For the past ten days I’ve been using a free trial of the social web monitor app ThinkUp. ThinkUp trolls your Facebook and Twitter feeds for highlights, changes, and bits of data you may find interesting and wraps it up in a pretty html daily email. According to the site, ThinkUp “gives you daily insights about you and your friends you can’t get anywhere else.” Here are some of the insights it sent me about Twitter (I didn’t hook it up to FB).
My friend Heather, a journo in NYC whom you should follow, changed her bio. You can see what she’s removed by what is indicated in the red strikethrough text. You can also see it is merely a dumb algorithm and not Artificial Intelligence noting the changes, because a smart robot wouldn’t cross out “@aajanewyork” when Heather obviously added it again.
My question is this: What if Heather wanted to quietly make the changes? Is there no such thing as hiding in plain sight anymore? It used to be that one could do pretty much anything online with little notice just for the sheer amounts of data flooding everything. Privacy in numbers, and all that. It seems like even those days are over. Big data is no cover from the bots.
That question being asked, I can see how this particular bot, despite it’s obvious bugs, could prove useful in deepening relationships. If Heather put a major change in her bio, e.g., she got a promotion at work, she probably wouldn’t mind that a bot had to point it out for me to notice. She’d just be happy to hear my “Congrats!”
The bugginess has to get fixed, though. I can see how these notices would pile up when you follow 12K users and the bot picks up every typo or tiny deletion. Perhaps a little bit of code to scan for exact-match text strings could help keep down the detritus.
Other “read later” algorithms exist for Favorites but I did like this feature. ThinkUp provides a graphic of the entire tweet with a clickable link, giving you the context in which you originally found the info.
The most worrying effect from the ThinkUp emails for me was the ego-boosting “Your tweet got these users SO MUCH MORE exposure” alerts. I can see how this information is crucial to a commercial account – it can be used to sell more in-stream ads, for example. But for me all it does is say I have more followers than users who are certainly more deserving. It almost elicits a “Ha. I’m better than you” sentiment that makes a person want to humblebrag to the users she retweeted.
Also, a point about math: “2x more people” is very, very deceptive. That is simply math between follower counts of the retweeter and the tweeted and not the click rate. If I had a commercial account with a million followers, ThinkUp would say I boosted a tweet to 1000x more people. But if no-one clicks on a link I tweet out, that million-follower account is useless to advertisers. Click rates are where the real influence measure is.
ThinkUp encouraged me to share a photo, which I actually ended up doing, surprisingly enough. I’d actually consider paying for the service if I could add Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr and G+, where I want to build accounts but I have no habit formed around doing so. My FB and Twitter accounts are already well tended and need no help.
I don’t really have any use for the ThinkUp service as of right now, but I do like where it is going. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable acting on any of the collected info without owning up to using a service, though. I don’t want users I contact thinking I just happened upon their tweet in my stream when I didn’t. Although in the job promotion example above, Heather probably would simply be happy to hear my congratulations, I can see where other communications could seem manufactured or disingenuous if they were spurred on by a bot. Letting someone think that you pay so close attention to them that you naturally notice minuscule changes in their bios is false friendship. I’d feel more comfortable owning up to using an algorithm (not that it’s shameful!) than trying to pass myself off as online Wonder Woman.
Check out the free trial. I happened upon it myself (I wasn’t contacted or paid for this review) and it was a fun ride that provided a lot of food-for-thought about how we are to handle bot-enhanced personal relationships online.