Category Archives: networks

Standardize basic hashtags for Charlotte

Statistics from what the hashtag wiki for #chs

Statistics from what the hashtag wiki for #chs

“People want to slice information for local cultures; this means that the local cultures need to be able to do the slicing rather than rely on institutions that are more likely to create universal organization schemas. No organization has the diversity necessary to build all of the different glocalized systems that people desire.”
danah boyd, 2005

It started with #tacos and #pbr08.
Charlotte people on Twitter early used hashtags, those words preceded by the # mark, to make jokes and organize drinking parties.
It evolved into #snOMG, a snow event in pre-Oprah 2009.

Now Dan Conover and others in Charleston have shown a way forward, a way to filter the noise of Twitter, from the beginning of the message, enabling better manual search and better search on clients like Tweetie and HootSuite. It’s a folksonomy, or agreed-upon naming convention for tags, which helps people find and share specific information. In this case, keeping it local is key.

Don’t let “folksonomy” scare you. It just means keywords that a community chooses. Charlotte already has #charlotte, used in at least one RSS feed on a commercial website for tweets from Charlotte. It used #cltgas during a shortage in the fall of 2008, borrowing from Atlanta, which invented #atlgas and, most recently, #atlflood.

Charlotte also has #cltcc for the city council, although perhaps it’s sometimes overused by some candidates running for election. It was documented by Brandon Uttley on what the hashtag.

Of course, Twitter itself is working to enhance filtering, creating lists, in which people will be able to group sources together.

Even so, power remains in shared, collaborative keywords, first developed on Twitter during the San Diego fires of 2007 and popularized after a post by Chris Messina.

Conover’s story shows that a filtering method is available now, controllable in a shared way by individuals. He told the tale at Columbia’s Social Media Club on Thursday about a hashtag summit, in which local media representatives and bloggers met at a bar and agreed upon basic hashtags for the Charleston area. And they discussed principles, like uniform length (short) and amount of total tags.

As of Friday night, the basic tag, #chs, has been used in 722 tweets, with 242 contributors, for an average of 103.1 tweets per day, in the past week.

Conover made it sound so simple, but I suspect it was more like herding cats, in a day when many people are seizing branding opportunities in social media. Getting competing media to agree on using standard hashtags isn’t necessarily easy. Conover and others in Charleston deserve credit for a strong example of cooperation.

“During the boom, there was a rush to get everything and everyone online. It was about creating a global village. Yet, packing everyone into the town square is utter chaos. People have different needs, different goals. People manipulate given structures to meet their desires. We are faced with a digital environment that has collective values. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in search. For example, is there a best result to the query “breasts”? It’s all about context, right?”
danah boyd, 2005

Conover said cities like Louisville, Ky., and Vancouver have adopted similar practices since Charleston’s effort. And in Charleston, “even the police use it,” he said at the social media summit. On the panel with Conover, discussing the future of journalism and social media, was Charlotte’s Jeff Elder, who took this video afterward of Conover explaining Charleston’s efforts.

And in Asheville, Jeff Fobes of The Mountain Express announced a change on Oct. 7 from branded #mxnow tags to community centered #avl tags. The Mountain Express is a weekly paper that embraced hashtags early on its website, allowing community members to tweet information and have it appear on the site easily.

To be effective, the hashtags need to be well-known, documented, shared and short. Getting buy-in from others also seems to require a bottom-up, collaborative approach. So, to get things rolling, I’ve added to Uttley’s documentation of the #cltcc tag on what the hashtag, borrowing liberally from Charleston.

Here are Charlotte’s proposed tags, many of which are already in widespread use but weren’t necessarily documented previously:

  • #clt A short general tag for Charlotte. It’s been around awhile and echoes the airport code. Use of it doesn’t mean #charlotte goes away, especially if RSS feeds have been built on the longer tag. But it’s a suggestion for a shorter, standard tag that already gets used fairly often, going forward.
  • #cltvote A tag for tweets about voting and elections in Charlotte.
  • #cltwx Proposed tag for tweets about Charlotte weather. Local TV weather guy @wxbrad is promoting the use of the tag #severeweather, but #cltwx is consistent with others’ use, could provide more geo-specific information and be shorter.
  • #cltbrkg Proposed tag for Charlotte breaking news, copying Charleston’s similar tag.
  • #clttrfk Proposed tag for Charlotte traffic.
  • #clteats Proposed tag for food and drink in Charlotte.
  • #cltdeal Proposed tag for deals in Charlotte.
  • #cltbiz Proposed tag for business news in Charlotte.

