Can Twitter be used as viral marketing?

I’ve been redesigning my website – www.sakcreations.co.uk for the last couple of weeks, it was long overdue an update.   Sak Creations has been my Web Design moniker for the last 10 years, but as web design has now become a sideline to my PhD I’ve also put a section up to be the formal home of my research interests.   Leaving this blog to be the home of my infrequent ramblings.

I’ve been giving some thought to SEO whilst redesigning my website,  also sparked by a discussion with my graphic designer friend KJ Creative about how to improve google rankings.  The main reason I’ve kept my research on my Sak Creations domain (as well as the fact I have hosting and everything set up already and I don’t really want to have my identity pinned on Stacey Greenaway, in case I don’t always stay Stacey Greenaway) is that it is creeping up the page rank scale (slowly) and Google know to return Sak Creations if someone types my name in.   So shameless backlinks aside, I have given thought to how you promote websites nowadays when you can’t compete with just good meta information, textual content and the good old reciprocal link.  It seems any designer creeping up the page ranks does so by promoting themselves and their work on various forums and designer community websites, commenting on blogs, writing blogs, twittering about their work.   This social web gives a whole new depth to viral marketing.  I remember sitting in meetings discussing how to market our current projects in viral emails, is it as simple now as just twittering about it and posting a link on facebook?  Well maybe if you have enough followers and friends.   So here’s the next question, how do you get all the followers and friends in order to make you viral marketing/shameless self promotion a success?  Do you have to spend more time twittering about your work than actually doing the work?  Does a marketing assisitants job spec now include running the companies twitter account?

There are more problems with relying on social web to improve those rankings, first to engage in the social web and make it work for you, you have to be a social person and second you need to invest the time on the sites ‘networking’ instead of doing the work.  Is social media really only useful for people with ALOT of time on their hands, or for big companies who can afford to employ someone to be the ‘social’ face of the company/organisation?

So, as a person with not enough time on my hands, but a desire to find new ways to avoid doing the actual work of my PhD by finding tasks that can loosely be deemed as work;  I have decided to succumb to the power of Twitter and set up an account for VideoTag.  I can start twittering about the game and ideas and struggles during development, then hopefully have some followers who want to play the game when it launches.  then I can continue to use it as a vehicle to launch new games.

I’d like to just add another problem to using social media to promote yourself/project – usernames, they are always taken by someone!!! Mr jesse videotag isn’t even using his account!!!  So you can follow videotag2 instead.  Now comes the hard work knowing what to twitter about!

Twitter Button from twitbuttons.com

**Is part of Twitters appeal the cute little bird?

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What makes MMOG’s so popular?

I used to love playing Sid Meier’s Civilization back in the child free, care free days of being able to spend 3 days solid in front of a computer screen fighting for world domination.  So I can understand the mass appeal with Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG’s) and Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG’s).  I have come across these terms whilst researching online games for my PhD.  I want to know why people play online games?  What motivates them to play a certain type of game?  What features of the game sustain gameplay for long periods of time?   And what makes a player keep returning to play the game?  Once I know this I want to see if any of these features are present in existing tagging games and what features could be applied to the design of a tagging game to make them more successful.  The findings of the VideoTag experiment revealed the main user motivation to be one of ‘just trying it out’.   Is it possible for a tagging game to harness a proportion of the people power playing MMOG’s and transfer all that online game time into participation in a useful task that is still fun to play?

In the nature of research and also filling a night where there was nothing on TV, I registered to play the MMOG Civ-Online.  Initially I was impressed and panicked that I had found a new way to procrastinate and spend all my time instead of working/sleeping/eating.  However unlike Civilization, Civ online runs in real time, so if something takes a game hour to do, it takes a real-time hour to do.  So whilst in the very early stages there is a fair amount you can do getting set up, pretty soon you run out of gold and have to wait a day (a real time day) for your resources to accrue again.  You can buy and sell resources, but you have to wait an hour for the tradesman from the next village to arrive with your resource.  There is a gimmick that allows you to vote for Civ-Online with MMOG Top 10 sites, you can vote once every 24 hours and you get gold or crystals for doing so!  So for me it is impossible to sit and waste a whole day sat playing the game as you are forced to find something else to do whilst you wait for enough resources to accrue again.  As I am not a hardened game player, it is very likely I will get bored of this game quickly.  Unless you fully embrace all of the features, invest time in the stategy behind the gameplay, make armies and go start wars, I don’t think there is enough to sustain interest.  But that’s me, I can see why there is plenty to sustain interest for a lot of game enthusiasts.   Civ-online is one of many, the biggest most well known MMORPG being World Of Warcraft.

