140 Conf: or How Twitter is helping me get the most out of a Twitter Conference

I’m attending 140 Characters Conference on July 16-17 where I will learn about the State of Now with 139 other participating characters plus attendees, credentialed media, bloggers, and Jeff Pulver the lead organizer himself.

My strategy to maximize my experience is to do the research ahead of time. Namely, to make excellent use of that ever-so-useful page titled The Characters. But who wants to spend time clicking on all of those icons?

Enter Firefox add-ons. Sneak Peek and Who Is This Person are making my research much more efficient, and accordingly that much more likely to remain in my memory where it might do some good 😉

Sneak Peek creates a hover box over a link with a snippet of the linked page according to three regular expressions defined by the user, as described in this tutorial. I created a “Sneak Peek script” by using the Sneak Peek menu item under Tools after the add-on was installed. My script shows the latest twitter updates of any person on the 140 Characters Conference Page when their icon or twitter url is hovered over.

Here is the Sneak Peek script (all are required fields):
Name: 140 Characters – twitter
Author: Sara Streeter
Author URL: http://www.sarastreeter.com
Site Pattern: ^http://www\.140conf\.com.*
Link Pattern: ^http://twitter.com/\w+
Peek Pattern: < ol class="statuses" id="timeline" >[^]*?< /ol >

(Hint: don’t insert spaces into the peek pattern ol tags like I did above – WordPress was interpreting the html tags as styling for this post)

Screenshot for Sneak Peek for twitter urls
Screenshot for Sneak Peek for twitter urls

Who Is This Person I found to be a nice supplement to the Twitter previews. This add-on requires no tweaking and allows you to highlight any name and right click, which will give you an option of “Who is this person” with an arrow down to several methods of checking up on a person (Google, Wikipedia, and LinkedIn are most useful to me).

Screenshot of Who Is This Person Firefox Add-on
Screenshot of Who Is This Person Firefox Add-on

There is another Firefox extension LinkedIn Companion which seems to be more of a bookmarking tool, not as applicable to this situation but still useful.

So far, looking through the character bios and tweets, I am amazed at the influence and depth of experience reflected in the attendee list. If each person is summed as a single character, I would say that is of the same genre as the oriental calligraphic character, in which a single collection of strokes conveys a concise and poetic concept, complete unto itself.

100 ReTweets of Wisdom – One Month Later

As an experiment, 100 RTs was not the most rigorous.  I started at 900 Tweets and I am now at 977, having only actually done 21 ReTweets.  So what did that accomplish?

First of all, I learned how hard it is to give up any tweets at all, for the sake of experiment or other.  I got some follow backs, which was fine.  I found out how difficult it is to find tweets of any substance by using search.twitter.com.

Did I discover cool new people to follow?  Resoundingly, yes.

More importantly, this exercise made me reach out of my twitter comfort zone and find people with no prior connection to me.  This underscores a feature of twitter unique among social media networks – you get to know people based on what they think, not what friends they have.


technogoddess Today, I came out to play when I would have hidden. And it felt liberating. It wasn’t for her, but for me and the next woman who deserves me
Brian McLeod
LoudMac Today is one of those days to just pick one off the list of “everything that cannot be completed today” and knock it out.
mikhelk Sometimes I need to be reminded that I always have choices. Often many more than are 1st apparent. No matter where I am or what’s before me.
Rob Knight
robknight Never underestimate the power of a simple message to the client explaining honestly where a project stands. That’s all they need.
Dave Whelan
djwhelan My uncle just joined Facebook. Worlds collide. It can’t be very long before my father and future in-laws join. Maybe the world is too small.
Sarah Dopp
sarahdopp Low tide with storm winds. The water has a huge space to dance with. The ground is covered, then big and empty.
montythestrange Tech section of the office is getting the hax0r vibe; dark skies outside, no lights on by us. PHP Ninjas coding by the light of the LCD.
Maggie Mason
Maggie I want to achieve maximum efficiency without getting all worked up about it. I’m aiming at peacefully frantic. Serene rampage.
patobryan everybody needs someone to look up to and someone to look down on… and apparently, something to fear.
secretsquirrel Spent most of my weekend playing an evil bisexual hooker-warrior in a game. I am worried what would happen if I did not have these outputs.
heyitsnoah Just failed six CAPTCHAs in a row. Does that mean I’m a robot?
CatBailey Why do I get told it’s ironic when I suggest someone ELSE see a shrink? It’s not like I’m hogging the crazy over here. *pissed*
Pedro Valle
petevalle Stealing some WiFi over at Dunkin Donuts. This is the sort of hijinks only a nerd gets excited about.
Nicole Reising
colereising Ran in the rain tonight-decided insurance on my blackberry might actually be a good idea afterall. 🙂
Shannon Thompson
TheBathProject made some Chai Tea with local honey, watching the sun come up over the mountains out back, a beautiful pale pink with orange tinge aaaahhhh
Warlach Oi, seriously people, the internet is not rocket science. “Notepad” is not an appropriate response to how your site publishes content.
matthewktabor bittersweet blog moment: trying to research a topic and finding only your own posts addressing the subject
burstein Met the ex. While it is a bad idea to bring a stick to a gun fight, sometimes a olive branch works out ok.
Rowan Price
roprice there’s a whole new generation of web developers who’ve never had to write actual Javascript, cuz they’re using JQuery. Green with envy 🙂
Karen Cardoza
mrsb Ok.. time to just pick a task and jump right in. There will be no fairies coming in the night to do everything for me.
Annalie Killian
maverickwoman NY times cover story: Obama vs McCain approach 2 maintain US relevance thru technological innovation. Obama strategy better but execution?

