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  • The World's Oldest Swiss Army Knife [Multitools]

    This could very well be the world's first Swiss Army Knife. Bearing a striking resemblance to modern multi-tools, it has at least six distinct functions and originates from the Roman Empire circa 200 A.D.

    If our multi-tools today, with their screwdrivers, pliers, and the rest, center on fixing things, this Roman predecessor is more useful for enjoying the pleasures of food. The tool includes a spike which historians think was used to snag snails out of their shells. A hook-like spatula is thought to have helped coax sauce out of the bottle.

    Of course, the device also includes a fork, spoon, and knife for mealtime, as well as a toothpick to clean up your grill afterward. Amazingly, all of these tools appear to fold into the handle to keep everything compact, just like Swiss Army Knives and Leatherman multi-tools we use today.

    The tool was found in the Mediterranean area nearly twenty years ago, so technically it's not Swiss at all, and it predates the modern Swiss Army Knife, invented in 1897, by nearly 1,800 years.

    This very old gadget is currently being exhibited as part of a collection of Greek and Roman artifacts at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England. [Daily Mail]


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  • The Last 20 Years at Second and Pine

    SecondandPine.jpg

    Jerry Garcia has had his eye on the corner of Second and Pine Streets for the last 20 years. He writes about the site in this week's paper:

    The most notable feature of the block between Stewart and Pine streets and Second and Third avenues was a hole. It stretched across the whole west half of the lot, 30 feet deep and gaping. This is where it was all supposed to happen. The 1 Hotel & Residences announced the arrival of a new sensibility, advertised with plants and warm abstract textures on banners adorning the construction walls and the neighboring Macy's garage...

    The site was once home to one of my favorite international-style buildings, with light green terra-cotta tile shaping ribbon windows on its facade. It housed a rather small furniture store aptly named Grand Furniture. Boarded up prior to my arrival in Seattle in the first month of 1990, I was never able to walk into it, but I enjoyed its defiant presence downtown. It felt like some very straitlaced fellow in a brightly colored suit. It was cleared away in the early 1990s, and the site slumbered as a blank piece of land until 1 began.

    Excavation for 1 began two and a half years ago—"and the hole was born," Garcia writes. Now that 1 is no more, the hole has been filled in. It isn't the only huge hole people downtown have walked by lately; City Hall looks down into another one. What is with Seattle's obsession with moving around dirt? Where did the dirt to fill in the hole at Second and Pine come from? And what's going to happen at that corner now? Read all of Garcia's piece HERE.

    (Blame Mr. Garcia for the Soundgarden pun in the headline. He insisted!)

    [ Subscribe to the comments on this story ]

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  • Current TV Tires of Twitter, Kills Off MySpace Instead [VIDEO]

    The Twouble with Twitters is that the Twitter jokes are pretty much dead. It’s no shocker anymore that tweets are pointless babble. So who else can Current TV pick on with its viral video parodies?

    Easy: MySpace. Or rather the death of MySpace.

    In its latest SuperNews! masterpiece — the aptly named The Death of MySpace — our Twitter-obsessed friend Craig is confronted with the reality that MySpace is a dead zone and that he needs to kill off his profile to regain social status. In this cartoonish parallel reality, even masturbating is more socially acceptable than logging on to MySpace.

    Although Current takes every cheap shot in the book, you have to admit that The Death of MySpace still has some hilarious moments and one-liners worth repeating. Check it out below and let us know what you think in the comments.

    [via SocialTimes]


    Reviews: MySpace, Twitter

    Tags: Current, humor, myspace, viral video

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  • As Publishers Try To Adapt To The iPad, Startups Spring To The Rescue


    Now that the iPad is finally official, any publisher that wasn’t already figuring out how to bring their content to a color, touchscreen device is probably scrambling to do it now. That’s a bit easier said than done though — while it probably wouldn’t be too tough to simply scan in text and present it in a static format, converting it into something that actually takes advantage of the new platform is going to prove difficult. That challenge is giving rise to some new startups looking to help publishers make the transition from paper to digital.

    One such company is called Inkling, a small startup that’s raised $1 million in seed money from Ram Shriram, Mitch Kapor, and other angel investors. Inkling is looking to help textbook makers convert their content into digitized versions that are more than just static reproductions of the original text. In other words, they’re helping spur the kind of innovation that could change the way we learn (but could take publishers a long time to figure out if they’re left to their own devices).

