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Ten technical Twitter tips for journalists

So you think you know Twitter? But do you know how to archive tweets, set up an RSS feed of a Twitter stream or have private group chat?

Here are some practical, technical tips to help you:

1. Learn to love Twitter’s own advanced search. Since being updated earlier this year, Twitter’s search options have become much more powerful than they once were. You can use the advanced search page, but it’s worth learning a few shortcut commands you can use on the Twitter homepage. For example,

Type to: in the search box on Twitter’s home page to get messages sent to you or to a particular username.

Find local tweets using near: and within: This is a tip sent by journalism student Jeroen Kraan @KraanJ when we were discussing Twitter tips on @journalismnews.

There is a list of more Twitter advanced search commands here.

2. Search tweets using Topsy. Topsy is Google for social media, a search engine that allows you dig part way into the unimaginably vast Twitter archive.

3. Get to know other search tools. Search tweets using Snap Bird. This is a really handy tool that allows you to search a user’s timeline or your own account. Try PostPost to search and “strip search” your timeline. PostPost will ask for your email address, send you a link and then you can dig deep within your timeline, searching for a specific hashtag or user.

4. Set up an RSS feed. You can set up feeds of your own or any other user’s Twitter updates.

To add a feed of tweets from a user copy and paste the following, replacing xxxx with the user name.

http://twitter.com/statuses/user_timeline/xxxx.rss.

This method doesn’t work for Google Reader but is compatible with RSS readers such as NetNewsWire.

To set up a keyword RSS feed use the following URL, replacing Journalism.co.uk / journalism jobs with your search query.

http://search.twitter.com/search.rss?q=journalism.co.uk

http://search.twitter.com/search.rss?q=journalism jobs

There’s also this really handy tool from Sociable.co. This allows you to set up an RSS feed for a username, Twitter list or keyword.

5. Archive your tweets. You can archive a hashtag or tweets sent from your account or another user’s account using Twapperkeeper. This is a particularly useful way if you want to search for a tweet you sent some months or even years ago.

6. Verify tweets. The HoverMe browser extension for Chrome is useful for verifying Twitter sources. Once installed and you hover over a Twitter profile photograph, you can see what other online accounts that user has and although not fool-proof, it will give you some idea of whether they are a real person with LinkedIn, YouTube and Delicious accounts and, helpfully, a Klout score, which measures online influence.

7. Here’s a tip for TweetDeck users who share the management of a Twitter account. One limitation of TweetDeck is the inability to be able to create a column of tweets sent from your account, something you can do in other applications such as HootSuite. The workaround is to set up a new Twitter account, follow the one (or more) account you manage and set up a TweetDeck column for “all friends”. This is our solution at Journalism.co.uk, where several people respond to tweets.

For this to work you must always use a character before the @ as tweets beginning @username can only be seen by people who follow you and that person.  For example, use .@joebloggs and not @joebloggs when writing tweets that begin with a username.

8. Have private, group chats by starting tweets with !b. New Twitter tool !blether allows you to start a group, private chat with people who follow you. After authenticating this tool you can use !b at the beginning for a tweet to begin a conversation. Useful for chats during conferences.

9. Monitor Twitter lists. How often do you make use of other people’s Twitter lists? Journalists seem to frequently overlook these existing lists where people have already done the legwork for you in terms of collating lists of useful people to follow. For example, a journalist following a story such as an uprising in an Arab country, a financial story or celebrity gossip can simply follow a list someone else has created.

Did you know that Journalism.co.uk has Twitter lists for UK regional journalists, UK broadcast journalists, UK press public relations, UK consumer journalists, etc? Send us a tweet if we have missed adding you to the correct list.

10. Familiarise yourself with how to read and send tweets via SMS. You never know when you might need to send or read a tweet via SMS. Even if you have a smartphone you may find yourself unable to use a 3G or WiFi signal. The number you need to save in your contacts is 86444 (for UK Vodafone, Orange, 3 and O2 customers). (Other country codes are listed here.) The command you need to remember or to save is ON. Text ON to the above number and you will be able to follow the commands to receive and send tweets.

Helpful links:

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‘If this then that': ten recipes for journalists

If this then that – or ifttt – is a tool that allows you to connect various other tools together to create rules or tasks. It allows you to connect 17 channels, including SMS, Facebook, WordPress and Dropbox, offering 1040 possible task combinations.

The most popular ‘recipe’, a task designed and shared by others, will give you an idea of how ifttt works. This recipe allows you to connect your Facebook and Dropbox accounts so that when someone tags you in a photo on Facebook, the photo will be added to your Dropbox folder (cloud storage allowing you to access your files on different devices).

Here are ten ifttt recipes for journalists:

1. When you receive an email from a key contact or your editor, you receive an SMS

You no doubt receive scores of emails but there are some senders that are more important to hear from than others. This recipe allows you to set up a key contact, such as a source or your editor, and receive a SMS whenever that person emails you.