The key things I have gleamed from my short foray into MMOG playing are the cleaver features they use to make players come back.  The game exists in its own world, the game continues after you have logged off, your workers farm your land, chop down trees and make wood, mine for coal and pay taxes while your off living your real world life and are ready to come back and deplete those resources again.  By playing the game you are rewarded with resources that keep you coming back and playing the game more.  During gameplay you are immersed in a solitary interaction, but there is opportunity to be social if you want to be, with forums and comments boards and an option to add buddies.   There is of course also the league table and the main goal, becoming the most powerful kingdom in the game.  How can the fun and addictive qualities of MMOG’s be applied to a video tagging game?  Can any features be adapted in a video tagging game to encourage players to log in once a day and tag some videos?

N.B  Whilst writing this blog I managed to generate enough gold to build my level 7 house and am now waiting for enough to build my level 8 lumbermill.  I’m wondering if linking to Civ-Online and reviewing it (kind of) warrants me some free gold?  I need to get my claypit up to level 8 as well.

Is Twitter endorsed by the BBC?

When I started out researching Web 2.0 back in early 2007, I spent ages looking at and trying out different Web 2.0 sites and applications until I settled on my thesis idea. One such site I signed up to was Twitter. At the time I remember the selling point being that it was mobile and everyone at SXSW was apparently twittering, it was the new way for friends to know your every waking moment, as long as you twittered it. It was an American phenomenon, I joined, I knew no one on the site, so I had nobody to Twitter with and so have never used it. Even now I know 3 “real world” people with a Twitter account. By “real world” I mean people I actually talk to in the old fashioned face to face method (only occasionally obviously).

But now, like Facebook and MySpace before it, Twitter is suddenly everywhere. I cannot turn on Radio 1 anymore without hearing DJ’s twittering on about twitter. I succumbed to MySpace, before I knew it was Web 2.0 and I would one day be listening to talks about it. I gave it up in favour of Facebook, which I do use and I like because it is good to find and keep in touch with old friends I would have lost forever. But I am trying not to succumb to Twitter. I find myself mostly put off by the amount of celebrities who have embraced it. I’m sure at 16 I would have loved to know what my idols were doing, I’d have followed them and maybe even made contact with them. But now I couldn’t give a stuff. The days of searching for celebrities on MySpace, finding 150 of the same person and not knowing whether they’re the real person or not, must nearly be over, because we’re told all the time if a celebrity is on Twitter. Perhaps it is so they can get more followers and then they can gauge their level of fame and popularity compared to other celebrities.

But then you have to be more extrovert (egotistical?) to be a celebrity and I think to fully embrace social applications, being extroverted helps. I am an introvert, I approach social sites as I would if I were at a party, I stand by the wall with a small group of friends and wait for people to come to me. I have more time to think about what I’m saying on social sites too and so inevitably end up not saying it. Do I really need another application in my life that allows me to waste all my time informing people of things about my life they have no interest in? And of course reading everybody else’s insights on life? Would my life have been better had I not known my supervisor had had a really good dump at some point last year? There really is such a thing as too much information.

All that said I am finding myself more and more interested in the micro blog concept and how it could be applied so that all these opinions floating around could be utilized in some way? Despite my objections to the furore about twitter, as a social application I can see its uses. Its appeal, like Facebook and MySpace is to feel connected to people. If you can engage in communities and find a place to belong online, it’s possible to escape a lonely or troubled real world existence. These sites are a goldmine of social information, but what other information do they hold? Can a micro blogging environment be utilised to create collective opinions on web resources? In the same way that collaborative tagging can use people power to create collective descriptors for anything from websites, music, photos, movies and academic papers. The same old questions arise however as to what motivates users to interact with a micro blogging site and how can those motivations be harnessed to make the users participate in an activity that produces useful, usable data?

