Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2016 scientific society talks in London blog post

Saturday, 12 October 2013

If you use Echofon watch out for it mangling your tweets & shared URLs - blame the tmi shortener

1. The brief version
Echofon has a default setting that publishes any tweet longer than 140 characters via the tmi service (but without telling you that it's going to do this). This sends out a truncated version of your tweet with a tmi.me link at the end that followers click on to reach a page with the full-length tweet.

But, if your full-length tweet also contains a link to a website then although the page shows the website's address it's not actually clickable - so your audience has to copy and paste it before reading the website you wanted to share. For people on mobile devices this is really fiddly.

To fix this you can 
(a) go to Echofon's Menu » Settings » Longer Tweet (tmi.me) and set it to OFF or
(b) include any URLs (and hashtags) at the start of your tweet, then they won't be the truncated bits

Fuller explanation below.



2. The longer version, with example tweets and pictures
I use the ad-supported (free) Echofon for iPhone for my on-the-move tweeting, and also occasionally from conferences and events (if I don't have my laptop with me). Although I like it, it has the annoying tendency of randomly glitching every few weeks requiring me to log in again. When this happens I invariably spot that some of my tweets are being sent via tmi.me (I presume it means too much information, a similar service is Twitlonger) and amend my settings to switch this off.

What's the problem?
Two examples...




In truncating the last part of a tweet and sending followers to a separate page for the full-length tweet the tmi system makes a bit of a hash of things. The following are how the tweets appear on tmi's website.





Website addresses aren't clickable (see first tweet above, from me) which isn't too much of a problem if you're on a PC / Mac (you can just select the text, open another browser tab, paste it in and view it).

But if you're on an iPhone it's mildly more fiddly. To copy text on an iPhone you need to press the text and let go, a selection tool will appear, use it to select the text and let go, an option to copy will appear, then you need to open Safari, paste it into the address bar and go - I don't think you can do this from within Echofon.

In the second example, from @schrodingerskit, you can see a hashtag that didn't appear in the original tweet, it's only seen when (if) the reader clicks on the tmi link. That tweet would not show up in a search for all tweets with the hashtag, and in addition the tmi version of the tag isn't clickable (if it was it would 'work' as a tag and let the user click on it to see all tweets similarly tagged).

Why is this truncation and link-wrecking such a big deal?
It thwarts your intended communication by hiding part of your tweet (which your follower will only see if they click) and, once they've accessed the full information they can't click on any link you've shared.

If your tweet contained a hashtag at the end then that won't show up on Twitter, so people who are following the hashtag (but who aren't following you) won't even see it. And it won't get picked up by anyone curating those tweets.

If you're trying to share a 'call to action' such as getting people to read an article or sign a petition you may find that you're sending out tweets that aren't effective. Only a small percentage of followers will click on any given tweet and if they find they can't go any further with it (the relevant link isn't clickable) you'll lose those who can't be bothered or don't know how to tackle the unclickable link.

Plus in terms of usability it's a fairly colossal fail (not your fault though), costing the user time and effort to interact with your tweet in the way you intended.

What can be done about it?
The obvious solution is to switch it off. Of course that does mean that if your tweet goes over 140 characters Echofon won't send it until you prune off a few characters (the only advantage of tmi + Echofon is that you can write a bit more) - but to be honest I think the risks of having half your tweet unread or mangled anyway probably offsets that.

If you want to use it then remember to put the URL of any websites you want to share, or any hashtags, right at the start of the tweet. Since the truncation happens at the end people should still be able to click on your link or see the hashtag, even if they don't click on the tmi.me link to see the rest.

Anything good to say about this?
The only thing I can think of would be a situation where you want to share a link to a person's or company's website without alerting them, ie you're effectively cloaking the link, in stealth mode ;)

I have to imagine that most companies run a search on social media for mentions of their own website (or name, which is usually IN their web address), which means they can monitor conversations that are about them without necessarily being to them (eg where their @ mention name isn't used). As an example if you search on Twitter for http://www.amazon.co.uk you'll see tweets containing amzn.to and bit.ly - yet they are all pointing towards the amazon.co.uk site.

You might as well send the secret URL by email but I am guessing that a tweet over 140 characters with the target company's URL at the end would not be picked up by the company. But I've not tried this... Probably easier to use DoNotLink.com.

Supplemental - how do I know people are using Echofon
Echofon shows you which app someone used to send a tweet. I spotted a few of these tmi examples and looked them up on my iPhone and, sure enough, they were sent by people using Echofon. I'm sure other third party Twitter apps use tmi too and I suspect the problem would be the same there.

Here's what a tweet looks like when viewed from Echofon.


note the bit saying "7.29PM - 7 Oct 13 via Echofon"

...   ...   ...   ...

Thanks to @schrodingerskit (Kate) and others whose tweets inspired me to move this beyond the 'gosh isn't Echofon tmi.me annoying when it does this' to 'I must act... to the blogmobile' ;)

Kate's been quite busy herself, building loos for people at hippy festivals in the desert and she's part of the UCL Loo ('UCLoo') Festival which is looking at ways of building better loos for people who don't have access to safe sanitation.
"We need to go public about toilets. More than 2.6 billion people in developing countries do not have access to a safe toilet, and in the developed world toilets use water - one of our most precious resources - to wash human waste away. The flushing toilet and water based sanitation systems that we take for granted in cities like London are unlikely to be replicated in the rapidly urbanising cities of the global south.

The world needs a new toilet."
If you like, you can donate to the UCLoo Festival here http://spacehive.com/ucloofestival2013

  - apparently there's a loo make-a-thon at the Institute of Making, which is a venue I want to explore more, given that I sometimes work at UCL which is where it is. The name always makes me think of the charm of making, from the film Excalibur though ;)




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