Remember, what the hashtag is a wiki, so if you think that list excludes a tag you want to see, you can add it yourself. In addition, you can edit existing entries. Certainly it seems Charlotte needs a documented school board tag, and it would be great to create #cltneeds to help with efforts like Mission Possible. I suspect we need to add tags for Ballantyne, Plaza Midwood, the Eastside, Uptown, etc.

Hashtag conflict.

Hashtag conflict.

Of course, the shorter the tag, the more room you have for your tweet or other tags. At the same time, the shorter the tag, the more likely it will conflict with someone else’s use.

Specifically, #clt appears to be used in India as well. What the hashtag makes a graph of the number of times the tag is used and who’s using it, so the wiki can be used for data analysis and conflict resolution as well as documentation. And sometimes collisions happen: #cbj apparently stands for the Columbus (Ohio) Blue Jackets as well as the Charlotte Business Journal. But that’s why a wiki matters: It can help sort out conflicts.

Few of these tags should be static; our world is constantly changing. We can at least begin. If you want to talk more, I plan to be at BarCamp Charlotte on Oct. 17.

“It’s important to realize that Web2.0 is not a given – it is possible to f*** it up, especially if power and control get in the way.”
danah boyd, 2005

Further reading: danah boyd.


Flooding in Atlanta: One search to bind them all

About 6 a.m. Monday, Steve Burns, a freelance journalist near Atlanta, sent out a note on Twitter:

“WSB: Boil water advisory in Douglas County. #atlfloods”

An hour later, Atlanta blogger Grayson Hurst Daughters tweeted from her @spaceyg account:

“Atlanta commuters: use the hashtag #atlflood for Atlanta flood condition notices.”

She followed up quickly with a note to a local TV outlet:

“@11AliveNews, please consider using the hashtag #atlflood in your Tweets! That way all the notices can be indexed/RSS’d. Tx!”

The tag set the tone for an organized, findable stream of aggregated content that helped Atlantans and their friends stay informed as the rain kept falling, killing at least 6 people, swamping interstates and causing major delays at the airport. The Georgia governor declared a state of emergency in 17 counties.

We’ve all read posts about how Twitter provides immediate coverage of earthquakes or bloody election fallout. But this moment showed how a social media tool enabled aggregation of all local news coverage through one search, quickly, in a large city, for breaking news.

Individuals shared links to stories from the established local news outlets quickly throughout the day. And a picture on Twitpic of flooding on Atlanta’s downtown connector received more than 60,000 views in about 10 hours.

Considering it a victory for untrained “citizen journalism” might be a bit misleading. Burns has newspaper experience from California, Georgia and Florida, and Daughters is a writer and corporate communication professional who worked for ABC News for six years. Also heavily involved was Tessa Horehled, a strategic marketer who advises companies about social media plans. Tweeting at @driveafastercar, she braved the rain with a video camera numerous times throughout the day from her neighborhood, and posted pictures late into the evening as a creek approached her front door.

She also created the tag #atlgas, used extensively during a gas shortage in the fall of 2008 in the Atlanta area. That tag was featured in a TED presentation by Twitter founder Evan Williams.

Certainly many other people were posting on Twitter, and local media outlets covered the story well. linked to a Twitter search of the tag. But because individuals used the tag while pointing to established media stories as well as posting their own observations, the tag itself served as a way of aggregating all media into one search.

But yes, there’s a drawback, in counting on the crowd to control the content of a tag for aggregation: As soon as the hashtag hit the Top 10 trending terms on Twitter, opportunistic usurpers crowded the stream and made it much less valuable. That gaming of the system shows that a tag is most useful when it’s NOT in the top 10 trending list.

About 8 p.m., one person on Twitter from Cambridge expressed frustration to Dan Gillmor, author of “We the Media,” that no national media outlets were covering the story, and he repeated the tweet. About 9 p.m., the L.A. Times sent out a tweet pointing to its story, with a dateline “Reporting from Atlanta.”

But throughout the day, the best place for aggregated coverage from both established local media and from individuals came from searching Twitter for the #atlflood tag.

Until it hit the “trending” list.

News that oozes: Finding the local implications in a national environmental project

When the water gets really low in my neighborhood creek, a lovely ooze from the creek bed becomes apparent.

I’m not sure what the ooze is or from whence it comes. Part of me doesn’t want to know.

Two sewer lines run along the creek, one at least 50 years old and one about 30 years old. The older line is slowly being replaced, and the work will arrive soon in the neighborhood greenway, ripping out walkways, trees and underbrush as the backhoes do their thing.

