The secrets of Facebook Live

In this week’s podcast, Luke Barratt and Jasper Pickering talk about the growing importance of live-streaming on Facebook for media organisations and the average Joe alike. As Facebook grows its video platform, Zuckerburg is pushing users to interact with each other via live video feed.

No longer are the broadcasters telling us what to do from atop their ivory towers. Now you (yes, YOU!) can produce live coverage from the comfort of your handheld device.

The intrepid duo tackle examples of live-streamed news like Donald Trump’s disastrous press conference and the suspense of watching a watermelon explode under the pressure of a thousand elastic bands on Buzzfeed. While future coverage will pale in comparison, users are still becoming more engaged with online videos.

Gone are the days of panda sneezes and laughing babies. Now audiences demand more from their social media influencers, as outlets like Vice produce high quality documentaries that can be watched from the comfort of our bed/toilet.

Our cup runneth over.

CNN Trump Press Conference.

A stressed watermelon that forgot it had a test today.

Vice videos

How to improve your social videos to tell compelling stories

As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told investors of his ‘video first’ strategy, content creators are trying to find ways to optimise their video output and attract larger followings.

Social video has been around for many years but is now  considered the dominant vessel for consumption on social media. Last year, Facebook video uploads increased by 95% from the previous year and these numbers look set to rise again in 2017.

Here are a few tips on how you can improve the quality and watchability of your videos on Facebook.

Keep them short and sweet

Even though Mark Zuckerberg himself has expressed an interest in opening up Facebook to longform and episodic videos, he wants to focus on shorter-form content just to start. While you might be excited to produce an expensive Pulitzer-winning documentary, start small. The optimum length for social videos is between 30 – 90 seconds. Don’t worry too much if your video is slightly over. Use your own discretion to figure out what works for you.

Work without sound

Now, you don’t have to go full Buster Keaton when making a video for social, but make sure that your video still makes sense without audio and doesn’t become just a sequence of footage without context. Most viewers who come across your video will do so because it played automatically. If they’re interested enough, they might turn the sound on to find out more. Use captions to let viewers know what the video is about and use subtitles if subjects are talking so people can still ‘hear’ what is being said. The captions should be able to drive the story without breaking the flow of the video.  

Think about your first Impressions

For many people, your social presence will be your first port-of-call, so you want that first impression to stand out. Come up with something succinct that doesn’t give too much away to the viewer. You want them to stay with you to the end of the video but you also don’t want to bore them.

Avoid using still images/stock photos

When I first started making videos for social, I was told to avoid using still images. “If the story can be told with images then tell it with images.” In other words, video should only be used if the story can’t be told in any other way. If you absolutely must use an image for a video, then try to create the illusion of movement with zooms and pans. This is known as the ‘Ken Burns Effect’ and it’s a widely used technique. You will often see it in war documentaries to create the illusion of a battle, for example. You might also need to use photos or screenshots that others have taken to tell your story (we will get to that later on).

Be professional

This might sound obvious but treat your social video exactly the same as you would any news piece: as professional as possible. If your audio isn’t properly synced or you’ve captured all of your footage on your old Nokia then people will be turned off and go to the next item. You don’t need to invest in a lot of equipment to achieve this. All you need to do is take extra care. Make sure that your audio matches what’s being said on screen, remember to adjust focus, and keep your camera steady.

Ask for permission to use other people’s photos/videos

A common problem with social video is that it can be easily downloaded and uploaded on another channel without giving credit to the original author. This is known as ‘freebooting’ and it is heavily frowned upon. If you want to use footage that you’ve found from another source to help tell your story, try and contact the author and they may be happy to let you use it as long as you give them credit in the video. Some people might say no,  so you’ll need to find something similar elsewhere.

Avoid cliches

This. Just this.


Should Silicon Valley resist Donald Trump?

On this week’s Data Day, Luke Barratt and Bridie Pearson-Jones discuss what relationship tech companies in Silicon Valley can or should be doing to resist Donald Trump. Such companies overwhelmingly supported Clinton in the US election, and have in the past been outspokenly progressive on social issues.

However, the Intercept reported that of nine tech companies they asked, only Twitter said it wouldn’t help Trump create a database of American Muslims. Will tech companies adapt to a new Trump presidency?

There is a wider discussion to be had around the place of the far right on the Internet. We discuss Jonathan Albright’s research, which threw up some interesting results regarding the way in which far-right websites used internal links to game Google’s algorithm.

Moreover, some have put forward specific steps they feel should be taken by tech companies in Silicon Valley if they are to follow through on their consistent criticism of Donald Trump.

Sonia Katyal, Chancellor’s Professor of Law, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology codirector, wrote on Berkeley blogs about how the tech industry can resist Trump.

Follow Luke on Twitter at @lukewbarratt, follow Bridie at @bridiepjones, and follow Interhacktives at @Interhacktives.

You can also find this podcast and previous episodes on iTunes and on Soundcloud.

Social Media for Journalists: Making a case for Facebook

There is one clear fact about journalism and social media, i.e. Twitter is the ‘Holy Grail’ for journalists.
The 140 characters in a tweet are used by a majority of journalists for breaking news and microblogging. Almost every journalist has a twitter account.

Facebook on the other hand is what I call a ‘potential’ which is waiting to be discovered by journalists. Facebook is a larger platform than that of Twitter and much more varied. In the following points I will make a case for Facebook and why it should be used more by journalists.

Here we go.

1. Number of users

This is the modus operandi and source of pride for any social media site. More users will generate more content. In the second quarter of 2016, Facebook had 1.71 billion monthly users while Twitter had just 313 million in the same time period.

This is a massive difference. More importantly, a difference which can have major consequences on what is being shared and created. Facebook has already become a source of news, with almost every major news agency sharing content on their official Facebook pages.

Contrastingly, individual journalists are not that active on Facebook. Click on a journalist’s profile, and you get a Wikipedia-esque introduction, with few irregular posts.

To reach a bigger audience, journalists who already have a Facebook profile can use their profiles professionally or even make a separate page if they want to keep their professional and personal profiles separate.

Journalists will get a much larger audience to cater to on Facebook.

2. Extensive engagement with audience

Facebook’s comments section is a platform for opinions, frustrations, and friendly banter. Activity over Facebook has become so relevant in recent times, that governments in certain countries (India and Pakistan) track such activities and curb them. Like the press, Facebook provides a platform for public opinion, forming and shaping it.

Granted that Twitter is good source for breaking news, but if a story is broken on Facebook, the public can actively engage in debate through the comments section.

Facebook’s reactions is a great tool for journalists. It can help them to understand what shared content resonates with the public’s emotions. Before reactions, it was impossible to tell from a “like” whether the reader was angry, sad, or happy about what they had seen.

On Twitter, although you can engage with audiences through replies, the scope of debate is limited to 140 characters.

Engaging with Facebook comments may seem like a daunting task. Twitter is more favoured because journalists are short on time and sending a tweet is easier than commenting on Facebook.

But, if they can spare time to engage with their audience on Facebook, they will be be able to understand public opinion.

3. The multi-platform format on Facebook facebooklive_marquee3
Facebook can influence public opinion because it provides a wide range of platforms on its site through which users can share content.

News agencies are making extensive use of Facebook live to break news and report on stories. If you compare breaking a story on Twitter with just a one line tweet and breaking the same news with a live video, you can understand the huge differences between the two. Video always has a more lasting effect on the viewer than words have on the reader. 

