will you act on easy fixes, will you build upon your customer foundation, will you listen in order to create a better experience for your customers in order to build loyalty in order to build advocates in order to have them market on your behalf in order to keep those precious charts headed in the right direction?

Or will you let the suck win?

That’d be a shame, considering how easy it would be to, you know… not suck.

[Now read part 2 of this blog, about sucking less.]

Google Reader? Feh!: How I use Twitter as RSS purgatory.

I am a RSS addict.  There’s too much great content out there, and I feel like I need to devour all of it.  It’s a sickness, I know.

Because of my addiction (there are about 200-250 sites with RSS feeds that I have enough of an interest in to want to keep up with, at this point), I’m frequently overwhelmed with the numbers sitting next to each feed in my Thunderbird install (ApartmentTherapy, for example, has 19,000 posts that i have not yet gone through).

Relatively recently, I’ve been able to dig myself out from the pile enough to mentally put the feeds I subscribe to into three distinct categories:

  1. Feeds where I find value in a large enough % of the posts to want to keep top-of-mind
  2. Feeds I thought I’d like, but never end up reading.
  3. Feeds with not infrequent gem posts, but either a really high volume or not consistent relevance to make me check the feed regularly

The first two are dealt with easily enough, and weeding your overall list of subscriptions is a mentally freeing experience, that allows you to concentrate the awesome in your daily content ingestion routine.  That pesky second one is a problem though.  I feel bad unsubscribing because chances are there are some really great thought-provoking posts that get written, but having to filter through content that isn’t as relevant to me leads to huge bulidups and makes it seem like a chore.

If only there was some kind of service or website where I could get notifications of content that gets posted to these sites, without the ‘unread items’ piling up, so I can click through to the ones I’d be interested in…

Oh wait!

That’s right, many blogs and sites have dedicated Twitter accounts (frequently using Twitterfeed) that spit out headlines and links every time a new post appears.  Additionally, lots of bloggers connect their wordpress installs to their twitter accounts using plugins to notify when they’ve written something new (I use Ingoal’s Twitter Updater, which is fine except it uses as a shortener rather than

So Twitter has become my RSS Purgatory, and I frequently ‘downgrade’ blogs that have lived in my RSS reader over to following them.  I’m working on setting up a dedicated Tweetdeck group for these types of accounts, which should further optimize the process.

Do I miss posts? Sure.  But I can safely rely on my community to let me know directly or indirectly when there’s worthwhile reading out there.

So, if you’re like me and have way more feed subscriptions than you could ever keep up with, take an hour, weed the garden, and move some over to Twitter.

Don’t be so humble, you’re not that great: Addressing Tweetup Behavior.

Whenever I go to tweetups (in-person group meetings of people who know each other online, mostly via Twitter), I notice two distinct types of interaction between people.

  • One kind of person will who use it as an chance to get to know people as people, talk about all kinds of things and generally chitchat, making a real connection with others.
  • The other kind is much more limited, focusing on what I like to call “talking about talking.” You will hear phrases out of this persons mouth like “Well, I twitter about such-and-such” or “As I wrote in my blog…” more frequently than most.  They relate to people through how they already know them.

I’m not going to say that one level of interaction is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than another, I just find it curious.  I’ve always tried to chat with people that I know online about things not related to online, because hey, we’re all people first.  Is it possible that the second type are looking for some kind of validation from those around them.

In thinking about it, it seems like perhaps many of the ‘talking about talking’ folks are used to being a ‘big fish’, so to speak.  When you surround yourself (intentionally or by virtue of your job) with people who are less familiar with online communications than you are, I think we all have a tendency to go into ‘guru-speak’, talking about talking, in order to evangelize the importance of the medium.  Some folks have a hard time turning that off when they’re in a room with other online-focused people.

So I guess my message to this second type of person is:  Relax, you’re amongst friends.  You shouldn’t feel the need to prove your net-savvy, or active in the online world, that’s why you’re attending a tweetup!  In-person meetings are the time to get to know people as people.  Find out what music your favorite blogger is into, complain about the weather, start a drinking game.  Talking about talking really just comes off as trying too hard, and makes me want to roll my eyes and go talk to people I know have no interest in talking about follower counts over beer.

Tweetup (via @socialmedium)
Tweetup (via @socialmedium)

Thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Leave ’em in the comments :)

What I Love About Twitter: Breaking down barriers to engage with remarkable people. has become a central part of my online experience, as one can probably see by the focus on it on the sidebar. So, what makes it so special?

First, let’s define what the Twitter platform is.

Twitter = Length-constrained globally accessible Pseudo-IM that’s tribes-enabled and logged, featuring content-based networking tools. That’s a mouthful so let’s break it down

  • Length-Constrained: Each posting on twitter can only be up to 140 characters long (including spaces, punctuation, etc)
  • Pseudo-IM: Short bursts of conversational content. Thoughts, feelings, musings, inspiration, funny links, etc.
  • Globally accessible: By default, anyone in the world can see any of your postings to the site.  More importantly, anyone can respond to them and engage you directly.
  • Tribes-enabled: My definition, based on Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us by Seth Godin, is based around Twitter’s “follow” functionality, which allows any user to “follow” any other user, so that their updates appear in their incoming stream of content.  Unlike Facebook or Myspace, you do not need to confirm someone in order for them to start receiving your content.   As you build your tribe, you have several ways of interacting.
  1. You can post a message out into your ‘stream’ which anyone following you or searching can read
  2. You can direct a message at someone but still have it reside in your public feed by preceeding the message with an @username (e.g. “@jeremymeyers Your new blog post is awesome!”
  3. If you are following someone and they are also following you, you can send them a private message that only they can see.
  • Logged: Public conversations are on indefinitely, so they can be referenced in the future.  In fact, the definition above came from something I posted on December 12th.
  • Content-based networking tools: This is where it gets interesting.  Twitter features a pretty robust search engine, allowing you to search not only for people, but for anything anyone has ever posted to the site.  This makes finding interesting people saying remarkable things about topics you are interested in very simple.  And since there’s no barrier to engagement, you can follow them and say hi immediately.

This may seem to some like a fancy way of pushing out Facebook updates, but as more and more interesting people join and start using the service a remarkable thing starts happening.  The old barriers to being able to contact people fall away.  Imagine this scenario:  You’re a writer with a book almost completed and no contacts in the publishing industry.  You go on twitter and notice that the VP of Editorial at Bantam has a twitter account. You can go and see what they’re thinking about, who they’re talking to, what’s interesting to them.  Then you can engage them in authentic communication, build up a relationship, and before you know it you have a friend who can help you out.

Now imagine being able to do this with Rachel Maddow (@maddow).  Or Adam Savage from Mythbusters (@donttrythis).  Or potential Surgeon General Sanjay Gupta (@cnnhealth), or ?uestlove from The Roots, or the guys behind

I think what I really love about twitter is its a great democratic equalizer.  We’re all just people, and we’re there to make connections that allow us to give and receive value.  Twitter makes it easy to find people who are into what you’re into, and want to have great conversations and debates and grow and learn.  If you use it right, your life can be affected in any number of ways.

Pro Tip: If you find yourself using the site with any regularlity, I suggest using the free program TweetDeck as your interface into it. Its dashboard system makes keeping track of the various threads of conversation much easier than’s own website.