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Thanks again to all the faithful — and I ask your advice on Twitter

February 2nd, 2009 · 26 Comments

I’d like to think it was just me but, actually, I believe that it’s all the hot news coming out of city hall these days that drove my blog-hit count up to 63,000 this month. (And I think half my readers read to see the interesting comment debates that erupt.)

With more to come this week on the negotiations with Fortress over the Olympic village, there should be lots more to talk about.

Which brings me to another point in the continuum of talking platforms. I’d like to know what you all think of Twitter and whether I should do it? I realize I could go hunting on the Internet for insightful commentary but I’d rather hear it from you.

I can’t quite figure it out. It doesn’t seem to be a young person’s thing. My 18-year-old niece, Kendal, whom I rely on as an infallible guide to all things cool teenagers do, says she doesn’t Twitter and doesn’t even know what it is. This is someone who was on Nexopia and Facebook when I was still using library card catalogues.

So, unlike other social media, it doesn’t seem to be aimed or produced by the myspace/Facebook set. In fact, where I hear about it all the time is from the liberal elite/politician/chattering class set (i.e. me and almost everyone I know).

Stephen Harper twitters, if you can believe it. Just google “pmharper and twitter” and you’ll see. It’s enough to make you smoke a doobie to celebrate the fact that you’re not the prime minister just reading it. The two most recent posts were “Attending a business round table in Quebec” and “Home renovation tax credit takes effect today.”

And Toronto Mayor David Miller and our own Vancouver mayor, Gregor Robertson, also twitter. So maybe you shouldn’t twitter unless you’re a very famous person and it’s kind of a thrill for people to read “did not enjoy delivering the grim news on the olympic village today” or “On the way to announce our district energy plant at Regent Park-City/TCHC/Corix-green power;potential for solar and wind.City leading again!

After all, it is somewhat cool to think that a Great Person has taken the time out to let all of you know “just called the French ambassador to say we’ve dumped the term freedom fries” than to read the more ordinary twitters many of us lesser mortals might post, i.e. “Spent the day blogging. My q key is sticking” or “Made scrambled eggs and had the heat too high. Will have to soak to get the guck off the bottom” or even “Remembered to send belated Christmas card today.”

But perhaps I’m missing the point. (As some will say I do so often.) What might be the value of Twitter, aside from ensuring that any spare minutes of the day not currently devoted to typing will soon be transformed?

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  • Wagamuffin

    Wellllll, I am thinking of adding it. It is a little of that Pied Piper thing…and more voyeurism, if that’s possible. You can use Twitter to “flash mob” us—let us know when you’re heading to that cute french bistro on Fraser and we’ll meet you there..;-)

    I dunno, the way pols and corporate types use it seems to be basically to disgorge what they can put out in media releases anyway—pretty much promotional stuff . Where it may be of value to you—people have to sign up to follow you. So, you would get a snapshot of who your groupies really are (all pseudonyms?? Say it ain’t so! LOL!).

    There are other social media apps like FriendFeed (I think that’s the name) that consolidates all these things like Twitter, facebook, etc. and lets you see those status lines at a glance.

    The worrying thing—that all this inputting may keep people from actually doing much face-to-face interaction. Still, handy when you want to see what Iggy is up to while you are laying out on the beach in Maui…

    As if!

  • Raphael Alexander

    Twitter is a social networking tool for the most part, but used effectively it can be so much more. If you indeed get 60,000 visitors a month [easily 4 times my own traffic], you stand to drive up your personal profile and traffic even more with Twitter. You get more hits from people checking out Twitter, and you can do as other journalists do and simply plug your articles for traffic.

    The social engagement aspect is only optional. Twitter also gives you a chance to vent about things because of the character limit, so you have to be succinct and concise.

  • spartikus

    Re: Twitter,

    If you think your readers will gain anything from a minute by minute, even second by second account of news event X, then twitter is for you.

    ie…it’s useful for fast-moving, developing events.

    Otherwise, it’s for friends and family or anyone who might be interested in what you had for breakfast.

  • Wayne

    I don’t need news and info any faster than I get them now, thanks, in no small part, to the this blog.

    I’ve heard of Twitter, I don’t know what it is or how it works although I’ve learned a little more in the last two minutes.

    Nothing could induce me to use it and the fact that Stephen Harper Twitters (has the OED picked this up yet?) has reinforced my position.

