Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Is Twitter losing it?

Anyone who is "connected" these days, is doing some form of social media (SM) involvement. Most of us have witnessed the growth of FaceBook, and have been royally turned off by the pettiness of the changes made over the years. And of course, now we know more about the data spying from Big Brother and the companies involved. I'm positive there is a lot more to come from that side. .. Anyway..

Along came Twitter.. some think it's the best thing since sliced tea, and the small project has grown at an outstanding rate. Millions all over the world are using it, and it has probably been the biggest god send of life saving and information 'passing on' in history. But now we have a problem. It's kind of a weird one, I suspect a lot of it is to do with the huge scale and complexity Twitter has grown into. As a computer professional and a database and programmer expert, I honestly do get the issues that the company is facing. Providing a world saving medium for people to use, for free... is a massive undertaking. And I respect that, a lot.

But now I have some major concerns. Twitter has grown so large, the amount of data being processed at lightning speeds is so massive, something has to be done to control it. I get that. I just don't like the way it's being done. In order to really understand the process, you have to "get" a bit of an explanation of the process. Basically speaking, Twitter is whats referred to as a "client/server" program. The client is the side that you use (web or desktop or phone app) and the server part is where all the real magic happens.

The Twitter developers have created an API (application programming interface) that removes all of the needs for the client to control most of things. The client side will login to twitter by sending a name and password, and then the server side knows it can send stuff. The client at login, will send a "hey, gimme all my stuff" command to the server. The client could care less how. The server will use the API code it has, and figure everything out, and do what's needed. This process allows the client program to remain simple, without the need to be updated all of the time, because most of the "behind the scene changes" are done by the server, under the control of the developers. Exactly as things should be done.

This growth though, has the developers in complete control of what you see. As with most things in life, ignorance is bliss. What you don't know won't hurt you (or so they say). Many moons back, I latched on to the TweetDeck program, and over the course of time, very few updates were done on how it works. And then Twitter bought them, started working on new versions, and development and support for the old version vanished. More time passed, and the old version was removed as a download, forcing people into the new version. Which sucked. No offense... it just sucked. Thankfully, I've been able to hang on to the old version.

Much of what I am about to show you in graphics, many of you will say "but my phone app has always been that way". You are probably right. Phone apps are constantly being updated as Twitter makes API changes, because they want their apps to work. All of those changes were ignored for the old tweetdeck because it was going to be phased out.. who cared...

Using the old tweetdeck over the years, I've seen many conversations between people I know and people I don't know. Some of those have interested me, so I have often "jumped in" to make comments or learn more. Many of them have interested me to the point where I have ended up following those other people, and my little 'community' has grown at a pace that I am most happy with. In several of those conversations with people I didn't know, I've been able to help with computer issues, household issues, plumbing and electrical suggestions/fixes and a lot more. I've given free advice and people have had instant help. I mean, isn't that what life should be about? Helping thy neighbor? ... And as the world has grown into this massive global state of upheaval and unrest, much of it from a vastly corrupt political system, I've been able to see things, get educated on events, and tossed my help and support into things that are in desperate need of being fixed.

The problem now however, is that Twitter will be shutting down all of the old API code it has been using, which means very soon, my old tweetdeck will just not work at all, and I will be forced into the "new and improved" versions.. (this ultimately means its new because we changed it, and its improved what we do or make... it seldom means you are getting anything better).  Today I did up 3 screen shots, showing the old and new side by side. You can see the new side missing a lot of what the old side gave. I no longer will see many of those calls for help from others. I will miss out on important and critical information about local and provincial and federal and world events. .. because one (or more) of the people sending or responding to tweets, will be folks I don't follow. And Twitter has taken it upon themselves to decide that just because I don't follow one of them, then I have no rights or interests in knowing anything about the conversation. But if I go to that persons webpage that I DO follow.. all of it is there for me in plain sight. Twitter has now taken the stance that it is up to them to determine what is important to me...

And that my friends, is a HUGE fail.. for all of us. We won't see things we can help with, or want to be informed of, and possibly NEED to be informed of. Please check the following 3 screen shots. You can see what the new system is not saying. In my opinion, it's really difficult to be a part of SOCIAL media, when the 'social' aspect is being taken away from you.

In this example, Glen in the lower right (old tweetdeck)  'starts' this pic, two tweets are missed from going to the left side (new tweetdeck) to Michals's tweet. Whats not show here, is the next 3 tweets after mparkatt, were never shown in the new version. One of them being a RT dealing with important political information.

Example 2 shows THREE tweets missed by the new API code, which appears to be some really super great local causes I could have been interested in supporting or knowing more about. The new and improved "Ignorance is Bliss" is suggesting that helping out good causes is none of my business. *sigh.

The final example details a reference from our local Pride center on the bottom right (old version again) followed by FOUR missed tweets. Some great people, great organizations, really decent information and ideas... all gone "poof".

I get that many of you will say "that's the way its always been", and I'm saying that's the way you have been used to because you didn't know otherwise. When I was discussing this in twitter the other day, I had one (now former) follower state that I was being 'nosy' by butting into other peoples conversations. They were a locked account, and I wonder how they decided to follow me, if they had not seen me in a part of a local conversation. Hell, in my mind, this is the way most people probably find new people to follow.

I also "get" that for many, this is the way you like it... only the people that you follow and the people your people mention that you follow, show up in your time line. And to that I say "to each their own". More power to you if that is the way YOU choose to use your SOCIAL media.