Facebook Live video has revolutionised reporting: where anyone can record live videos of any event through their mobile phone cameras.

Twitter is not so accessible when it comes to multimedia reporting. Short videos, GIFs and pictures are about all there is on offer.

Data day: The rise of fake news on Facebook

Did Pope Francis endorse Donald Trump? Did Hillary Clinton sell weapons to Isis? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you may have been the victim of fake news. In the first episode of a new podcast from Interhacktives – Data Day – Ella Wilks-Harper and Luke Barratt discuss the rise of fake news, question whether the crisis has been overstated, and examine some possible solutions to the problem.

Fake news on Facebook has been the subject of a frenzied debate recently, especially around a US election that has seen a country divided bitterly. As Americans – and Brits – retreat into online echo chambers of their own making, filling their Facebook feeds with people who agree with them, is it any wonder that ideology might start to trump fact? Some consider fake news the logical conclusion of the filter bubble. Will it be a wake-up call for Facebook to recognise editorial responsibility and abandon the utopian dream of its impersonal, all-ruling algorithm?

Mark Zuckerburg’s initial response to the fake news scandal:

Buzzfeed’s story about Macedonian teenagers using fake news to garner ad revenue:

A letter from the editor of Aftenposten attacking Zuckerburg over the censoring of a picture from the Vietnam War:

Buzzfeed’s analysis of engagement with fake news on Facebook in the last few months before the US election:

What WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption means for journalism and how to use app

The last time I checked, WhatsApp was not one of the most popular social media apps among journalists.

It was trailing Twitter, Facebook, Messenger, and Line by far.


Many a journalist have written off this chat app with a disputed 800 million monthly active users after efforts to broadcast through it proved to be a herculean task— adding phone numbers to chat groups and broadcast lists.

Yes, pushing out information through hard-to-make and limited WhatsApp broadcast lists is neither efficient nor economical but this world’s most popular messaging application is still useful in journalism.

It unleashes its power when you reverse the newsroom-audience information flow— from broadcasting to newsgathering.


What’s more, WhatsApp’s latest addition of end-to-end encryption (above) has made it safe for internal newsroom communication— including managers’ top-secret chats, planning, story assignment to reporters and content filing, including scoops.

“When you and your contacts use the latest version of the app, every call you make, and every message, photo, video, file and voice message you send, is end-to-end encrypted by default, including group chats,” WhatsApp co-founders Jan Koum and Brian Acton said in their announcement of the new privacy features.

Unlike Telegram where users have to start a secret chat to enable encryption, WhatsApp’s new security feature, Signal Protocol designed by Open Whisper Systems,  is enabled by default in the app’s latest version.


“Once the session is established, clients do not need to rebuild a new session with each other until the existing session state is lost through an external event such as an app reinstall or device change,” Koum and Acton said.

However, there are concerns that the encryption fails in chats between Android and iPhone phones. It should also be noted that the Big Brother may be able to snoop on encrypted messages if the security  of your gadget is compromised.


So, how can you effectively use WhatsApp for internal newsroom communication, content-generation and newsgathering?

The app that was acquired by Facebook at $16 billion (£10.6 billion) in 2014 uses standard cellular mobile numbers to send information— photos, texts, audio, videos and user location — over the internet, across platforms.

Its web feature, WhatsApp Web, which is installed by scanning a QR reader, makes it easier to type and download information onto a computer for processing.


Once this system is set up, WhatsApp is not only fast in breaking news but also more reliable in receiving and verifying eyewitness media and User Generated Content (UGC).

To begin, it is advisable to set up a WhatsApp group for your reporters and correspondents, with editors as admins who issue instructions and plan day-to-day business

As the newsgatherers post content on the platform, editors have to monitor updates, download, process, package and publish the information.

El Taller del Bit

The app’s chat function allows conversations between the senders and receivers, including clarifications and requests for more information in real time.

Kenya’s Daily Nation has successfully used WhatsApp to receive breaking stories from its reporters and correspondents around the world in the last two years.

It runs a closed group where newsgatherers, online subs and editors are ever conversing— gathering and publishing information as part of the newspaper’s digital strategy.


The BBC has expanded beyond closed newsroom groups and now uses WhatsApp to receive eyewitness media and general UGC, according to

Its Have Your Say programme has been particularly successful at this— breaking the Alton Towers rollercoaster crash, covering Nepal earthquake, India and South Africa elections.

The Wall Street Journal and the Guardian, reports also run successful crowd-sourcing projects using WhatsApp.


While Facebook, Twitter, Line, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, WeChat and Viber are equally reliable in delivering UGC, verification of content delivered via WhatsApp is quicker, courtesy of country phone codes.

For instance, if a user claims to be a resident of Garissa in Kenya where Al-Shabaab killed 148 students last year and their phone number’s country code reads +27, you have every reason to be skeptical because +27 is the country code for South Africa. Kenya’s is +254.

Mark you, it is not impossible for people to download content from the internet and pass it as their own on this ‘dark end’ of the internet.

Syed Ikhwan_edited

As such, content delivered via WhatsApp should treated with the scepticism all UGC deserves and passed through the normal verification process.

The success of WhatsApp in delivering UGC is solely dependent on the popularity of the app in the targeted region.

It can work wonders in a country such as  India that has over 65 million active users but may not be as successful in the United States where WhatsApp is still struggling to get users’ attention.

Photo credits: — Harry Misiko, El Taller del Bit, iphonedigital, Microsiervos and Syed Ikhwan | Creative Commons.

How to use Snapchat as a journalist

As most digital journalists know, Snapchat is a vast and in some ways underutilised tool. Snapchat claims to have over 8 billion users per day – an eye watering number compared to the 2 billion they had only last May.

Snapchat has created the Discover channel on their app. These are the snapchats that show up automatically on everyone’s phones. The channel is only open to partners of snapchat, meaning you have to be invited by Snapchat to join.
Snapchat discover

Discover channel includes big names that are trying to tap into the young audience hooked on the app. The Daily Mail in particular has pioneered the way they use this medium by creating their own distinct voice.

Another big newspaper brand that has thrown their weight behind Snapchat is the Wall Street Journal. This was an exciting step for the social media app because the WSJ is the first broadsheet newspaper to look into the potential of Snapchat and reach a more serious readership.

Currently, the Wall Street Journal have 5 people dedicated to developing  Snapchat stories on a daily basis.

However, Snapchat discover is not an option for most newsrooms, firstly because it is extremely competitive to get a channel and secondly hiring up-to 5 new staff members is an expense that most newspapers cannot afford.

But if you want to brand yourself as an innovator in the newsroom you should consider suggesting how Snapchat stories might be used. Stories is the part of the app where anyone can create an account and use it. This could help reach a younger readership, something desperately needed by newspapers with an ever aging audience. If the newspaper creates a Snapchat account, each journalist can produce short Snapchats to support the stories they are writing.

Interhacktives has created a simple guide below on how to report on an event via Snapchat.


Your first snap is your headline, make it simple and clear what this Snapchat story will cover.


It’s a good idea to have a rough plan. For example, if you’re covering a football match, you might want to capture the atmosphere before, the walk to the stadium, the stadium and then subsequent news, eg goals, red cards, half time and full time.

Half time

Top tip

Keep the screen vertical – jumping from horizontal to vertical ruins the experience for your audience.