So when The New York Times published a massive, nationwide, data-rich
recently, called “Toxic Waters,” I was fascinated. And when pundits on Twitter called for local news organizations or independent journalists to delve into the state-by-state data, I was further intrigued.

Dan Gillmor, who wrote “We The Media,” tried to shame local news organizations with this note on Twitter:

“Local journos in **every** state could/should folo NYT water investigation; few will because of idiotic not-invented-here syndrome in media.”

It’s not as simple as that.

Don’t discount this post as an apologia for news organizations or citizen reporters; take it instead as an acknowledgement and reminder of the huge hurdles faced when taking a huge data dump local, and the need for real, feet-on-the-street reporting. Data dumps are great things, and combined with reporting, truth will out, especially on stories that ooze, instead of break.

But we all should know by now that data can mislead without reporting.

“Numbers are an interesting thing and they can tell many different stories depending on how you look at them,” said the representative of the N.C. Division of Water Quality who responded to the New York Times package.

Herewith, some hurdles for local people, in trying to build upon the excellent work by the Times:

  • “Fishing expeditions” in newsrooms rarely get time and money these days. Sometimes reporting needs to happen to determine whether there is a story, and what the story is. And even for alternative news organizations like Spot.Us, time and funding for those fishing expeditions are difficult, because pitches for funding must be specific in promising certain results.
  • Often, the real story is in the null spaces, the blank places on the map, the industries that are not regulated, self-regulated or unnoticed by the state agencies who shared data with The New York Times. In a quick overview of the beautiful N.C. map by the Times of regulated entities and violations, I saw no indication of violations at the Eastern North Carolina hog farms. (They might be there, but I couldn’t find them easily.) I saw no indications of violations near the coal-ash fields right next to Mountain Island Lake, the drinking supply for the City of Charlotte. Does that mean there are no problems in those spots? Only deeper, expensive, local reporting will determine that. And it’s a fishing expedition.
  • Finding context and reading with a critical eye are rare skills that take time. The massive amount of work by The New York Times on this project cannot be quickly interpreted and localized because merely reading all the source material and comments takes time. It’s rare for local reporters and editors to have that time during their paid work hours, and it’s rare for “citizen journalists” to have the time either. Plus the mass of information can be intimidating. File it under “fishing expedition,” to read some day.
  • Public finding and aggregation of related stories and documents is not easy for the “citizen journalists” and others who have time to dig deep. Readers of the Times’ piece on Sept. 12 contributed 478 comments so far, some with relevant links to other sources of information. While some comments are labeled “Editors’ Selections,” or “Readers’ Recommendations,” (great features), there’s no public, easy way to aggregate all those links and other related stories, such as work done by USA Today in 2008, “Overflows cost sewer system $35 million in fines.” Further, locally, N.C. documents related to enforcement are often available only in PDF, and documents and stories that give context are not readily available to citizen journalists without deep web searching, available through university databases or expensive Lexis/Nexis. This is a key point: People who work or study at universities can easily forget that the regular “citizen journalist” does not have free access to the deep databases available through universities and libraries.
  • The problems and solutions for each dot on The New York Times map are complex. One example from memory and a wee bit of Google research: The tiny mountain town of Saluda was sued by the American Canoe Association in the early 2000s for repeatedly violating Clean Water Act standards. The town’s sewer treatment plant was failing, and it needed money to fix the plant. Paying big fines or court costs and settlements would not further the goal of fixing the plant. Eventually, the town received a Clean Water Bond grant from the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center to fix the problem. So questions for today: Do the bonds still exist? How many other small towns face similar issues? How much would be the total cost of fixing the state’s sewer-plant issues, where will that money come from and how will it be awarded?

A few suggestions for overcoming those hurdles:

  • Citizen journos/bloggers can go on fishing expeditions, becoming the first filters through the data or on the street or by the streams. This concept is championed by the good people at The Sunlight Foundation, and they provide and fund many tools for individuals to do this work. Sadly, it appears that many passionate media consumers would rather make comments on existing stories instead of delving into the data to find trends and story leads. Over time, perhaps this trend will change.
  • Public libraries could play a role in aggregation and perhaps training and access to the databases available in the deep web. While excellent tools like Publish2 have been developed, this kind of work needs to be the work of public institutions, not just private companies. How can that work be funded? Your guess is as good as mine.
  • We can all acknowledge that this work takes time and a different sort of critical thinking, and our collective attention span has grown exceedingly short. Slow, deep, critical analysis of data and documents is out of style, as we all succumb to a fast-rushing stream of information through new sources of news. Gillmor’s call on Twitter for local reporting came on or shortly after the day of publication, and came amid calls by Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rosen. Their attention (and ours?) appears to have moved on.