For me, I like being 'nosy'.. I like seeing what others are saying, I like being SOCIAL. And I wonder why that is being taken away from me. As a programmer, one of the things that I LOVE doing is coding in options so that people can customize what I make, so that it works for THEM and not for me. As a professional, that is my job... to give people what they want, even when they don't know they want it. Would it be so hard for twitter and the developers to add in an option that says "Show me all the tweets from all that I follow" or "Show me just the tweets from the people I follow, where their tweets have only the people I also follow".

If you can follow that logic..

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Election 2013 Issues Part 1 - CD Days

I labelled this "part 1" because I'm sure there are going to be a lot of parts over the next few months. And at the sake of sounding 'sanctimonious' most of the things that I want to bring up should really be common sense. Which is a trait that the City seems to lack a lot of.

Day after day, week after week, month after month... we the citizens of this great city (and in my mind, Edmonton really IS a great city) see more and more "stupidity" in the things the city does. Our taxes are being used abused by a process that is extremely inefficient. And most city employees will agree that more often than not, the left hand has no clue what the right hand is doing. Yet they won't do anything because its been tried to be fixed before and nothing has ever come from that either.

Do note. I worked for the City for 3 years, 22 of those months as being a "temp" employee before I was hired on permanently. And then because I did things right, the right way, and stood up for doing things the right way instead of the politically correct way (kissing ass) I was forced to resign. During my 3 years, I learned a lot about the hypocritical aspects of abuse and waste... and I think its time that the rest of the taxpayers understand one of the biggest reason WHY the system is so broken. More interestingly, the cure is not difficult to do however getting it to happen means going against the status quo..which for the most part, would be all employees of the city not wanting to give up something they've had.. the 'something' that creates the most wasteful system ever. .. and that is "time".

As a temp employee, I worked the normal hours but I didn't qualify for the normal benefits.. things such as holidays, pension, etc.. I also didn't qualify for what is referred to as a "CD day". CD days are a result of contracts negotiated by the Unions (like the one that never stood up for me) that say 'only so many hours are worked in a week', but at the same time the city expects employees to work a normal full day. So each day you work, you work just a little bit longer than your union contract defines, and over a few weeks you have earned enough 'extra time' to earn a day off. And in the past that may have been a practical benefit to have. But it no longer applies in the economy of today's world.

Anyway, as a temp, I would always be around during working hours, and often I would need to have meetings with others so I could plan my work projects to fill their desires. I would be just blasting away doing programming and run into a simple question. So I called or walked to their offices, only to find out they were on a CD day.. and my work on that project stopped. I always had other things to do, but I couldn't finish the current item, and everything would end up getting delayed and shuffled around.

The things that needed to be done could not be done because the other people involved were on a day off. And that is a HUGE waste of time. And.. time is money. YOUR money.

All over the world, people are having to bite the bullet and take less pay and/or reduced benefits. Governments all over are cutting back on staff and services, or wage hikes are being postponed. Yet here in Edmonton, we keep going merrily along our way spending wasting money without an issue. I have to figure that if the world is that bad off, then 'we' (the government taxpayer paid employees) should be subject to the same values.

Lets be clear. A lot of city employees get paid really decent money for the most part. I'm sure there are probably some lower paying positions... but on the whole, its great money, and for many, the work isn't really all that difficult to do. I do think some positions are vastly over paid, especially considering the amount of real work done versus all the time wasted on meetings that many miss... but that's another item for another post.

Basically... it is my belief that the City needs to step up and tell the unions that CD days are no longer practical... that too much of the taxpayer dollars are being wasted and too much time is being wasted. Efficiencies need to be made in the system and that can only start when everyone all works together, instead of a day here or there. (As a side note, these days off are always taken on a Monday or a Friday because it made for a long weekend.)

It would not hurt for employees to give up that CD day. I'm sure some depend on it, but we the people need to start thinking about the benefits for the many, and not just for the few. And I'm sure some form of plans or assistance would be allowed for in special circumstances... something can always be worked out for those people that actually NEED it.. Most don't, its one of those "nice to have" things versus a need.

Taxpayers are the ones that have that need... and its time to step up to the plate to do the parts that are needed to be done. It's certainly a small price to pay considering the current state of the world economy. Not only that, can you imagine just how much faster and better things would be done, when everyone is actually AT work and doing work? Hell, we might not even need to have tax increases because of all of the money saved by getting things done faster and more accurately..

Or.. we can keep wasting time and money, keep doing things the worst way possible, and tax ourselves to death.

Tell me.. just how well is your money tree growing? I know mine has died. I suspect yours has too, or if not, it's probably wilting a lot more than you are comfortable with.

(edited addition from comments)

Just as a side note, you may not have noticed... but there is ALWAYS someone taking Friday off, someone ALWAYS taking Monday off. Every week, 52 weeks per year.

This means that the City only works "well" for 3 days a week. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The rest is at best, a hit and miss day. And we just can't keep dong this.

Can you imagine how much more efficient work would be done by working 5 days a week, like everyone else? How much faster things would get done. And faster means less cost. Less cost allows for more projects. More projects means keeping more people active... the list of "good" things that can come to the taxpayers is HUGE. The only "bad" thing is some city workers are going to be pissed off over a few minutes a day.

People all over are giving up something, around the world. I think it's time we started to do our part too. I'm sure the seniors and those on fixed incomes will be happy to see things getting done faster, combined with a zero tax hike.