    So what exactly can the platform add beyond the text these publishers already have? CEO Matt MacInnis says that Inkling is building tools that give publishers a scalable way to add interactive and dynamic content. They’ll be able to include interactive figures and quizzes. And they’ll be able to give their texts cloud connectivity, allowing students to download new, updated content. Other benefits from connecting to the cloud include the ability to sync your work between multiple devices, and the ability to add social features to a text. Imagine if you had a question about a particular diagram in your text; you could send it to your professor, and they could leave an annotation in the book that would be visible to all other students.

    Inkling is currently in talks with all four of the major textbook companies, though MacInnis wouldn’t divulge whether they’d signed any deals yet. He does say that the company is also interested in working with smaller publishers, including free projects like California’s free textbook initiative.

    But Inking isn’t the only startup looking to help publishers take advantage of the iPad. Another player is PixelMags, which is looking to help magazine publishers make the leap themselves. PixelMags has actually been around for a while, offering to help magazines get their content on the App Store for consumption on the iPhone. As of today, they’re making the jump to the bigger screen. They company says that it will allow publishers to include both text and streaming media in their magazines, and they’ll take care of getting the content into the App Store.

    It’s great to see companies that are looking to help publishers truly take advantage of the iPad, but I am concerned that Apple may soon step on their toes. During its event today, Apple showed off its native eBook reader, but it wasn’t clear if it would be offering a similar universal reader for magazines or textbooks. I suspect they will, otherwise each magazine and book could have an inconsistent user interface. And that means companies like Inkling will have to adjust their content to work within whatever file formats Apple allows for.

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  • Pondering The Apple Tablet's Print Revolution [Apple]

    The Apple tablet could change everything. That's what people are hoping for, revolution. But revolutions don't actually happen overnight, especially if you're talking about turning around an entire diseased, lumbering industry, like publishing.

    The medium is the message, supposedly. The iPod was a flaming telegram to the music industry; the iPhone, a glowing billboard about the way we'd consume software. The Apple tablet? Possibly no less than the reinvention of the digital word. If you look very generally at the content that defined the device—or maybe vice versa—the iPod danced with music, the iPhone's slung to apps and, as we were first in reporting a few months ago, the tablet's bailiwick might very well be publishing.

    Since then, the number of publishers—of newspapers, magazines and books—reported to be talking to Apple has exploded: NYT, Conde Nast, McGraw Hill, Oberlin, HarperCollins, the "six largest" trade publishers, and Time, among many others, are making noise about splaying their content on the tablet. A giant iPod not only for video, photos and music, but for words. That's what they're lining up to make ritual sacrifices for. Publishers want this, whatever it is.

    I say "whatever it is," because, for all of the talk and pomp and demos, they haven't seen the Apple tablet. They don't know what it's like. They don't know how to develop for it. As Peter Kafka's reported, neither Conde Nast (publisher of Wired) nor Time will be ready to show anything for the tablet on Wednesday, much less a mindblowing reinvention of the magazine, because Apple's keeping them at arm's length. (Why? Secrecy, which matters far more than launch partners. All the leaks about the tablet have come out of third parties, like the goddamn publishers, so Apple's not telling them much more than they are the rest of us.)

    The sole exception, that we know of, is the New York Times. The Gray Lady has a team of three developers embedded in Cupertino. This makes a certain kind of sense, given the content the tablet is framing, and which publisher is currently best suited to delivering that content in a new experience.

    When it comes to experimenting with the display and digestion of the digital word, the NYT has aggressively been the most innovative major publication on the web: Just look at the incredible infographics, the recently launched NYT Skimmer and the NYT Reader. Logically, they're the print publication perhaps most able to realize the early potential of a device that's essentially a window for displaying content. And it doesn't hurt that Apple loves the NYT.

    The tablet might just be a big iPhone, but the key word is "big." What defines the tablet in opposition to the iPhone is the screen size, less than any kind of steroidal shot to processing muscle. A 10-inch screen will hold 10 times the screen real estate of the iPhone's 3.5-inch display. That's room for ten fingers to touch, navigate and manipulate, not two. Real estate for full web pages, for content apps that are so much more than news repackaged for a pocket-sized screen. The ability to really "touch what you want to learn about" is an "inflection point for navigation," that is, the potential to truly "navigate serendipitously," as the NYT's media columnist David Carr put it to me.