Be ready to change the angle of the story if a bigger story emerges. However, remember Snapchat works chronologically so once you have added an extra snap it will be on the timeline.

For example with the football example above, at the Birmingham City Vs QPR match I noticed on the journey to the stadium there was an unusually strong police presence.  The police were jumpy and insisted on escorting the away fans. This worked nicely into my story as I wanted to include the journey to the stadium. When the police became more violent, it was easier to flag it up because I had already mentioned it in my Snapchat story. 

So think about the chronology of your snaps, they are important.

Always conclude

Once one incident is over – in this case, the fight between the fans and police, be sure to explain that the incident is over and that you are returning to the initial main story. Also make sure you round off your overall snapchat story, try linking it to the website or newspaper the story will be published.

Snapchat is such a new platform that there is of course no wrong or right way, so share your tips on successes and failures of using Snapchat in the comments section.

What to keep in mind with Facebook video

Facebook can be a very valuable tool for traffic for many websites, and mastering an online presence on the social platform is often the difference between life and death of a publication.

Recently, Facebook’s algorithm has been modified to promote visual content, such as pictures and videos, over plain text posts.

Data published last November seems to be showing they are on the right track, with close to 8 billion video views per day.

While Youtube remains the uncontested leader in raw video content, it would be a grave mistake to ignore the rapid growth in Facebook videos.

Here are the interhacktives top tips to keep in mind when doing your Facebook video.

Grab their attention

You are fighting against the ever-shortening attention span of the viewer. If you don’t grab your audience in the very first seconds of your video, they simply go elsewhere.

Most of the time viewers will be scrolling through their feed and your video will automatically start playing when they go over it, that leaves you with about three seconds to convince them to stop and stare.

In this video by The Guardian, the viewer is instantly intrigued by this atypical question and answer. It stays no longer than three seconds and does its job well.

Keep it compact

This is in the same vein as our previous tip. The longer the video, the less likely he/she will finish it. Try to aim for something close to a minute or two, any more and you risk boring the viewer.

This video by the BBC has 10 million views at the time of publishing of this article, and it is only 50 seconds long.

Don’t forget visual stimuli

A trap publications might fall into is to treat a Facebook video like a segment in a broadcasting channel. You should not be simply staring at the camera and talking, other channels are better suited for this type of content Facebook videos are not.

If your video makes sense and the viewer can understand what it is about even with the sound turned off, then you are on the right track.

This video by NowThis has no natural sound, yet you can understand what the story and who the major players are just by reading the text. This technique is called a Nut Graf over B-Roll, where you simply take the nut graf of the story and put it over some video sequence.


Adapt your content

Not everything should be made for online video, but a bit of time and effort can turn even dry content into something that can work.

In this video, CNBC only had shots of Mark Cuban talking, but with the clever use of editing and adding text they managed to turn dry content into something you could watch on Facebook.




How to live tweet an event

Why live tweet?

Share: If you’re interested in an event you’re attending, the chances are that others who can’t make it or don’t already know about it will be interested too. Live tweet to give them an insight into the best bits of what’s being said.

Grow: You will gain followers, exposure and skills. You’ll catch people’s attention. And live tweeting is a great exercise for honing that key journalistic talent for filtering what’s most important, then broadcasting it to an audience.

Save time: Writing a report after the event, if you need to, is much easier once you’ve already distilled the best quotes. It can be little more than adding structure, conjunctions, full stops and some context.

What to live tweet?

When I’m listening to speakers and looking for quotes, I have the “so what?” test running in my head. When you hear a short, important phrase you think worthy of a quote, ask “so what?”. If there’s a clear answer why your followers should care about the quote, then go ahead and tweet it.

Direct quotes are best, in “ ” marks:

Paraphrase if you have to:

How to live tweet?

Before On the day of the event – or earlier if it’s hotly anticipated – tweet at regular intervals to let everyone know you’re going to be live-tweeting. Include details – when, from where, and what about, as well as a link to the event. Entice with pictures!

Check if there’s an event hashtag. Make sure you are following all the parties you’ll want to tag: the speakers, the chair, the venue and the organisers.

Gather your equipment. I prefer live tweeting from my iPhone because:

    1. SILENCE: Typing into a phone is silent; typing into a laptop isn’t. Depending on what kind of event you’re at, tapping away at a laptop keyboard can be disruptive and you may draw weird looks from irked audience members next to you. Obviously if it’s a tech conference, you’re absolutely fine, but at the above Frontline Club event on stateless peoples, the rapt audience did not appreciate tap-tap-tap in the corner.
    2. HABIT: Our minds are habituated to typing brief phrases into a phone keyboard, rather than the long sentences we usually write into laptops. Brief phrases suit live-tweeting.

Have your laptop open too – it’s useful for confirming the odd detail or searching Twitter for a tag you need while your tweet box is already open on your phone.

At the event Sit at the back or sides of the room. I find other audience members tend to get irritated by my flipping between phone and laptop, and this in turn distracts me. Live-tweeting takes focus – distractions aren’t welcome!

Don’t worry if you start tweeting a quote, but then the speaker comes up with a far more interesting one you’d rather tweet. Delete your draft so far and go for it.

You will miss quotes – that’s part of the nature of tweeting live. You’re giving your audience the most salient points, not a blow-by-blow documentation of the event.

You’ll find as you type quotes in that most come up over 140 characters. You’ll need to crop sentences all the time. Paraphrase succinctly, using just a very short quoted phrase if that helps. If only one tag will fit in the tweet, I usually put the speaker.

Tag anyone relevant to a specific quote; for instance, when Gonzalo Vargas Llosa mentioned the UNHCR, I tagged them in the tweet. It’s a great way to get your live tweets more exposure.

If you notice typos or misquotes after you’ve published a tweet, I copy the tweet, paste in a new one, delete the original one and republish the correct tweet. Don’t worry about the tweets being out of time sequence. After Remember a concluding tweet so your followers know it’s over. You also might want to post any follow-up links.

New followers, likes and retweets will continue for hours and usually the next couple of days after the event.

Repeat at your next event!

The Wild West of Social Media: 7 Takeaways

Pioneers from the frontiers of social media newsgathering and user-generated content (UGC) shared their wisdom at News:rewired’s ‘in focus’ event last week.

Below are my seven takeaways from “The Wild West of Social Media” panel event, featuring Aine Kerr, managing editor of StoryfulSam Dubberley, co-founder of Eyewitness Media HubGavin Rees, director, Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma and Beth Colson, head of international video news production, Associated Press.

I also live-blogged the event here.

1 Journalism is the same discipline, just with changing tools.

“A post, an image, a video is only just a piece of information on a platform, until you do traditional journalism. You still must apply who, what, when, where, how, why?”, said Aine Kerr.

2 “With UGC comes responsibility”.

Storyful’s mantra reminds us that sources should not be treated any differently just because they are uploaders, rather than callers.

3 Set and respect user engagement policies, to ensure your duty of care to UGC sources.

Take the conversation off the platform into direct messaging, email, or a phone call. Tell the user how you want to use their content, and make sure they understand. Ideally, give them a link so they can quickly read up how you are intending to use their content. AP’s head of international video news production Beth Colson said AP has developed their ‘legalese’ documentation into formats that can fit in a DM, making them clear and accessible.

4 “Eyewitness” typically means “traumatised”.