VideoTag experiment – Results

The big plan had been to write up my MSc project – VideoTag into a paper and get it published.  It has been over 12 months now since I finished this experiment and my ideas have moved on,  I am all to aware of the short comings of the project in terms of academic paper.  And I guess, if I am going to publish something, I want to be proud of it.  Not that I’m not proud of VideoTag, but it needs a lot of improving.  I have so many ideas of where I can push this concept for my PhD, that I want to spend my time doing that, rather than re-writing something I did 12 months ago.

However, I figured it would be a shame to never have the results of the experiment somewhere, as I did find out some stuff!!  I found out enough to warrant me being able to continue researching the concept of video tagging games for the next 3 years.

So here they are, mostly for my own benefit so I have somewhere to reference the experiment if necessary in future work.  I am sure my traffic will go through the roof with interest in these!!

VideoTag – A game to encourage tagging of videos to improve accessibility and search.

Results

Data Collection/Tag Analysis
Data Collection
Usage was monitored over a month long period, after which the dataset for analysis was downloaded. Data was analysed for the period July 30th 2007 – September 2nd 2007. Data was also included from the user testing phase, July 15th 2007 – July 30th 2007

Tag Analysis
Quantitative methods of evaluating the VideoTag data involved analysis of sets of tags for a Zipf distribution on a graph.  Furnas et al. (1998) discuss how power law distribution demonstrates the 80-20 rule.  While 20% of the tags have high frequency and therefore a higher probability of agreement on terms, 80% have low frequency and corresponding low probability.  When the tags are inspected for cognitive level, Cattutto et al. (2007) discovered that high rank, high frequency tags are of basic cognitive level, where as low rank, low frequency tags are of subordinate cognitive level.  In terms of analysing VideoTag data this is a useful method to determine whether the game has been effective at improving the specificity of tags, in order that a greater number of subordinate level tags can create user descriptions of video to improve video accessibility.  Following the 80-20 rule, an overall increase in the amount of tags would increase the amount of basic level tags that have a high probability of agreement on terms, improving video search.  Drawing comparisons between the quantity of tags per video generated through VideoTag in relation to tags per video assigned in YouTube, will indicate whether VideoTag has been successful at increasing the amount of tags and therefore could be a useful tool at improving video search.  A paired t-test analysis was conducted to statistically qualify the comparison results.

Tag type was evaluated using qualitative methods, both YouTube and VideoTag tags were analysed for evidence of Golder and Huberman (2005) tag types and comparisons drawn.

Results
General usage analysis revealed that 243 games were played in total during the experimental period. 87 of those games were discounted because the game points score was 0, indicating that the players had not tagged any videos. 37 of those discounted games were guest users (i.e. who did not log in). The 156 valid games were played by 96 unique users, meaning that some users played more than one game. Of the 96 unique users, 73 were registered, 23 were guests.

Table 1 % of tags entered ordered by Tagging Support

Table 1 % of tags entered ordered by Tagging Support

Table 1 % of tags entered ordered by Tagging Support

Blind tags, as defined by Marlow et al. (2006), are free tags entered without prompting the user with suggestions (suggested tagging). Guided tagging, as introduced by Bar Ilan et al. (2006) gives structure to tagging by offering the user guidelines. During the 156 valid games, a total of 4490 tags were entered. 4076 of these were Blind, 68 were Guided and 346 were Pitfalls (Fig 1). The substantial preference for blind over guided tagging means that the tag data generated by VideoTag in this experiment can not be used to compare the cognitive levels of blind or guided tags.  Tag analysis therefore compared blind tags and pitfalls and omitted the suggestion differential.

Fig 2 Frequency of blind tags per video

Fig 2 Frequency of blind tags per video

Fig 1 Frequency of blind tags per video

The long tail effect apparent when blind tag frequencies are plotted on a graph, fig 1, has evidence of a Zipf distribution.  The vast majority of tags, 52.9 % occur only once. In relation to the research findings of Cattuto et al. (2007) and Golder and Huberman (2005), fig 1 would suggest that VideoTag generates an increased number of subordinate level, descriptive tags over basic level tags of high frequency.