    Think of it as a more tangible version of the force that drives you from a Wikipedia page about gravity to one about the geological history of the planet Vulcan, touching and feeling your way through everything from a taxonomy for Star Wars fanboys to the Victoria's Secret catalog.

    The Wikipedia example might be particularly apt, actually. If we use iPhone history as a guide, given that the tablet is likely to be an evolution of the iPhone software and interface, it's likely these publications will be content "apps" that will be islands unto themselves: So it might be easy to wander all over the NYT's island via the tips of your fingers, but not so easy to float off to the WSJ's abode. At least to start, we assume it'll much like iPhone apps. For all of the very whizzy Minority Report wannabe demos from Sports Illustrated, we don't know what the content apps are actually going to look like, or what they'll be able to do on the tablet. In particular, what is it they'll be able to do that they couldn't do on the web right now, given how powerful the web and web applications have become over the last couple of years? (Look at everything Google's doing, particularly in web apps.) The question, as NYU Journalism professor Mitch Stephens told me, is whether the tablet's capabilities can "actually get the Times and Conde Nast to think beyond print?"

    If you think the newspaper and magazine industry is slow, the book industry is prehistoric. As whipped into a fervor as HarperCollins and McGraw Hill may be about jumping aboard the full color Apple tablet express to carry them into a new age of print with "ebooks enhanced with video, author interviews and social-networking applications," past the Amazon schooner, they take years to move. And they're likely in just as in the dark as everybody else.

    There's also the macro issue that it just takes time for people to figure shit out. Think about the best, most polished iPhone apps today. Now try to remember the ones that launched a week after the App Store opened. It's a world of difference. New media, and how people use them, aren't figured out overnight. Or fade back to the internet circa 2006. Broadband wasn't exactly new then, but so much of the stuff we do now, all the time—YouTube, Twitter—wasn't around.

    The apparent readiness to yoke the fortunes of the sickly publishing industry to Apple, and its tablet, oozing out of info scraps and whispers, like a publishing executive telling the NYT that, versus Amazon, "Apple has put an offer together that helps publishers and, by extension, authors," is deeply curious. The publishing industry wants the iPod of reading, but they've clearly forgotten the music industry's traumatic experience when they got theirs. Apple basically wrested control of legal digital music, and the music industry got far less than they wanted to make up for it. Hollywood, in turn, played their hand far differently, scattering bits of movies and TV shows across tons of services, so no one had any leverage, especially not Apple. (Hence, Apple's negotiations for a subscription TV service with Disney or CBS always seem delicate at best.) I don't know why Apple would be any more magnanimous with publishers than record labels, given the chance to be gatekeeper.

    The gatekeeper matters, because it dictates the answer to publishing's current crisis: "How we gonna get paid?" The NYT is bringing back metering to its website; book publishers weep over the fact that Amazon has decided books are worth precisely $9.99. Publishers want to control their financial destiny. Apple wants to control every element of the experience on their devices. (Apparently, they'll get to.) I want to be able to read the NYT, WSJ, The New Yorker, Penthouse and Wired, in all of their dynamic, interactive, multitouch glory easily and cheaply. Ads might be the secret to making that possible. Ultra targeted, innovative ads designed just for the tablet. At least, in the future—Apple's acquisition of mobile ad firm Quattro, and its CEO's ascension to VP, have happened too recently to bear much fruit yet.

    Point being, there's a lot of stuff publishers have to figure out, from the big stuff to the little stuff. Apple hasn't exactly sped up the process by giving them much to work with, either, but for one publisher that we know of—and maybe a couple we don't. The tablet might change the digital word the way the iPod changed digital music. But it'll take some time.

    Thanks to Joel for that awesome render; original CC printing press image from JanGlas/Flickr


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  • A Tale of Two Cockpits [Image Cache]

    By way of our own Joel Johnson we get to see a very gritty, very geeky collection of photographs this fine evening. Above, the cab of a Panther Command vehicle. Below, the svelte cockpit of a Virgin Pendolino train:

    Both images are the work of photographer Anthony Dickenson. Click 'em for full size.

    I also encourage you to sample the rest of the portfolio, as they run an interesting gamut of urban landscapes, machinery and even a vintage pic of something our parents once called a "newspaper printing press."