“If someone has seen a key moment in a story, chances are they’ve seen something traumatic”, says Beth Colson. “Think before you contact them, and remind them about their safety.” In the recent Oregon shooting, AP producers were told to wait until the police said the gunman was no longer on the loose before contacting eyewitnesses.

5 Vicarious trauma for journalists who watch UGC is a growing problem in newsrooms.

Trauma is experienced most strongly when there is no warning before the traumatic UGC is viewed; beware autoplay features on video players.

6 Combat vicarious trauma with better newsroom practices.

Trauma is a dose-related problem; at a low-volume, humans are surprisingly resilient. Workflow steps can prevent traumatic content being viewed without warning, and rostering staff between hard news and soft news lightens the dose. Green counters trauma; have green computer wallpaper and a pot plant on your desk. Share your concerns with your colleagues; distress hampers our ability to process complex information, and “unspoken distress in newsrooms can impact the way journalists collaborate with each other”, said Rees.

7 News organisations can legitimately refuse to distribute “newsworthy” traumatic content.

“Because”, said Rees, “content such as an ISIS video is like a press release from a company trying to sell its product. Journalists aren’t expected to send out every press release companies give them.”

Using Twitter Well: The Strange Case of J.K Rowling and Wings Over Scotland

Twitter, rather than existing as an amorphous abstract cloud of individual opinions, links and gifs, is closely bound up with existing communities and groups.

Scotland is notable for the skill of its political classes on Twitter. The leaders of the Scottish National Party, Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives are all adept tweeters. They joke, snipe, tease and engage with their own followers and those of rival parties.

As Twitter is one of the major methods of public communication between Scottish journalists and politicians it is unsurprising that events on the site frequently make the news.

Last week provided quite a spectacular example.

On Sunday, the Scottish Rugby team lost a quarter final game of the Rugby World Cup against Australia.

It was a tight, emotional and highly charged defeat and many supporters took to Twitter to express their grief.

J.K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series quoted a tweet which said: ‘Don’t care. Scotland were magnificent!!! Magnificent!!!’

 Stuart Campbell, curator of the popular pro-independence blogging site replied:

And that’s when Scottish Twitter went into meltdown. Campbell’s comments were spread across the internet, Rowling responded, and Twitter opinion fell down firmly on the side of the author. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted her tacit support,  

Campbell refused to apologise for his comments and posted a list of prominent journalists who had also told other tweeters to ‘f*** off’.

From his perspective there was no story. What on earth was remarkable about one tweeter swearing at another? Did he have a point?

Users swear at each other all the time on Twitter, why should this particular incident be news-worthy?

The spat goes to the heart of the ‘social versus media’ nature of Twitter.

Often journalists forget that most people are not on Twitter to just read their tweeted stories but to interact with other users, watch videos and tell jokes.

Twitter is a functional social area, and thus it is unsurprising that most people expect people to behave as they would in ‘real-life’.

In ‘real-life’ exchanges between celebrities or other prominent people are reported on, it is part of the bread and butter of journalism.

Rowling is a world famous author and became a prominent ‘no’ campaigner in last year’s referendum.

Although his popularity is not quite as stratospheric, Campbell is a well-known figure in Scottish politics. Wings over Scotland is a very successful site, it has thousands of readers in Scotland and played a huge role in influencing Scottish political debate during the referendum.


Tweeters thought the winner of the Twitter spat was obvious…

The point should be obvious.

While it might indeed be un-newsworthy when users without the profile Rowling and Campbell enjoy are at each other’s’ throats when one of the biggest names in Scottish ‘new media’ swears at the country’s most famous author in an online tantrum after a national rugby game the news value is evident.

The story also falls within a long running narrative, that of the pernicious ‘cybernat’, the keyboard nationalist who hides behind a glowing screen accusing people of being ‘anti-Scottish’ and ‘quislings’.

De-toxifying the idea of nationalism has been a key part of the SNP’s strategy in the past few years.

Instinctively wary of flag-waving political enthusiasts the SNP have had to patiently put the case to Scotland and Britain that nationalism is not such a dangerous creed as many suppose.

They have had some success, support for the party and independence has never been higher, but, as it should be obvious, outbursts like Campbell’s do not help.

As Sturgeon tweeted, it ‘does our cause no good to hurl abuse.’

J.K Rowling reacts to Campbell’s comment

Campbell is, to some extent, a savvy media operator, but the lack of understanding that the ‘social’ side to Twitter is as important as the ‘media’ side and that our online personalities are crucial in how we might put across our political views and news to others is short-sighted and damaging.

Perhaps I am being naïve, maybe Campbell is completely aware and goes out of his way to cultivate his particular online persona described by STV’s digital correspondent Stephen Daisley as ‘…brash, aggressive, personal. Other blogs shoot from the hip; Wings shoots its targets in the hip.’

To his followers ‘Wings’ is a one man army against the unthinking unionist establishment media, fighting a lonely battle against misrepresentation and one of the few genuine voices in Scotland who tells the truth as it is.

But all people see if they have never come into contact with him or his site before is one man swearing at the woman who wrote Harry Potter.

It is not a good look.

It is easy ammunition for his opponents, further embeds ideas of ‘cybernattery’, scares off those floating voters and makes the media space in Scotland a more aggressive and threatening place.

In short it’s a tactical disaster for the pro-independence movement. Perhaps more importantly than any of these reasons though, is that is just downright unpleasant.

Some Tweeters did not see what all the fuss was about

If the internet is an extension of our social space why should it be acceptable to behave differently online than how we might interact were we face-to-face?

I would be interested to know, would Campbell still tell Rowling to ‘f*** off’ if she was standing next to him watching the rugby in the stadium?

Decency, politeness and respect are important in the public space. Indeed, it is the only way debate and honest disagreement can fruitfully take place.

Twitter is a powerful tool for journalists. Used well it enables you to find previously unreachable readers from all across the world, build committed and engaged communities and nurture a network of contacts and friends.

But used poorly it can damage the public arena by toxifying public debate, increasing feelings of intimidation and reducing disagreement and debate to aggression and insults.

Last Sunday Rowling said that all ‘Wings’ contributed to Scottish political discussion was ‘bile.’

If he does not stop soon, that’s all anyone else will be able to see too.


J.K Rowling, photo by Daniel Ogren [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Sociotope brings your online identity to life

A mass of multi-coloured tentacles against a grey-blue backdrop

While browsing data visualisations on Pinterest the other day, I came across an interesting-looking tool: Sociotope, a social media experiment which takes the data people leave behind in social networks and turns it into an interactive data visualisation.

The free-to-use web app works with Twitter, Facebook and soon Google Plus. It uses your data to build a “virus”-like creature with one tentacle for every post you’ve made, or post that someone else has involved you in, up to a maximum of 150 (though you can choose to load more). The colour scheme is taken from your profile picture, and the length of each tentacle varies depending on the length of the post. The more the tentacles move around, the more people have interacted with that post – providing a slightly bizarre but effective overview of your social media presence.

 A screen capture of me exploring Sociotope and using it to visualise my Twitter activity

Sociotope is functional, but also fun and interesting – you can use your cursor to spin it around in the three-dimensional space, and watch as the tentacles flop about. You can click on each one to see details about that post, although with so many tentacles in the way, it can be difficult to hit the exact one you’re aiming for.