Fig 2 Frequency of pitfalls per video

Fig 2 Frequency of pitfalls per video

This finding is emphasised when examining fig 2 which plots the pitfall frequency. Pitfalls were created as basic cognitive level; they were the tags that were expected to have the least cognitive cost. It was expected that these tags would have high frequency, as they would be the tags that came to a players mind first. Few low frequency tags were expected if the basic level tags for each video had been predicted successfully. Partial success is shown, with only 20.23% of pitfalls occurring once. This occurrence can be explained by the fact that the majority of users played level one. Inspection of the tag data (Table 2 provides an example of tag data for a video in level 1) revealed that the majority of high frequency pitfall tags were assigned to videos in Level 1, the most played level. Therefore it could be expected that if the levels of VideoTag had been played more evenly then there would be a lower percentage of low frequency tags.

The low amount of pitfall tags (346 out of 4490) coupled with the high frequency of low frequency blind tags, is an indication of the success of the gameplay element of encouraging users to avoid pitfalls and enter more subordinate cognitive level tags. It has contributed to VideoTag’s effectiveness as a tool for generating more descriptive tags.

Fig 3 Frequency of all tags entered during the VideoTag experiment, grouped by video

Fig 3 Frequency of all tags entered during the VideoTag experiment, grouped by video

This is further implied by analysing the frequency of all tags entered, as shown in fig 3. This graph shows a clear long tail effect, with the majority of tags entered having low frequency. Whilst the high frequency tags are useful for video search, because agreement on terms will be reached quicker, the low frequency tags are important as there is a likelihood that out of the billions of internet users, at least one other user will agree on a term. The amount of tags entered, and the high amount of low frequency tags implies that VideoTag has been successful at generating a large amount of high quality tags that can be used to create descriptions of the videos for visually impaired users. If high agreement was present for all tags, then there would not be enough variety in the tags to sufficiently create the descriptions.

This result is further evident in Fig 4, which represents the frequency of all tags frequency and shows the appearance of a power law (i.e. a straight line in a log-log scale). There is a greater frequency of low frequency tags, which is a pleasing result as this was the main aim of the project, to encourage users to tag videos with more descriptive tags. By generating more low frequency, subordinate level tags, more useful descriptions can be created to improve internet video accessibility.

Fig 4 Frequency of tag frequencies for all tags entered during the experiment.

Fig 4 Frequency of tag frequencies for all tags entered during the experiment.

Analysis suggests that VideoTag has been successful at increasing the amount of tags entered for each video. Geisler, G. and Burns, S. (2007) found the average amount of tags on YouTube to be 6. The average number of tags per video in VideoTag compares very favourably at 71.3. Fig 5 clearly shows this increase in tags generated by VideoTag compared to the tags entered for each video in YouTube. The tags are grouped by Video Id and ordered by levels 1-5 ascending. An interesting anomaly in the graph shows an increased number of tags for one video at each level, indicating that out of a purely random selection, one video was selected more times. With the graph alone it can be said that VideoTag created more tags for videos than are entered on YouTube, which could be beneficial to both video search and accessibility. A paired t-test of the amount of tags entered both on VideoTag and YouTube returned a p value of 0.000 which shows that this difference is statistically significant, proving that a game environment encourages more tags for videos.

Fig 5 Amount of YouTube tags per video compared to the amount of VideoTag tags, ordered by Level.

Fig 5 Amount of YouTube tags per video compared to the amount of VideoTag tags, ordered by Level.

Tag Type Analysis

The majority of VideoTag tags are single word, which is interesting as a conscious decision was made to not limit the format in which users could enter tags, as it was believed all tags regardless of format are useful at improving meta data for a video. Del.icio.us only allows single word tags as do other systems but some such as Last.fm allow multi word tags. It is interesting that the majority of users automatically tag as a single word and do not think to enter full phrase descriptions. It would be interesting to find out if experience at tagging affects the types of tags entered, with more experienced taggers using single word tags as pre-conditioned by systems like del.icio.us, and novice users entering a more varied range of single and multi word tags.