  • Funny you should mention twitter today. A friend of mine just mentioned twitter as a great way to pull together people of similar interests. He was using it to bounce ideas around people who have the same interests as him. I signed up last week. I will randomly twitter things when I think something semi-profound at the same time as I’m sitting in front of a computer and remember that, oh yeah! I have a twitter account! But if all 3 of those things don’t happen simultaneously. I have also twittered the words “tweet tweet” more than once

  • E Van

    I’ve been experimenting with Twitter for less than 2 months, but here’s my experience so far: I’ve attached my Twitter posts (called tweets) onto my blog. So for lengthier thoughts, I’d write a blog post. But for short, random thoughts, I’d type a tweet. Sometimes, I’d post an interesting link to share with others on Twitter if I don’t have time or feel a longer write-up is necessary.
    I’d love it if you’d post some (possibly snarky) comments during e.g. Council meetings.
    I found reading feeds from other people’s tweets while they were watching Obama’s inauguration really interesting. They capture different people’s thoughts at that moment.

  • Noah

    Twitter was a big hit in the tech/web 2.0 crowd in the bay area, and soon after world-wide around the end of 2006. SxSW 2007 sort of served as its debutante ball.

    It ended up being a big inspiration for Facebook’s status update feature, which fills a similar niche for teens and college kids.

    In the past couple of month’s its really taken off with the mid-20s hip media crowd in Vancouver, I’m not quite sure why (well, why now as opposed to a year and a half ago).

    Its also been getting a lot of mainstream press in the wake of the whole “Miracle on the Hudson” incident as photos showed up on Twitter before any local news choppers could be scrambled.

    Most blogs use it as another means of aggregating their content and as yet another channel for interaction with readers and the rest of the Twitterverse.

  • I think of twitter as a blog to be written and read on smartphones — hence the small character limit.

    And yes, it seems to have a social networking function. People commuting on transit in a big city will find each other and share tips via twitter (train 7 is running late; no hope of getting on skytrain at Broadway station).

    I’d say, do it if you think you’d enjoy the thrill of expressing yourself in 144 character phrases. But for me what’s valuable about reading your blog is the analysis and thought behind the headlines.

  • Denis

    My God, if you get all those hits on your blog , how could you manage to spend more of your time twittering? Would you have any time left to dig up information. Not that I really know what twittering means. I asked my granddaughter and she says”Get real, no way”. She text messages. Cel phones, uses a computer . Does most of her homework. Hasn’t got the time . So twitter on folks. Just leave the rest of us behind

  • I’ve written a fair bit on what Twitter can be, and I’m at odds with some of the conventional wisdom on it. For someone like yourself, who is quite active in following stories that can have a lot of little updates between posts, it could be a great way to fill in readers on things that are too small to be blog posts of their own, but too good not to share.

    Your mileage may vary depending on your audience, but here are some tips that I think would make using it worthwhile:

    * Post substantially – every tweet is a request for someone’s attention, so give it the consideration it deserves.

    * Don’t use Twitter as a repeater for your blog posts. Others disagree with me on this, but I think it’s abusive because I don’t agree with self-serving redundancy

    * Immediacy isn’t necessarily the only use for Twitter. Short reflections are just as valid.

    I see some comments here that misconstrue Twitter’s use or are confused by it. I like it for the same reason I life Facebook statuses: they give me a sort of ambient awareness of what’s happening in the lives of people I know or am interested in. When I see these friends face to face, there’s a lot they don’t need to fill me in on because I know it already. For a journalist, the life in between stories is itself a series of small stories, and there’s an onus on being a bit creative given the character limit. I think you should give it a spin, and see how it goes. If you want to chat about it a bit, drop me an email I’m happy to talk about it some more.

  • eleanor

    The Twitter phenomenon is similar in nature to the 1,000,000 “Acts of Green” initiative. One single entity undertaking an action (i.e. changing a lightbulb or sending out tweets) isn’t as interesting, or powerful, or impactful as the aggregate result.

    I followed the Mumbai bombings in real time via Twitter. It was fascinating to read the perspectives of people affected by the seige as they twittered from their separate vantage points.

    I would find it fascinating to read your tweets in conjunction with other City Hall “twitterers” as any new drama unfolds.

    Frances, through your blog, and perhaps through your future tweets, you’ve helped turn local politics into a spectator sport!

  • Frances, no question, you’ve gotta dive into twitter. It’s a great space for you to push your ideas and get feedback/input from your story supporters and critics in real-time. Your blog followers will naturally cross-over and continue to be tuned into what you’re talking about, plus you’ll have the added advantage of driving even more new followers to your blog in an effort to build your readership and reach. Twitter allows you to create and contribute to conversations on just about anything. I’m surprised more journalists aren’t flocking to twitter as a critical new tool in your field.

    You’re already halfway there with your blog – dive in and give micro-blogging a try. My guess is you’ll be great at this too and we’re all waiting for your ‘tweets’ , so hurry up!

    a faithful fan of your blog,


  • Paul

    Twitter is what you want it to be.

    1. It can function as the Headline News of your blog.

    2. It can provide live updates during elections/ nominations / council meetings etc.

    3. It can serve as a means for readers to comment.

    4. It can serve as an information gathering tool.

    Twitter has allowed me to discover people with common interests and to aggregate information.