Sociotope also provides a few options for analysing your social media presence, including sorting posts by time and by author. Its design is geared more towards visual impact than straight-forward analysis; but it’s effective as a visualisation and fun to play with, and could serve as an entry point for more casual users into analysing their social media presence, rather than only appealing to professionals, like most analytical tools.

A visual metaphor

Stefan Wagner, the designer who created Sociotope, says he wanted people to gain an understanding of what they leave behind online:

If you browse websites, data is collected about you – lots of data. I think the average user doesn’t ever glimpse how much data that is actually collected … these kind of exceptional visualisations, they gain people’s interest, and they will be interested in this viewing this data and what lies behind it.

Stefan describes Sociotope as a “metaphor” that represents people’s social media activity and their social relevance. “I always liked connecting data visualisation to some sort of metaphor – I like working with metaphors to convey information about something. The idea was created to make a data visualisation of social media and put it in some sort of other form, to shape it differently, so that the viewer would learn something else from it.

“I really hope that people are using it to analyse their own presence and maybe the identity of others. Because social networks, they’re all about social interaction, and I think it’s really important for people to realise how they use this kind of social media, how they interact with their friends, and how deep this interaction goes.”

Does he think that this is a role that data should be playing – in helping people realise these things about themselves? “For me, it’s the only way data should be used. Of course big data is used to do advertisements and stuff but for me, the interesting thing lies in analysing behaviour and getting into how people use this kind of media.”

A colourful Sociotope visualisation with a few tendrils extending out towards the words "tweet", "reply", "tweet with media" and "link"
Sociotope can break your online presence down by type of post and whether or not it contains media | Stefan Wagner / andsynchrony

Sociotope also provides an unexpected insight into how the internet has developed over time and how users’ social media presences have changed with it. By loading posts back far enough, you can play them as a time-lapse which shows the evolution of a person’s social media presence over the years.

“When I started to build the project,” says Stefan, “I saw that in 2009 or 2010, people were writing a lot more text, but now they restrict themselves to posting photos or one-liners – just a few words. People tend to not write so many things any more; they more tend to post photos or videos.

“You can read it out of the visualisation. [Similarly], when you look at websites, how they are structured and how they try to gain attention, photographs or images get a lot more space these days than they did two or three years ago.”

Generating Utopia

Sociotope isn’t Stefan’s only project which uses data visualisation to give insight into how people use social media. In 2013, he created ‘Generating Utopia’, a real-time visualisation of social location data using the social platform Foursquare.

It takes a map of an existing city and alters the topography based on a person’s Foursquare check-ins, elevating the areas where a person checks in the most, to emphasise their importance. The locations are connected by a web of neon lines in primary colours: red for work, blue for recreation and yellow for transport. The overall effect is a dramatic, futuristic cityscape.

“People like to represent themselves from their best side, in social networks,” Stefan explains. “So when they check in somewhere, it’s not like the doctor’s office or something; it’s some awesome place. So people will build up a utopic vision for themselves, and I wanted to build utopian landscapes from the data.”

A bird's-eye view of a cityscape with several buildings perched on top of high mountains, with lines of red, blue and yellow light winding their way around the topography
A still from Generating Utopia | Stefan Wagner / andsynchrony

“I really love provoking people by showing them data in a different way. I like using metaphors and images, strong images, which provoke people’s imagination to make them build up a sensibility towards what data means and how much data they produce. I think it’s really important.”

Stefan says that he would like to see more people creating images and ideas from the data that lies behind a person’s online presence. “Every image which is created helps shape this future idea of how data should be, or how social networks should work. I can only motivate people to try to visualise data.”

Interview: Capioca’s Rebecca Findley on meaningful social networks

A black and white portrait of Capioca co-founder Rebecca Findley

If you’re someone who loves ideas, projects and discovery, you’ll be right at home in the new social network that’s currently creating buzz online. Capioca (Cap-ee-oh-kuh) is a website designed for people to collect things that fascinate them, and to find and discuss new ideas. It was envisioned by its founders, Rebecca Findley and Byron Wong, as an online version of a coffee house in Samuel Pepys’ London: a thriving hub of learning, discovery and discussion.

Discovering niche ideas

“We didn’t set out to create a social media site,” Rebecca Findley tells Interhacktives. “Capioca was a side project that developed over time. As well as a place for people to find their interests and post what they know and love, it’s for discovering new, niche ideas.” She confesses to having always had a passion for connecting people, both professionally and personally. “I even sent my mum on a date with the deputy editor of the first newspaper I worked at! They’re now happily married.”

Rebecca’s background working as a newspaper journalist influences her approach to creating a social network, especially the ‘Editor’s Picks’ section, which is a mix of content that the site’s administrators love. “Many people come to the site just to see our Picks, which we didn’t expect,” says Rebecca. “It’s great to share content with an angle that means a member can enjoy it even if they have no interest in that topic normally. That’s the ‘bringing new ideas and new perspectives to an audience’ aspect of journalism.”

She sees the site as being a great place for journalists to gather, even though it isn’t a network for breaking news like Twitter. “Journalists might find Capioca useful for making contacts, creating a portfolio of work and interests, in-depth discussions and reaching new audiences with their stories,” she says. “We are also a platform for unique ideas; for example, an aeronautical engineer posts his inventions. We have journalists on Capioca using it to share ideas and interests they may not post about on other social sites, because they use Twitter mainly for work, Facebook for friends, and so on.”

A screenshot of the 'Editor's Picks' section of Capioca, prominently showcasing articles about a toucan who is due to receive a 3D-printed beak, living in East Berlin's "death strip", a Cambodian immigrant playing chess in Manhattan and Spain's "neo-rural" generation.
Capioca’s ‘Editor’s Picks’ features a mix of great content from across the site together with specially uploaded articles

Most of the activity on Capioca revolves around Collections, which as it says on the tin, are collections of web content like articles, videos and photos, based around whatever topic or theme you fancy. You can also repost items from other people’s Collections and add them to Collections of your own. It’s a format that’s familiar to anyone who uses Pinterest, but Rebecca insists that Pinterest and Capioca aren’t about to be competing any time soon.

“Pinterest is a great platform, but we’re very different in terms of content, feel and demographic,” she says. “For example, our readers and members are 50/50 male and female.” This is opposed to Pinterest’s vastly female-dominated user base. “We focus on the arts, science and society over lifestyle content; you’re more likely to find a topic on ‘Equality’ or ‘Journalism’ than ‘Style’.”

Capioca is also more of a text-driven site; members can start Discussions, which are like self-contained comment threads, and compose articles of their own. “Our members are a mix of media, science and creative professionals, as well as students. The site is used in a variety of ways, depending on your interest or aim.”

Simple and stylish

Capioca’s words-and-visuals mix comes in part from its two founders, who have different areas of interest when it comes to web content. “Byron Wong, my co-founder and partner, tends to favour videos and pictures, while I prefer text,” Rebecca says. “We mix all types of content in together, and you can choose what you want to see.”

They were united in the overall look of the site, though. Capioca was designed to be “simple and stylish” with a warm feel to it, which resulted in the site’s sunny yellow appearance.

“We are continuously tweaking Capioca – there’s so much more we would love to do,” Rebecca concludes. “Our members tell us it’s a good start though!”


