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 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Television & Twitter interaction - small suggestions to make Twitter a little easier for beginners to use

Topline suggestions (for making it easier for non-Twitter users to follow along with Twitter) are:
TV folk - don't use #bbcqt or @BBCOne on-screen, use instead or - the bold is the salient bit for those familiar w Twitter, the rest will be helpful for those who aren't, so they know what web address to go to.

Twitter is apparently keen for people watching television programmes to interact more with Twitter while doing so. I'm in favour but the practical 'how to' seems to be confusing for people who aren't already familiar with Twitter. Here's my attempt at setting out what I think problems might be, and some solutions. If yours are better, or you can point out where mine are wrong, please add them in the comments and I'll update the post.

1. What do #hashtag and @ScreenName mean to the uninitiated?
As far as I've noticed, when television programmes want to encourage viewer interaction by Twitter they tend to flash up a hashtag (#bbcqt, which stands for BBC Question Time) or a Twitter name (@BBCOne) on screen.

This tells everyone watching, who's on Twitter, what to do. It tells almost no-one who's watching, but not a Twitter user, what to do or how to interact with them. To access these you have to find them on Twitter first (if you're using then just add /BBCOne or #bbcqt to the end of

2. Use web addresses - (more) people understand web addresses
I've not noticed many people using URLs to make it easier but let me know if you have.

My suggestion is for Twitter and television to use a TV-friendly shortened URL because I think most people understand a web address and know what to do with it. The one would do I suppose but would be lovely.

If at all possible then would resolve to

and would resolve to

To be fair you can sort of already do this with (though I prefer if it exists!), so will take you to the top tweets and resolve to this URL

and already works with or without the @ and resolves to

So... why aren't on-screen hashtags and Twitter feeds shown as - the # is necessary otherwise Twitter will try and find someone whose handle is the same as the hashtag (very likely in almost all cases), and not search for all the tagged tweets

Or has everyone started doing this and I've just not noticed?

Edit: 26 March 21:45
When I tweeted this post out this morning Peter Harrison made this rather good suggestion - that definitely has potential.

3. Simplify sign-up for people landing on Twitter via a hashtag (and everyone else)
I'm assuming that many novice users to Twitter might be using on a web browser rather than a smartphone - I've never tried to create a Twitter account from a smartphone but I assume it's straightforward. The suggestions below are for those using

Twitter could make things a bit easier for people signing up - if a novice user arrives at the hashtagged tweets they might want to join in. Why not offer them a "want to add your voice?" button which gives them a quick signup and then lets them tweet, with the draft tweet showing up the hashtag already (which they can delete if they don't want to tweet with it).

Save the showing them 'who to follow' until later. Why is it always celebrities? Why not just invite people to search for a topic that interests them and have a look at a few of the tweets.

4. Other stuff that would be nice
a) Let people follow hashtags as if they were a 'person'
When a hashtag is created, automatically generate a feed (ie a screen name) that people can follow so that the tagged tweets show up in their timeline, and they don't have to view them in a separate screen. Obviously everyone would need to be a bit careful to distinguish between someone whose Twitter name is the same as the hashtag and all tweets tagged with the hashtag but I don't think this is particularly difficult.

b) Make search more obvious to people if not logged in!
There's literally no search bar on Twitter's front page (you have to know to type something like which resolves to - why? why??

Browsing through a bunch of tagged or other tweets can give people a good idea of why Twitter can be useful and interesting.

The front page of if you're not logged in - no search option

Background thinking on the above
Twitter is apparently quite keen to embed itself within television viewing and I'd have to agree that having Twitter open while watching television myself has turned out to be a bit of a modern joy. I've been reminded to watch programmes I've wanted, or turned over to another channel following tweeted advice, answered queries that have popped up through a hashtag and had my own answered, shared further information on the hashtag and generally had a wholly pleasant and generally 'augmented' time.

The only time I've ever watched BBC Question Time (I'm not a fan of confrontational live television) was when I caught up with the tweets about it on the bus home while Hugh Grant was ninja-ing his way through the questions. I've never seen it since but enjoy the rage-by-proxy afforded me thanks to the #bbcqt hashtag, while I enjoy the much nicer Family Guy.

When #Sherlock was broadcast earlier in the year the combination of [TV programme + tweeting] became almost a sub-genre in itself, with Twitter UK blogging about the unprecedented number of hashtagged tweets sent during the programme.

The other day I read Twitter's dream for TV: You will never watch alone (Quartz, 19 March 2014) which said:
"Twitter’s engagement levels around TV are extremely high. Graver [Fred Graver, Twitter's head of television] says that 95% of public conversations about TV happen on the platform, and that 33% of Twitter users tweet about the shows they watch. People generally only tweet once about a show—the average is actually 1.5 times per user because of the”loudmouths” who tweet to excess—and 70% of tweets happen within three hours of a show airing.  The challenge is to convince the uninitiated to use the platform. "It ain’t easy and we know it’s not easy and it’s something we have to work on," Graver said..." [emphasis added]
I also read Twitter hints that at-replies and hashtags are about to be streamlined (Buzzfeed, 19 March 2014) referring to Vivian Schiller (head of news at Twitter) who apparently said that the # and @ symbols were arcane (true I suppose) and that they might be made less obvious and put more in the background. The nice thing about that article is that they keep updating it as people backpedal on what bits of Twitter might be updated... The inherent 'clickability' of the @name and #hashtag (they appear as blue* links as soon as the @.. and #.. are typed into the tweet popup window) makes it easier for people to get a sense of what they are.

Might add more bits here as other stuff pops into my head :)


  1. I'm not convinced.

    If someone isn't prepared to do the legwork/research to work out what the strange # and @'s are then I suspect viewing the stream of #tvtweets isn't going to be for them. If anything it is probably the absolute worst entry point to the Twittersphere that I can think of.

    A much better introduction is to slowly find and follow people with shared interests and build your community that way. Starting with the @bigperson accounts that are unlikely to follow back and respond would not be the way to get the uninitiated onto twitter.

  2. Hi Shane, thanks for commenting :)

    I don't disagree that the TV tweets route might not be the easiest 'in' to Twitter. I joined under optimal conditions and gradually got a feel for it, and that's certainly the way I'd recommend for other people. I agree with your 'gradual learning curve' approach.

    But... Twitter itself it keen to make itself indispensable to the television market (see the 'You will never watch alone' link in the post) and it has raised the issue of engaging with novice users as part of that. I think my suggestion of getting TV people to use an address with an embedded tag or name in it is more likely to help than just the tag or name alone. Almost everyone familiar with the internet knows what to do with an URL written down somewhere else and I suspect we're not too far off televisions where you can even click on the on-screen banners!

    So I still think my idea is brilliant :D

  3. Peter Harrison (@Harrison_Peter) also made a rather good suggestion too which I've added in the body of the post.


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