Tweeting as a Life Skill: Customer Service on Social Media

Now this is a first for me – social media network turned lifesaver.  Last Wednesday we had an electrical storm that fried my router.  A word about that storm – intense, lightning every few seconds.

My wireless didn’t work, and since the modem was plugged into the router, I didn’t realize I was online, just my computer couldn’t connect through the router. I was under the impression it was an area service outage – except the outage didn’t end, and no one else seemed to be affected.

A day into the “area outage” I realized I needed to call customer service at Comcast – the ole 800-COMCAST number.  I tried speaking with the random person that came on after navigating the phone menu.  She tried resetting the switch and said it should be working.  Then when I mentioned the service outage she agreed that must be it and told me I could get reimbursed for the time down.  I had a funny feeling that was not the right answer, so the next day I tried calling one of the retail locations near me, found using Comcast’s store locator.  That was quite the dead end, as I was told that unless I needed something installed they wouldn’t be any help.  Keep in mind that my problem was actually not with Comcast, so in a way they were right.  It was faulty equipment, but I was still under the impression that there was something affecting my area, so I wasn’t pulling out wires and figuring it out.

Finally I dared a buddy of mine to dare me to try a post on twitter (or tweet) to the attention of comcastcares, whom I would later affectionately refer to as Frank.  For anyone who might need to know, to tweet to someone’s attention on twitter you post the @ symbol in front of their user name, and the @ plus user name has to be the first word in your update.  Otherwise they probably won’t see it.  This is referred to as “replying” to that person or “atting” that person – yes they call it replying even if it’s not in response to a prior tweet from them.

I tweeted:
@comcastcares alright here goes – I’ve been without the internet since the MA/RI storm & tornado – zip is 02769, called Comcast, no luck “
Within a few minutes I got a reply back:
@saranicole If you DM the phone number on the account I can take a look
For any non-twitter users out there, “DM” means “direct message”, which is Twitter’s private messaging system, accessed using the direct message tab in the sidebar on the home page. Frank proceeded to reset the modem and told me it was online so I should be good to go. However, if I had any further questions I could DM him from home from my mobile phone.

Fast forward to that evening – still not online, so I dm’d him my woe-is-me-still-not-online and within about two minutes the phone was ringing.  It was Frank, and he actually talked me through troubleshooting the equipment.  He cleared up the question I had had about the area-wide service outage – it was actually a cable television outage, which had nothing to do with internet service.  In other words I would have been waiting with no hope in sight under a mistaken impression had I not taken action.  Meanwhile, he concluded the modem was faulty after about ten minutes on the line (this was a mistake, but it was because I didn’t plug in a cable correctly – otherwise he would have undoubtedly figured out it was the router, no problem). I went ahead and bought a new modem on his recommendation and feverishly installed it and called Comcast (the 1-800 number) to activate it.  Still no.  By process of elimination the router was it.  I rushed back to Best Buy (which doesn’t need a customer service twitter patch by the way – I could call their phone number and get a local, knowledgeable person, as opposed to Circuit City which I called first and got nobody, so service really does matter) and bought a fifty dollar router five minutes before they closed.  I hooked up the router and presto – back online, both my desktop and my laptop.

On one hand, companies shouldn’t need a “twitter patch” for their customer service.  When I call I should get a live, local person with the power to help me.  Since I mention Best Buy, their Geek Squad probably could have helped me figure out the problem too.  However for getting in touch with a real live rep from Comcast who could help me, Frank was the man.   I’m going to get a little personal here and challenge Amtrak and Dell to apply the twitter patch to their customer service nightmare.  It may not work for everybody, but it will work for some, and I’m glad not to be a statistic, still waiting for my “area-wide service outage” to clear up.

Additional links:

New York Times article this Friday on Frank and Comcastcares:

Adele’s blog post on ABC and Twitter users from this Tuesday:

My conversation with Frank via Twitter:

Link to my Phreadz post talking about Comcastcares and my customer service experience