A candid black and white shot of Capioca co-founders, Rebecca Findley and Byron Wong, sitting at a large wooden coffee table and laughing together
Capioca co-founders Rebecca Findley and Byron Wong

What does she think of the current state of social networking as a whole? “Social networking continues to adapt and change, and it will be interesting to see what happens this year,” Rebecca says thoughtfully. “If it wasn’t for Facebook, Byron and I wouldn’t be working together now. We met at a dance group, but got chatting properly online – now we live and work together on projects 24/7.

“It expands opportunities and changes lives, but it can also be overwhelming, so I think you have to find and use the networks that work best for you at that point in time. Our members are looking for niche, meaningful content and spaces. They don’t want to come away feeling like they’ve wasted their time, but rather invested it.

“For us it’s about being authentic and listening to what our members want.”

For now, there’s no official launch date as Capioca tries out new things in closed beta and gathers feedback. However, anyone who wants to can request an invite at, and you can also find Rebecca Findley on Twitter.

Our favourite #AdviceForYoungJournalists

If you were on Twitter yesterday, you probably noticed the trending hashtag #AdviceForYoungJournalists, which was sparked off by a bitingly cynical blog post from financial journalist Felix Salmon. His advice to young wannabe journalists contacting him for guidance is this: don’t become journalists. At least, not if you want to get paid, or have anything that resembles an actual career.

Forty-eight hours on and the hashtag is still going strong, featuring contributions from old veteran hacks, fresh-faced newbies, bitter ex-journos, and – for some weird reason – Joss Whedon. Some of the advice has been funny, some of it obnoxious; many of the advice-givers are clearly pushing an agenda or taking the opportunity to have a sly dig at an industry they hate. But there’s also a lot of genuine, heartfelt advice to be found. And it says something about the state of journalism that a lively debate around its future prospects can spring up so easily and last for so long, with so many people eager to weigh in.

Needless to say, we Interhacktives – as young journalists – don’t buy into the idea that journalism is a doomed career path. Among the wave of bitterness and snark, we found a lot of helpful tips, so we’ve rounded up for you here our favourite #AdviceForYoungJournalists.

Common-sense advice

Some of the best advice given sounds a lot like pure common sense, but at some point every journalist will be learning these things for the first time. For more experienced journalists, it never hurts to have a reminder, either.

This one in particular has been a key point in our interview classes so far:


Practical advice

It’s easy to say vague things that sound sage and profound, but how about some solid advice that you can really act on?

A practical tip for students from our own Ben Jackson:

Our Social Media and Community Engagement lecturer, Ben Whitelaw, also gave some advice which almost all of the Interhacktives are happy to be practicing next month:


Advice for a changing field

We can’t forget that the reason Felix Salmon wrote his blog post in the first place is because the field of journalism has changed massively with the rise of the internet, and has continued to shift and change ever since. Here is some smart advice on how to stay ahead of the curve in a constantly evolving industry:

My personal favourite series of Tweets came from Randy Lilleston, editor-in-chief of business news site Industry Dive. He managed to succinctly sum up what is currently happening in the journalism industry and why, and how to succeed in the midst of it:


And finally, one last piece of practical advice from our Online and Data Journalism lecturer, Paul Bradshaw:

Done and done. Thanks for the tip, Paul!

Header image: Esther Vargas

A social media style guide for local newspapers

Declining print circulations, traditionalism, internal politics, a small budget. These are problems that don’t just affect local newspapers, but it hits them worse. So why have I written a social media style guide principally aimed at locals? Because, generally, they have fewer resources to invest in their social media channels.

As journalists, we’re still trying to figure out which social platforms work best for news reporting. The most recent questions have been about the journalistic potential of WhatsApp and Snapchat, closed platforms where young people are doing whatever it is young people do. For the time being though, let’s focus on the big two – Facebook and Twitter.

The Times social mediaHere’s how social media is done at The Times and The Sunday Times

I wrote this guide while on work experience last December, so it is influenced heavily by The Times and The Sunday Times‘ social media style guide. I’ve updated it so it can be applied to any local newspaper and indeed any news organisation interested in boosting their social media presence.

Welcome to your social media style guide.

Here’s how to produce the most fun, engaging and informative social content that serves the reader and drives new followers. It is a working document – the social web is always changing and so are your readers.

General points

● Be accurate and consistent
● Tailor content to the platform – Twitter and Facebook are different!
● Show off about your exclusive content
● Correctly attribute images
● Use appropriate hashtags


The average half-life of a tweet is 2.8 hours. So ideally, you should publish one tweet an hour from 7am to 8pm, showing the range of content on the site.


Tweets should be conversational and directed at followers. Make it clear there’s a human behind the account. There’s nothing wrong with an exclamation mark every now and then. Be funny, be smart, and be engaging.


Retweeting followers shows you’re engaging with them on some level (reply to people too!). Retweets don’t necessarily mean endorsement. Please don’t ever manually retweet someone (“There’s a button for that”) unless you have something valuable to add as an extension of his or her tweet.


Use a URL shortener such as – it looks much better. Install the browser plugin to speed up the process.

Embedded content

Tweets with images attached perform much better than those without. Embed images, whether they may be Twitter cards, charts or photos, wherever possible. Soon you’ll be able to embed video content on Twitter without using a third party app. Embedding short videos will boost your engagement rate.


Vines work really well on Twitter. Vines can also reach hundreds of thousands of people if they get featured on the app, so it’s certainly something to consider. A Vine account could be used to show behind-the-scenes content from the office.


People follow hashtags for news and topics they care about, particularly breaking news stories. We need to reach these types of people – users who are invested in something – so include trending and popular hashtags in tweets wherever possible. You can check if a hashtag is popular by searching for it on Twitter. You know it’s worth including it if tweets are coming in every couple of minutes or seconds.

Live tweeting

When covering a live event in person, embed photos and Vines as much as possible. Try to tweet differently to the crowd – don’t just report what’s happening. Here’s something I wrote about how to live tweet better. Try not to begin a tweet with a full stop and the person’s Twitter handle ‘.@bjacksonuk…’ – it looks ugly (‘full stop before @ reply’ should only be done if you’re replying to someone’s tweet and you want all your followers to see it).


Facebook statuses should be posted sparingly if you don’t currently get much engagement – morning, noon and evening. The best performing content should be given priority here. Take a look at your Facebook page’s furniture, such as the profile picture, cover photo and ‘About’ section. Have these things been updated recently? These things need to look attractive and fresh, communicating your brand just as well as the daily front page is supposed to.


Statuses should be personal and appeal to the reader’s emotions wherever possible – Facebook users are more likely to engage with content framed in emotional terms. It’s good to ask questions, share quotes and use pithy one-liners. Don’t ever just copy and paste the headline into the status. A curiosity gap helps with engagement too…


Statuses shouldn’t be any longer than three lines. Ideally, you shouldn’t use more than five words. Remove the link when the post generates a preview of the article before you hit ‘Post’. When you choose to embed an image, you need to keep the (shortened) link in the status because the image replaces the article preview. Don’t use a colon to point to the link. It’s not cool and the user knows where the link is.

Embedded content

Embed an image if it contributes to the story and makes the status look more attractive. Videos also work well and they play automatically, so they’re more likely to get the user’s attention if it’s any good!

I think that’s a good start, don’t you? If I had to sum up my social media style guide in four words, I’d go with ‘put the user first.’ Put yourself in their shoes. What do they want to see? What stirs them, what makes them tick, what will they share with their friends?

By following this guide in conjunction with studying site metrics and performing experiments, your community of readers will definitely grow in size and loyalty. Everybody wins.