2. When you post a link to Delicious, add to Dropbox

If you use Delicious to bookmark interesting stories, this recipe allows you to also save the links to Dropbox. For example, I am interested in new smartphone apps so have set up a connection so that any Delicious bookmark that I tag “app” is posted to a folder in my Dropbox account.

3. Post Google+ posts to your Facebook page

Google+ adds additional responsibility for anyone in the newsroom tasked with managing social media.

It is widely recognised that non-automated posts are best when it comes to Facebook and Google+. This recipe allows you to write a link post in Google+ and automatically post the link to your site’s Facebook page. You can also create a rule to post status updates.

To do this you need to set up an RSS feed of your Google+ account. Copy your Google+ ID, which is the long number in the URL of your Google+ profile, and paste it on the end of http://plu.sr/feed.php?plusr=. My Google+ feed is therefore http://plu.sr/feed.php?plusr=107031542976965456407, for example.

4. Create an Evernote every time you star an item in Google Reader

If you use Google Reader as your RSS feed reader and want a quick way of saving key articles to Evernote, this is a solution.

5. Post to Instapaper (or Read It Later) every time you star an article in Google Reader

If you use Instapaper to read articles later this is a quick way of posting from Google Reader.

6. Post a ‘favourite’ tweet (with links) to Instapaper (or Dropbox or Evernote)

When you come across a tweet with a link and want to save it for later you may well click star to make it a favourite. This recipe allows you to save those favourite tweets and post the linked articles to Instapaper. Alternatively, you can also set this up to save to Dropbox of Evernote.

7. Add favourite Flickr photos to Dropbox

If you post stories you write online, you may well use Flickr images with creative commons licences. Flickr allows you to indicate favourite images that you come across and may want to use at a later date. This recipe saves those images to Dropbox. Alternatively, you can set this up to save favourites to Evernote.

8. Send me an email (or SMS) to remind me about a daily meeting, weekly or monthly task.

If you have a daily or weekly meeting or task to carry out, ifttt can enable you to create reminder.

9. Send me an email (or SMS) every time a certain person tweets

Twitter is a great source for journalists but it is easy to miss a tweet from a key contact. Perhaps the key source is a person or company that only occasionally tweets and when they do you want to be alerted immediately. This recipe allows you to receive an email when an individual tweets. You can also set a rule to receive an SMS.

10. Send me an email every time a keyword is mentioned in an RSS feed

This is a recipe I suggested in a recent Journalism.co.uk tip of the day. It is a way you can set up an alert when a keyword is mentioned by a particular news provider.

If you are a journalist and have a favourite ifttt recipe, share it in the comments session below.

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TechCrunch: Pulse launch – are RSS news apps must-haves for the iPad?

TechCrunch reports on the launch of Pulse – the RSS-based news aggregator application created for the iPad by two US university graduate students Akshay Kothari and Ankit Gupta.

On sale for $3.99 [£2.76], the app is aimed to please both hardcore RSS reader users and people who are willing to pay top dollars for single publication apps. Pulse’s home screen renders stories from multiple sources on a dynamic mosaic interface. Swipe up and down to see headlines from various sources, and right and left to browse stories from a particular source.

Full story at this link…

The app gets a favourable review from TechCrunch and adds another point to Patrick Smith’s post last week arguing that RSS feeds beat any branded iPhone or iPad news app:

Of course, the everyday Man On The Clapham Omnibus doesn’t care or want to know about RSS, much less mobile apps that create a mobile version of their OPML file. But Journalism.co.uk readers are media professionals – and I’d wager that most of you are capable of using free or cheap software to create a mobile news experience that no branded premium app can match.

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ReadWriteWeb/Hitwise: Is Facebook become the biggest ‘news reader’ on the web?

An article on ReadWriteWeb suggests that Facebook has become the biggest ‘news reader’ online – more people are using the site to read news feeds than services like MyYahoo and iGoogle.

Facebook itself has been pushing its audience to use the site in this way by encouraging users to become fans of news organisations and then creating a list that only displays updates from those news sources, says RWW, which goes into detail on why it thinks Facebook could become “a world-changing subscription platform”.

Elsewhere, Hitwise has some stats in response to RWW’s story which suggest that Facebook was the fourth biggest driver of visits to news and media sites last week in the US.

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Malcolm Coles: re-thinking newspapers and RSS feeds

“OK, newspapers shouldn’t turn off RSS feeds… I was wrong,” writes Malcolm Coles. After a little reflection on comments received about  his post ‘ Newspapers: Turn off your RSS feeds‘ [also pasted on the Online Journalism Blog and his own blog] he concludes that link-bait headlines are dangerous… His fuller explanation is at this link…

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Newspapers: Turn off your RSS feeds

This is a cross-post from Malcolm Coles’ personal website:

The latest subscriber figures (see table below) show that, apart from a couple of exceptions, it’s time for newspapers to turn off their RSS feeds – and hand over the server space, technical support and webpage real estate to their Twitter accounts.

The table below shows that only three of the nine national newspapers have an RSS feed with more than 10,000 subscribers in Google Reader. And most newspaper RSS feeds have readerships in the 00s, if that.

Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips has 11 subscribers to her RSS feed (maybe there’s hope for the UK population yet …).

Despite having virtually no users, the Mail churns out 160 RSS feeds and the Mirror 280. All so a couple of thousand people can look at them in total.

The other papers are just as bad. And while the Guardian has a couple of RSS readers with decent numbers (partly because Google recommends it in its news bundle), it has more feeds than there are people in the UK…

Top three RSS feeds at each newspaper
They didn’t all have three that showed up:

Table of UK newspapers' RSS feeds

Switch to Twitter instead
I suggest newspapers switch to Twitter instead. Twitter’s advantages over RSS include:

  • Wheat vs chaff - As a reader, you can see which stories other people are RTing and are therefore popular.
  • Context – There’s space in 140 characters for newspapers to give some background to stories as well as the headline (well, there is for those that don’t just stick the first few words of the standfirst after the headline).
  • Promotion – Followers can RT newspaper stories, promoting the paper – they can’t do this with elements of an RSS feed.
  • Tracking – Stories’ development can be tracked on Twitter – you can’t usually tell what’s changed in an RSS feed.
  • Conversation You can take part in a conversation on Twitter. People only talk to their RSS feed when they swear at it. The journalists behind the story can tweet, too.

Newspapers agree with me
As I say, despite poor subscriptions for many feeds, papers pump out RSS feeds as if there’s no tomorrow – the second column in the table below shows how many feeds (rounded) that each paper has.

But despite this, it’s clear some papers agree with me – and have already given up on RSS feeds and no longer actively promote them.

No visibility
The Mail, despite its 160-odd feeds, only mentions them in its footer.

The same is true of the Sun.

On the page but hardly visible
The FT’s RSS link does at least have a logo – but its buried at the bottom of the right-hand column on each page.

The Telegraph shows relevant RSS feeds on pages – but they’re buried in a different way: above a banner ad that no one will ever look at.

Even the Guardian, which lets you mash up your own RSS feeds (hence the 000,000s in the table), hides details of its feeds under an unusual term ‘webfeed’ in the far right of its header.

The Times still has an RSS link in its main header menu on its news page. On other pages it’s at the bottom. And it mentions Twitter on its pages much more than RSS.

Visible – but not doing them any good
The Independent is alone in listing RSS feeds on its main category pages – although that doesn’t seem to get it many subscribers.

The Mirror has an RSS link next to its search box, although it took me ages to find it. Does this count as visible – it’s not exactly intuitive…

And the Express has a link and a logo prominently in its header. But as the Express doesn’t update its website often (or at all on Sunday), I guess that’s why no one subscribes. And some of its RSS feeds appear to be garbage – check out its theatre one…

Caveats about the data
After you’ve started writing something about newspapers, you’ll eventually discover that Martin Belam has already written about it. Having just noticed his Top 75 British newspaper RSS feeds as I was researching Google Reader’s market share, I figured I’d just repeat his caveats about his own data as they apply to mine too:

  • Subscribers don’t necessarily ever read anything.
  • Numbers quoted by Google vary wildly.
  • Newspapers have problem with the same feed on different URLs. To quote Martin: “If the papers themselves can’t work out how to set one canonical URL for their content, why should I?”
  • Google Reader search is not great. There may be missing feeds.
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Econsultancy: Survey – how journalists use social media

Econsultancy’s report highlights some interesting figures from a recent survey sponsored by the TEKGroup, which looked how journalists use social media in the newsroom and for newsgathering.

In 2008, according to the study, 44 per cent of journalists surveyed were using RSS feeds regularly, compared with 37 per cent the previous year. Nineteen per cent or more were reading five or more a day.

“Over 70 per cent of journalists surveyed wanted organizations to provide a page in the online newsroom containing links to every social media environment in which that company participates. Thirty-eight per cent of journalists prefer to receive information via company tweets,” reports Econsultancy.

Full post at this link…

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CNET: Twitter as a substitute for an RSS reader

Don Reisinger explains how Twitter has rendered RSS readers redundant as a means of tracking news.

Read the full post…

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Teaching Online Journalism: A reporter’s guide to multimedia proficiency

February 10th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Multimedia, Training

Unmissable guide from Mindy McAdams on becoming a multimedia journalist. The three parts – so far – deal with RSS, audio and blogging.

Full story at this link…

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Feeds feast for FT: new corporate RSS and FriendFeed experiment

January 6th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Social media and blogging

(Try saying that headline 10 times fast)

First up, the Financial Times has announced a new RSS service for corporate users – an add-on for those paying subscribers who signed up for the site’s direct licence system introduced in April last year.

The customisable RSS feed will be available to corporate customers, who under the licence arrangement are entitled unlimited access to FT content on FT.com and third-party services, and can be tailored by specific search terms, a press release from the title said.

Not full-fat feeds as yet – users will click through to read articles on the main website.

Elsewhere, technology journalists at the FT’s San Francisco bureau have been experimenting with FriendFeed to create a single source of their links, articles and blog posts (it can also be used for Twitter and Flickr updates):

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