Table 2 compares the VideoTag and YouTube tags. Using this example the types of tag entered can be analysed in relation to the Golder and Huberman (2005) definitions of tag type. YouTube tags can be found to fall into the social tag functions of What or Who it is about (e.g. frog), and Qualities Or Characteristics (e.g. animation and funny) with funny being an Opinion Expression tag. VideoTag tags also have social tag functions and similarly to YouTube tags, are primarily What or Who it is about (e.g. frog, fly, two frogs eating flys) and Qualities Or Characteristics (e.g. cartoon, comedy, taunting, greedy). Few of the Qualities Or Characteristics tags were Opinion Expression tags. The majority of the tags describe the characters, objects or actions in the videos with a few Opinion Expression tags (e.g. funny, humour, silly). It is surprising that not more Opinion Expression tags were entered, they are particularly useful at categorising videos as well as formulating descriptions. It would be interesting to find out, in future research, whether the gameplay of VideoTag deterred users from entering opinion expression tags, by comparing the frequency of Opinion Expression tags to those in tagging systems such as del.icio.us. These results were general for all videos. This analysis implies that VideoTag managed to successfully encourage users to enter more descriptive tags for the videos.

This webpage has been created that shows thumbnails of each of the videos in VideoTag and lists the VideoTag tags generated as well as the original YouTube tags.

Table 2 Table comparing tags entered during the VideoTag experiment and YouTube tags for one example video from the VideoTag database.

Table 2 Table comparing tags entered during the VideoTag experiment and YouTube tags for one example video from the VideoTag database.

References

BAR-ILAN, J., SHOHAM, S., IDAN, A., MILLER, Y. & SHACHAK, A. (2006) Structured vs. unstructured tagging ? A case study. Proceedings of the Collaborative Web Tagging Workshop (WWW ’06), Edinburgh, Scotland.

CATTUTO, C., LORETO, V. & PIETRONERO, L. (2007) Semiotic dynamics and collaborative tagging. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 104(5), pp. 1461-1464.

FURNAS, G.W., LANDAUER, T.K., GOMEZ, L.M., DUMAIS, S. T. (1987) The vocabulary problem in human-system communication. Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery, 30(11), pp. 964-971.

GEISLER, G. and BURNS, S. (2007) Tagging video: conventions and strategies of the YouTube community. JCDL ’07: Proceedings of the 2007 conference on Digital libraries, pp. 480-480

GOLDER, S. & HUBERMAN, B. (2005) The Structure of Collaborative Tagging Systems [Online]. Available from:http://arxiv.org/abs/cs.DL/0508082 [cited 09-03-2007]

MARLOW, C., NAAMAN, M., BOYD, D. & DAVIS, M. (2006) HT06, tagging paper, taxonomy, Flickr, academic article, to read. HYPERTEXT ’06: Proceedings of the seventeenth conference on Hypertext and hypermedia, pp. 31-40.

Google Chrome – my 2 cents

Well as everybody else seems to be blogging about Google Chrome, thought I wouldn’t miss the boat.  Maybe I can be a webometric statistic, if not a day late.  But I was busy having my first day as a PhD student yesterday, it started with me having to give a presentation of VideoTag, nothing like being thrown in at the deep end.

So I have been playing with Google Chrome, I have noticed it’s a lot quicker opening, Firefox takes an eternity, I can go make a cup of tea while that loads.  My iGoogle page with all my rss feeds loads instantly, again it takes a few attempts in Firefox and I see little description pop ups that Firefox never got round to loading.  It easily imported all my bookmarks and history from Firefox.  But, as I’ve noticed other people have commented on, it imported my passwords too, whilst this is handy for me, I get the browser to remember them anyway and I did have to enter my username to match the remembered password, this is a security breach for shared computer users.  The history is very easy to access, maybe a bit too easy, again for shared computer users.  There’s no way to delete just one entry it seems.  One thing I like is the incognito mode, in fact I really like that, obviously just for those times when planning surprise birthday parties like Google suggests!  I like the idea I can browse secretly without every Tom, Dick and Harry knowing what I’m looking at.  Do you reckon Google keep a sneaky record of incognito browsing?  Would they be allowed to do that?  Mind you the sites will still get my IP address, nothing’s private anymore, good old data trails!