  • Twitter is the reason most of us knew about Mumbai breaking several hours before even picked it up.

    It is also the reason why the citizen journalist who took the first pictures of the Hudson river landing became a celebrity in the span of a few hours- lonh before the pilot or passengers did.

    It’s a great way to both highlight and find stories in non mainstream media, because the people you Tweet with generally have similar interests to you.

    It’s kind of like being tapped into the whole world, at all times (which is why there can be information overload). I do not find the big name tweets (e.g. Harper, mayor or The_Real_Shaq) to be anything particularly useful as they’re usually ‘official news’ and written by flacks anyways.

  • Ronald Wilson

    Twitter = grapevine = gossip. When you consider the worth of SOME of our politicos babble then I suppose Twitter is THE appropriate medium. Can’t get into it myself.

  • Travis

    It’s not surprising that you are getting so many hits. But before you foray into the world of Twitter, I recommend you read this article I found on J-Source, (also note the use of – it is a lifesaver for articles like this that have a URL or over 600 characters!).

    I certainly agree with Paul. Twitter is what you make it. Like most things on the internet there is always the potential for things to be big for the sake of being big, e.g. the picture of Michael Phelps hitting a bong, but there are a lot of benefits to Twitter.

    The biggest thing to keep in mind at all times: only post something that can engage the people following you.

    Like Facebook statuses that say “John isn’t sure if he is going to make it through the night”, there are some things that do not belong in the ether.

    Lastly, a piece of advice that was given to me when I started the Twitter for the company I work for. When you find someone interesting, check out who they are following and follow them. It’s amazing the kind of people you can find.

  • Gavin Dew


    Once you set up a Twitter account, you can very easily use to stream your blog updates into your Twitter status. You can do the same with Facebook status updates.

    If you’ve got a blackberry, you can use twitterberry ( to view and manage your twitter account instead of using text messaging.

    Shoot me an email, and I’ll help you set it up – I promise I won’t sneak a pro-NPA bias filter into your configuration!

  • tommi

    Stephen Harper and Gregor Robertson are not the ones posting on Twitter. It’s the low-paid assistants instructed to type in the day’s talking points that are behind the Tweets.

  • coldwater

    “It’s the low-paid assistants instructed to type in the day’s talking points that are behind the Tweets.”

    Ahh just what we need, up to the minute propoganda.

  • Raphael Alexander

    Stephen Harper and Gregor Robertson are not the ones posting on Twitter. It’s the low-paid assistants instructed to type in the day’s talking points that are behind the Tweets.


    You think they’re low-paid?

  • Andrea Reimer

    I don’t know – I’d be surprised if gregor didn’t do his own posts. I do mine on transit or when I’m just that annoyed/elated.

  • Hi Frances,

    Longtime reader, first time poster. Great blog. Shame we have no equivalent in Toronto.

    Mayor David Miller writes his own tweets ( from his blackberry. Several of his staff tweet as well. We share thoughts, links, quotes, and reactions (our own, not “official”) and live-blog. I run it on my Blackberry by using a free program called TwitterBerry. That way you don’t have to go to the site.

    The City Clerk (@TorontoCouncil) tweets play-by-play of what council’s debating, vote results, and publishing of reports; the comms directors for the Toronto Transit Commission (@bradross) and City (@TorontoComms) both tweet updates on service disruptions, emergencies, news, etc.

    That’s the outbound part. The other cool thing about twitter is sticking your hand in the data stream. Go to and punch in some terms. I run RSS feeds for search terms like “city of toronto.” I find posts from people frustrated with city services, excited about moving to the city, and responding to things they’ve heard or read. It’s a good reality check.

    I searched in “city of vancouver” and found posts about Millennium, a guy who just got a job as a fire inspector, and a few posts from Gregor.

  • tommi

    Raphael, if assistants get less than councillors make, yes, they are low-paid.

    Hi Andrea, my favorite new councillor! My guess is that it’s Mike Magee actually doing the twittering for Gregor. Will future mayors and councillors be required to twitter and tweet now?

  • E Van

    I’m curious whether you’re making any money off this blog. You’ve got a large following but no ads. It might not be kosher to post ads of land development companies or political parties, but maybe say, ads for the school you’re teaching, or …?

  • elliomeg

    I would love to see you on twitter.

    I don’t always have time to remember to check your website, but the feed feature mentioned by Gavin above means I can check one source (twitter) to find updates (blog or just tweets) from you and others I’m interested in.

    Also, it is a great way to find folks you might otherwise never find who are interested in the same topics. By checking who others follow (and/or who follows them) you can begin to see and understand the network we live in …

  • would love to see you on twitter! depending on who you follow, and how many, it’s like being a room with piles of people who can let you know, before you hear it anywhere else, “the real scoop”. If you join, please follow me so I can follow back (generally good practice, btw) – @moneycoach