Hope springs eternal. Many individuals have become increasingly interested in the quality of what they put in their bodies, and the long, searchable tail of the internet has given us new tools to share ideas and information. I wrote a quick post in early 2008 after hearing that Dasani had been getting its bottled water from Charlotte’s drinking water supply. That old quick post still gets readers and serves as a reminder that we don’t have alternatives for clean municipal water supplies, because the stuff in plastic bottles is actually from those supplies.

So here’s hoping that individuals go forth and investigate. And here’s hoping we all acknowledge and adjust to the new reality: Many established news organizations do not have the resources to do the work for us. Perhaps we all can find ways to help.

10 more for #followwomenjournas (student edition)

Here are 10 more people for #followwomenjournas on Twitter.

These are current or very recent students. I make no apologies for the list being heavily weighted toward UNC.

I’m sure there are others out there. Find them through listening or participating in #collegejourn, a chat run by one of these students, or by looking through the following lists of these people.

I’m willing to bet I left off someone at the @dailytarheel. If so, apologies. You all deserve to be followed, to get some sleep and avoid #H1N1.

@americaarias, (America Arias): News assistant @ KABC-TV. Los Angeles. Recent journalism and political science grad from Cal State Fullerton (CSUF). News junkie, loves politics.
@ewstephe, (Emily Stephenson): UNC senior, @dailytarheel community manager, Star Heels dancer, Jane Austen fan.
@jmestepa, (Jessica Estepa): Storyteller. Student. News junkie. Multimedia editor at @UNR_Insight. Does various other journalistic things. Loves mountains, reading and you. Nevada.
@kelseyproud, (Kelsey Proud): University of Missouri convergence journalism senior (graduating in May!), behind the curtain for @Journgasm, looking for her first job.
@ljwilkinson, (Leslie Wilkinson): MBA student at UNC, recovering newspaper designer, boomeranged back to the east coast after a year and a half in Los Angeles.
@mkellen, (Kellen Moore): UNC senior and managing editor at the @dailytarheel.
@poorstudentnomo, (Jess Shorland): UNC-Chapel Hill college student from Virginia. She’s posting updates on her progress paying off $40k in student loans in 12 months. I’m not sure she’s a journalism student, but her blogging efforts qualify, for me, in this case.
@saragregory, (Sara Gregory): student at UNC-Chapel Hill. @dailytarheel’s managing editor for online. She’s quarantined from the student paper at the moment because she might have #H1N1.
@sarahsodyssey, (Sarah Jackson): Freelance writer, journalism student, info junkie, meticulous observer, curious soul. She’s pursuing a career in feature and financial journalism. Now in Surrey, British Columbia.
@suzanneyada, (Suzanne Yada). Runs #collegejourn chat on Twitter, created a semester global project for student journalists focusing on health. San Jose State University.

Lessons from Charlotte’s Web

In all the recent talk about news organizations’ “original sin,” this Steve Yelvington quote stands out: “Cox threw away much of what it had learned.”

Let’s not do it again.

The “original sin” meme going around is about “What did traditional news organizations do wrong?”

It’s often asked in a quest by those organizations to find a business model for the sharing of information.

I’d broaden the question, to how and why our society lost the concept of community information as a public good, instead of a private privilege, controlled and siloed by private industry.

Once upon a time in Charlotte, a news organization nurtured a small effort that grew into a big nonprofit project, Charlotte’s Web, funded by government grants, to connect community and share information.

Read some historical links at Innovate This to see how politics and funding affected the organization as it grew.

The history has pertinent lessons for nonprofits encouraging such information and community building online, as well as the journalists and other people associated with those projects.

And then send a good thought for Steve Snow, may he rest in peace. He was a community builder and information sharer, and remembering and learning from his efforts is important as we go forward.

10 for #followwomenjournas

I don’t particularly like lists of people. Someone is always left out.

On top of that, I always wonder how the list will be used. Some journalists are particularly suspicious of lists because the weight of unwanted email or Twitter pitches weighs heavily on their minds. Yes, they want to interact with sources and readers, but they also must balance their lives.

Still, I love the effort by Kevin Sablan and others to list women journalists on Twitter, and the use of the #followwomenjournas hashtag. It raises the profile of some voices that easily can get lost in our society’s tendency for men to follow men, and women to follow men.