One thing that it doesn’t seem to have, that I have found annoying, is the drop down on the address bar so I can quickly access the sites I have recently typed in.  I use this a lot when developing websites as I always have this long convoluted test address that I type in and change page names etc.  I have to type the first few letters and I get suggestions, either from Google, my history, or have the ability to search Google, I guess that’s OK, I like to be able to do things with mouse clicks though.

Another nice touch is the visualisation of my most visited pages – I can see at a glance how little time I’ve spent working and how much time I’ve spent looking at a whole heap of other stuff!

I have realised playing with it, some things I was looking for, home button, Google toolbar are just for my browsing habits and actually Chrome makes the reason I used these things,to start a new Google search, a lot easier.  I also like the fact that it has broken the general software usability rule of having a bar at the top with file, edit etc I rarely use this, it is comfortable having it there and yes at first you do find yourself thinking “ah how will I print a page, or change my options without a handy bar at the top”, but you find out how to do it very quickly and easily.

All this said – actually I hate Google Chrome, VideoTag doesn’t work properly, the video doesn’t play, which means maybe the iframe musn’t be loading correctly, but the website I am currently developing uses iframes with no problems, so maybe it’s the object/embed tag, or the YouTube code?  Arghhhhh just when you think you’ve got to grips with browser compatibility between Firefox and IE, out comes a new browser to give you a challenge.  That was my main concern.  Safari and Opera have never really caused a problem.  I am sure most people out there will still be using IE anyway for a while to come.  Talking of iframes I do like the little pop up status at the bottom of the browser that tells you the location of the iframe page.  How useful that is, not sure, but I like it.

Also it looks like maybe I’m a nerd as I now realise through the task manager why iGoogle takes so long to load, 21mb in one page.  Ajax has a lot to answer for.  I like stats for nerds, that statement alone tells me there’s some data in there I may find interesting.  I was a bit disappointed actually, does that mean I am not nerdy enough to appreciate it, or am I so nerdy, the data wasn’t enough?

I will have to continue testing in Firefox too as I can’t live without firebug.  In fact I will still be using Firefox for a while I think, probably mostly out of habit, I may use Chrome to check my RSS feeds though.

I thought I’d check YouTube before panicking about VideoTag, turns out non of the videos play in YouTube either.  Now as Google own YouTube, seems that might have been one of the sites they made sure worked in their new browser!!!

UK Brand Tags

I blogged a couple of weeks ago about a tagging project called brandtags, whilst I liked the concept I really wanted to see more British brands in there.  Seems like lots of other people did too as I received an email this morning saying that a UK version had been created.  And so has an Hispanic version too.

So I gave the UK one a go, it is more enjoyable to use with UK brands as I have more of an opinion on them.  But not many people have used it as yet so it is not as entertaining to go look at the data, at the moment.  Lets hope it catches on, it will be interesting to see what British opinion is of certain brands/companies.

ITV for example, there are a lot of good tags to describe them…

PhD Proposal

I seem to have spent the last 6 months writing proposals. In reality I have spent 6 months attempting to write them and procrastinating and putting it off until the critical moment when I have to get it finished. Some of the more productive procrastination I’ve done is a lot of literature searches and reading. Which whilst very constructive, I now have too many ideas I want to pursue and absolutely no idea how or what to focus on.

Also in the 6 months I had attempted to write a research paper of my VideoTag project, it’s still not finished (this is a worrying trend for the next 3 years!). Point being, that I realised while writing it that I never had a clear aim at the start of my MSc project, I simply had loads of ideas for investigations that could loosely be classed as objectives. I also struggled working out what my method was, I know what I did, but why did I choose to do things one way and not another?

So now as I find myself again writing a proposal (I thought this was over for a few months now I have a place!) I’m aware that I need to have a specific aim and explicit objectives, and set out a clear method of experiments that will hopefully achieve my aim. And all I have is what I had throughout my MSc, a page long list of research questions and ideas for lots of little experiments and potential tag analysis strategies, within the umbrella of a tagging system development. So I need to establish what I will achieve by answering these research questions. What purpose my tagging system will have that contributes something to what already exists. How do I turn a page of questions into a two sentence statement of a clear and focussed aim?

As always it seems recently I have about 2 weeks to make these decisions, before my self imposed deadline because I (maybe foolishly) want to get started as soon as I can.