Header image: Scott Jackson/Flickr

6 tools for measuring social media success

Lies, damned lies and statistics – everyone knows this famously pithy quote often attributed to 19th century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli. In the social media world though, it’s statistics that are king.

There are lots of free tools you can use to measure social networking success. Here is a list of some of the best out there to help you get a handle on just how other people and organisations are doing on Facebook and Twitter.



A free online service that will tell you when a Twitter profile was started. It is useful for analysing early Twitter activity and what events corresponded with your subject’s early Twitter use.

Twitter Birthday -


Simply measured

A paid for service (it does, however, have a free trial available for demo) that allows users to measure Twitter account follower levels, interests and influence of an account that you do not control.

Simply Measured graph data


Twitter Counter

The free version of this service allows you to compare two different Twitter accounts to provide some valuable insights into an account’s activity in comparison to other similar accounts.

Twitter Counter graphs data social media



Fanpage Karma

Fanpage Karma is a powerful analytical tool that allows you measure a number of key benchmarks for how effective a fan page is. These include the ability to easily measure the size of likes on a fan page against growth levels and ranked profile performance.

When combined with data that is available on fan pages themselves via Facebook Insights, it and the other tools on this list become fairly powerful for analysing page activities.


Fanpage Karma social media analytics


Simply Measured

Its free service allows you to compare one fan page to another, which can be very useful when comparing competitors on Facebook.

Simply Measured free social media analytics.


This free tool lets you input a Facebook page URL and gives it a rating out of 100 based on a comparison of other pages. It also gives a series suggested improvements that can aid in-depth analysis of the social media strategy that the page is operating.

likealyzer social media analytics facebook


This is not a definitive list by any stretch, so if you have anymore tools you use and would recommend please share:


Snapchat Discover: will it work?

Snapchat user discovering Discover

Snapchat has launched its Discover platform – a new way to present stories to target its young, casual audience.

Mail Online, Vice and Yahoo! News are just some of the nine media organisations partnering up with Snapchat in this venture to tell stories in new ways to entice its users.

It announced the platform saying it’ll feature “full screen photos and videos, awesome long form layouts, and gorgeous advertising”.

So we’re getting stories on a daily channel served up mainly as looping multimedia content. If you like the taster of a particular story, you can then swipe for more longform content.

I asked the Interhacktives what they thought of the new platform – over Snapchat.

ben snapchat discover opinion

Ben‘s keen to access a new audience that has so far been hard to reach via traditional mediums.

clara snapchat discover opinion

But Clara is just skeptical.

doug snapchat discover opinion

Doug‘s annoyed about how the Mail Online – one of the brands initially partnering with Snapchat Discover – is using it to broadcast text-based content from their website, instead of utilising video.

sam snapchat discover opinion

Another Interhacktive who’s unconvinced. No reason why though – it’s six degrees and Sam‘s cold.

bex discover opinion

Is it annoying? Bex isn’t sure yet.

edie snapchat discover opinion

This is Edie‘s eye. She thinks the platform’s tucked away on the app and not something people will initially go for.

emily discover opinion

Emily took a selfie to ask if people will be too busy to take selfies.

mark snapchat discover opinion

Mark‘s handwriting translates to “it will help my journalism”. With video journalism due to get bigger in 2015, the platform could hold some potential.

keila snapchat

Slightly better handwriting from Keila. She’s unsure whether Snapchat users will engage will news in the app. Her favourite brands using Snapchat so far are National Geographic, People and Yahoo! News – with their blend of video, photo and text.

hamza nicole discover opinion

And Hamza and Nicole are just happy they’ve got a cookie.

ashley snapchat discover opinion

So there you have it – conclusive evidence that we’re undecided. While the idea could be cool if organisations can adapt their content to Snapchat’s core principle of short, informal multimedia clips, users won’t appreciate it if brands try to impose the wrong type of content on an inappropriate platform.

Vice seems like it can – unlike the Mail Online at the moment. Only time will tell if they can adapt to providing news in new, short, multimedia-based formats.

Facebook alternatives: The Smart Social Networker’s Guide

Throughout most of its ten-year history, people have been threatening to leave Facebook.

There are plenty of good reasons for doing it, from Facebook’s constantly mutating privacy policies to its decision to turn users into test subjects without their knowledge or consent. A few months ago, Facebook came under fire for its “real-names policy”, which requires users to access the site under the name that appears on their passport, credit card or driver’s license. Hundreds of drag queens, who use Facebook under their stage names, had been banned from the site along with DJs, stage performers and members of the LGBTQIA community.

The name controversy sparked off petitions, protests, polls and spoof videos, and some 600 Facebook users pledged to deactivate their accounts and find a new social network in protest of the policy. But with some strategic intervention by Facebook, the whole movement fizzled out with no real changes made, and most of the people who were so up in arms before are… still on Facebook.

It’s easy enough to complain about a site like Facebook, but no matter how valid your complaints are, it’s all so much noise in the newsfeed if at the end of the day you still use the site. If, however, you’re prepared to put your social network where your mouth is, then read on: no matter what your complaint with Facebook, our guide will match you with a social network you can turn to instead.

Continue reading “Facebook alternatives: The Smart Social Networker’s Guide”

I Wrote a Tweet: What Big Numbers Can Do To You

Mark's Tweet of Alex Salmond

I wrote a tweet.

I say ‘wrote’. There were no words, just four images. The first three were screenshots of the possession statistic during the 24th minute of the Scotland v England international match. The other was of Alex Salmond’s face.

The Process

It is, of course, a joke about the result of the Scottish referendum. I’d come up with the idea as I was preparing a chicken and chorizo jambalaya five minutes before kick-off.

I realised that, if it was to work, I would have to stare at the BBC Sport stats page until the numbers read how I wanted it. Also, I would have to do so from the game’s very first minute because the possession stat fluctuates a lot during the early periods.

The rice in my jambalaya hadn’t cooked yet.

I ate it anyway.

Initially, my chances of capturing the right numbers looked bleak. England’s early dominance meant that they had the overwhelming majority of the ball.

After twenty minutes, I could feel the numbers falling my way. The BBC’s statistic updated a few moments later and, finally, the share was 45%-55%. I hit print screen like it was a free bar.

Next, I searched ‘alex salmond’ on Google Images, but found too many pictures of him looking cheery and amiable.

So, instead, I tried ‘alex salmond resigns’, and found an image of him looking like he’d realised that the rest of his life would be a slow march towards death.

The Google Image results for 'alex salmond resigns'

It was perfect.

By this point, the half-time whistle had been blown. I published the tweet and went to the kitchen, leaving my phone and laptop behind. I cleaned my plate, tidied up a little and all the while, I was looking forward to modest returns.

The Madness

I had been gone all of two minutes. It had been retweeted 100 times.

As more notifications rolled in, my phone began to sound like a heart monitor. For a few minutes, it pretty much was a heart monitor. If it had stopped beeping, I think I would’ve keeled over and started foaming at the mouth.

It was exciting. It was exhilarating. It was the kind of self-validation you don’t usually get when you’ve been wearing the same t-shirt for three days. By far the most entertaining aspect of the whole experience, however, was seeing the people who shared it.

Within fifteen minutes of putting it up, there were two people flirting in my mentions.

A Rangers and a Celtic supporter with two of the most violently sectarian bio’s I’ve ever seen retweeted it within seconds of each other.