At the same time, I’m ambivalent about the idea of lumping women together in a separate category, marginalized on the side. I’m overcoming that feeling, because promotion of these women’s voices is necessary, still, in our society.

And I’m channeling some old lessons from designer and coach Monica Moses, who took the idea of marginalized people (in that case, long ago, newspaper designers), lumped them together and made them powerful when united.

And I’m making a list because from Twitter Day One For Me, in early 2008, I’ve made a conscious effort to keep my Twitter “Following” list diverse.
My initial list of women journalists was way too long, about 90 people, so I decided on 10 at this time, as a sort of #followfriday.

@anndosshelms (Ann Helms in Charlotte): Covers education for The Charlotte Observer. Reach her at
@AprilBethea (in Charlotte): Mecklenburg County government reporter at The Charlotte Observer. Would love to hear your ideas. Email her at
@CBJgreennews (Susan Stabley of the Charlotte Business Journal): Growth and Environment reporter for the Charlotte Business Journal. Tweets both live coverage augmented with context at Charlotte City Council meetings and almost never forgets a hashtag. Her secret: browser tabs, already open to the context.
@Celia Dyer (in Atlanta): Founder and Executive Producer of a blog (TechDrawl) about technology startups, licensed dentist, tech junky.
@DanaChinn (in Los Angeles): A journalism prof who’s convinced web analytics will save news organizations.
@EricaPerel (in Chapel Hill, adviser to Daily Tar Heel): She’s a mom, a journalist, a McClatchy survivor and now a journalism educator. She recently did a Q&A with Andy Bechtel.
@KaylaC (Kayla Castille in New Orleans): Managing editor of in New Orleans, news junkie, book lover, overall fangirl (formerly of Charlotte).
@LauraLeslie (Raleigh): Political reporter for N.C. Public Radio. Covered the N.C. General Assembly with tweets like the dew.
@Mallarytenore (in St. Pete): Journalist, The Poynter Institute. Did a thorough job writing about the newspaper columnist who tried to jump to public relations but goofed.
@Telie (Tannette Elie in Milwaukee/Chicago): Social media enthusiast, independent journalist, former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel business columnist and soon-to-be entrepreneur.

Free speech in a small, small world

Villagers and students work on installing a sewer piper in Villa Soleada in Honduras.

Hondurans work on installing a sewer piper in Villa Soleada. Volunteers with Students Helping Honduras work on the project along with the Hondurans in a model similar to Habitat for Humanity.

My, how times have changed.

This site started in the fall of 2007 for a class at the University of North Carolina, “Global Implications of New Technologies,” taught by Deb Aikat. Many of the online tools we have now were available then.

But a recent personal experience brought home to me how quickly the world is adopting the new online tools, and how quickly the world is shrinking. And the experience reminded me how far we have to go in making sure everyone has freedom of speech and the information they need for informed decisions.

My daughter, studying international relations at the University of North Carolina, recently took a weeklong trip to Honduras with the nonprofit organization Students Helping Honduras. To keep up with that country’s news while she traveled, I used Twitter, Twitter search, and Google Language Tools (with a background in high-school French) to read real-time reports of Central American news.

I read of Andrés Rodríguez Torres, a 72-year-old Honduran journalist who was kidnapped, and who is yet to be found. I took great fascination in the use of a Twitter tag, #escandalogt, as nearby Guatemalans organized protests after the country’s president was accused of the murder of a lawyer, and then an IT worker was jailed for sending out tweets that appeared to protest the killing. I kept up with posts by Xeni Jardin, a co-editor of the website Boing Boing, as she traveled in Guatemala and followed the political unrest, and I found new people to follow with interests in Central America, from Peace Corps alumni to supporters of non-governmental organizations working to improve the lives of Hondurans.

My daughter returned to the United States before the recent 7.3 earthquake in Honduras. At least one friend of hers remained, and I continued to follow and share earthquake news on Twitter with others who still had interests in the area. The new Twitter aggregator, Breaking Tweets, covered the earthquake quickly. And Twitter search turned up raw video just hours after the quake.

The experience reminded me of the great volume of information as well as the great freedom of speech that journalists and citizens have in many places. And it reminded me of the great challenges to freedom of speech that journalists and citizens in other places still face.

But the desire to be heard is difficult to suppress, and new social-media tools are giving more citizens in other countries the means to broadcast their messages across the world, quickly.

We live in a time of momentous change, along with a shrinking of the globe. May it lead to safer, more open societies.

Photo credit:
Sarah Acuff.

Want to help Honduras? Visit Students Helping Honduras.