It seemed to cause one lad to have an aneurysm.

The incomprehensible reaction of one Twitter user to my tweet.

However, as my disciples amassed, they became difficult to track. Soon enough, they didn’t really matter anymore. Each one was just another number.

I started to think that this must be how rich people feel. After all, what’s a second million dollars after you’ve made your first? Once you’ve passed one milestone, it becomes all about the next one.

With this in mind, I decided I would call it a night. I vowed to put my phone down once I hit a long-term target.

About two hours in and following a helpful push from my course mates, I found what I’d been looking for.


I went to the corner shop and bought some cans. I drank to forget and then went to bed.

The Aftermath

My tweet is still, today, picking up favourites and retweets from secondary school kids with nothing better to do in Scotland.

Every variant of the cry-laugh emoji is in my mentions ten times over.

It has, at the time of writing, 1,879 retweets and 1,292 favourites, with 233,394 impressions and 50,722 engagements at a rate of 21.7%.

A graph showing my tweet's analytics.

And yet, this is not enough. I need another hit. The dopamine receptors in my brain are now a nest of hatchlings demanding me to regurgitate shareable content down their throats.

Even though it was weirdly empty experience, even though every ‘well done’ I received only made me realise how ridiculous it all was, even though I woke up the next day with only regret and a mild hangover, I want to do it again. I want to experience that strange rush of seeing a big white number in a red box. It’s not going to be easy but I know what I need to do.

I need to write another tweet.

What’s on Reddit’s front page?

Reddit is an online super-community with hundreds of millions of users, and has become in recent years an arbiter of what’s cool and what’s not on the web. If something makes it to the front page of reddit, where it is most visible, it will inevitably receive millions of views.

Reddit stats

The way the site works is users post content – pictures, article links, conversation starters etc – and the success of that content is determined by whether the reddit community likes it (upvotes) or talks about it (comments) or just clicks on it.

Submissions are made to the relevant subreddit – a subject specific community – and should they prove popular, can rise to the front page. This is the reddit mainstream. And I scraped it.

Digg vs Reddit via Quantcast
Digg vs Reddit via Quantcast

Three times a day, for two weeks, in March and April of this year, I scraped the data from front page of r/all to see what is popular on reddit, and what that means.

Reddit is growing. It’s the 58th most visited site on the net (up 6 places from last quarter), and the 21st most popular in the US. Since it defeated Digg at the turn of the decade, reddit has established itself as really the only aggregate site in town – and with that comes power.

If reddit helps shape the internet conversation, what does the data say about reddit?

reddittop25 This is the top 25 subreddits over that fortnight of scrapeage – the front page of subs, if you will.

Perhaps predictably, r/funny is at the top. It appeared the most on the front page, received the most upvotes, and the second most comments because, naturally, it has the most subscribers (over 6 million).

Other predictably popular subs include memes (#2), cute animal pics (#4) and video games (#5).

Interestingly, a few of the more stereotypically reddit subs barely made the front page, or didn’t even at all. The site is known for its militant atheism, and yet that subreddit only made it to #25. While the site’s marijuana predilection could only reach #26 – no place with the best of the best.

Only two of the top-25 are substantially NSFW (Not Safe For Work). The sub r/WTF – wherein people post strange and disturbing things – is about a third NSFW whereas r/gonewild, the site’s most popular porn sub, is exclusively not for the workplace (unless you work from home).

The rankings largely stay the same when using comments instead of upvotes as the key parameter, except there is a notable rise of interaction-led subs like r/askreddit and r/IAmA. Askreddit, in particular, skyrockets to the top of the front page despite only appearing 9 times over the two weeks to r/funny’s 226.

As for the average scores and comments for front-page posts, r/pics and r/askreddit are respectively the top dogs. Where r/funny rules in front page appearances and accumulated points, it doesn’t even reach the top 10 in either category. That suggests that reddit’s biggest sub is more quantity than quality.

There is an obvious outlier amongst these broad and mainstream subs and that is r/leagueoflegends.

It’s a community dedicated to an exceedingly popular 2012 PC game. With almost 500,000 subscribers, it is the 41st largest subreddit but its community activity exceeds even that.

Stats for r/leagueoflegends
Stats for r/leagueoflegends

One of the moderators of r/league of legends, arya, said: “This subreddit is the largest unofficial community for LoL. We get between 500-1000 new subscribers per day I’d estimate. Big events do show an influx of new users and higher activities. I remember during Worlds when the stream shut down due to technical errors, the thread about it reached the top of r/all within minutes.

KingKrapp, another mod, said: “From what we’ve experienced, a lot of our users only come here and don’t really interact with the rest of reddit. We’re a very specific community compared to other big subs.”

It’s the success of niche-y subs like r/leagueoflegends that prompted reddit to introduce trending subreddits at the top of the front page in April.

Umbrae, mod for trendingsubreddits, said: “The thinking behind trending was essentially that there’s a lot of diversity to reddit, but that many of the visitors to the homepage don’t see or understand that. This gives a good hint to the breadth of reddit, while at the same time giving deeply engaged folks a new source of interesting communities.”

The initiative has so far been a success, with Umbrae reporting: “A lot of smaller subs have definitely gotten exposure.”




Only 20% of top subreddits are not and have never been default to new subscribers. Default subreddits have more subscribers (naturally) and more interaction, but they consequently have less community.

At the beginning of May, r/mildlyinteresting became a default sub. Its popularity, according to mod RedSquaree, is because “all the content is original, and chances are that nobody has seen anything posted here before. It also doesn’t aim to be amazing content, so expectations are low and people are happy.”

mildly interesting stats
Stats from r/mildlyinteresting

Of its new status, RedSquaree said: “Our growth was very steady until the recent increase as a result of being a default. [It has led to] more removals and a deteriorating comments section.”

It seems that a sizeable sub comes at the expense of a close community. Karmanaut, mod of r/IAmA, said: “Unfortunately, there isn’t a very strong r/IAma community. I think one of the main reasons behind this is that there is no core of submitters, because there are very few people with multiple submissions. Unlike most other subreddits, all of r/IAmA is original content and has to be done by the original person. And each person has a limited involvement. In its infancy, there was a smaller group of individuals who were very involved in the subreddit but since growing to its larger size, those individuals are no longer necessary to recruit AMA subjects.”

So those are the communities, but what do the actual posts say?


These are the most frequently used words in that two-week period. You can see where the interests of the site lie – there’s an inordinate number of mentions of Oculus, the VR company Facebook bought, compared to the MH370 drama.

Here’s the most popular post of that entire period. It may have only ended up at 4,003 karma but this post received more than 56,000 upvotes.

Screen shot 2014-05-30 at 14.40.56


Perhaps it is what it always was, or what it was always going to be, but reddit is largely a chill place. People go on the front page for a joke, a pretty picture, to learn a weird fact, or take part in an amusing straw poll. It’s a nice place to hang out, it isn’t challenging. Its major contribution to the internet conversation is jokes, memes and silly things that will crop up on Buzzfeed a few hours later.

With trendingsubreddits, the site is attempting to change that in a way. Not so much the pleasant interactions, but the homogenized output. Perhaps by promoting the nichier subs, the front page will change.

Because, just as Katy Perry is not an accurate reflection of modern music, neither is r/funny representative of reddit and its many weird and wonderful subs.