    Oh, I'm sorry, I've just been told that last one is still around. [Stem Agency]


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  • ISS Astronauts Get Ultimate Wireless Network, Send First Tweet From Space [Space]

    ISS Flight Engineer T.J. Creamer has sent the first tweet from space. Did he use his pointy nipple antennas to transmit data back to Earth? No. According to NASA, he used the "ultimate wireless connection", which actually is quite clever.

    The new network is called Crew Support LAN, a software update that allows astronauts to personally use the internet as they will use it from their own home. This can only happen during times in which the ISS is transmitting data to the ground stations at high speed, using Ku-Band communications. However, it's not as simple as firing up Firefox from space.

    The astronauts get into a remote desktop program on their laptops to control a desktop computer on the ground. So, while the computer on the ground access the internet openly, but the ISS's astronauts don't really "touch" the internet with their laptops. A simple, but very smart way to avoid security problems on board the space station.

    This connection is purely for personal use, as the crew already has e-mail, IP telephone, and videoconferencing. According to NASA, the personal use "will be subject to the same computer use guidelines as government employees on Earth." So no porn or torrent for the space dudes. [NASA]


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  • Build a Wall-Mounted Kitchen Computer [DIY]

    If you've been dreaming of having a computer in your kitchen but don't like the idea of hanging it from a cabinet or having it clutter up the counter, this guide can help you build a sleek in-wall computer.

    Putting a computer in your kitchen and having it look natural and part of the design is a big challenge. Ryan's wife had been bugging him to put a computer in the kitchen so she could use it to access the internet, manage recipes, generate shopping lists and so on. She also had a pretty tall order when it came to the machine, she wanted it to be discrete, have a touch screen, be internet-enabled, with wires hidden and equipped with a barcode scanner for her to scan products and manage a kitchen database. Not dissuaded by such an ambitious list, Ryan set to work and built an in-wall computer that looks like it was designed and installed by a professional.

    The build sports a touch screen, runs Windows XP with an interface cloned from the iPhone for easy finger-based navigation and use, and can do everything from displaying the weather to organizing the pantry. You can check out his build guide for detailed information including how he created the iPhone interface from scratch using the active desktop feature in Windows and coding a custom web page using icons he made and linking them to online services and software on the computer.


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  • Insane MS Paint Picture Took Man Four Years to Complete [Ms Paint]

    MS Paint aficionado scorpiongold (his YouTube account name) spent four years creating this "masterpiece." At 2.5mx2.3m, it's more than a mere painting—it's an entire world, filled with fanciful whimsy and magical characters. Did I mention it took four years?

    As for the hairband soundtrack? Well, like all hairband music, it's a bit older than four years. And yet, it's oddly fitting given the circumstances. Interpret the "insane" however you want in this case.

    Four years. [YouTube via Geekologie]


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  • System of a Down Drummer Boy Will Melt Your Face Off [VIDEO]

    It’s that time again, folks — time for another viral vid of a kid who is so incredibly gifted that you’ll a). Come to loathe your own child for his/her inadequate talent show skills, b). Fall into a deep sea of depression when faced with the listless path your life has taken. I give you: 5-year-old Jonah Rocks.

    This little video hit YouTube just a few days ago, and it’s already going viral, giving other pint-sized performers like Ukulele boy and Rush Girl a run for their proverbial money.

    But this little dude is no flash-in-the-pan prodigy — he even has his own website (which — be warned — has autoplay music) replete with more videos and photos of Jonah and the band K.I.S.S. His bio, from the “About Me Section”:

    “Way back in 2008, at the age of 3, Jonah Rocks was lining up his Play-Doh cans to make a drum kit. He would sneak all the baby spoons from the cupboard, and use them as drumsticks. His daddy asked him if he wanted a real drum kit, and of course, Jonah said ‘YES!’ Once he sat down behind that kit, and held that first pair of 7A’s in his hands, he has never put them down, playing as much as he can, whenever he can. Jonah is completely self taught, never had a lesson, and if you’ve watched him play, you know he absolutely loves it.”

    Check out his cover of System of a Down’s “Toxicity” below:


    Talent Show


    And, if you’re not completely demoralized by Jonah’s superior talent, here’s some more bite-sized band members for you.


    Reviews: YouTube

    Tags: humor, music, viral video

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  • The Importance of Daily Blathering

    SUMMARY: I'm at the end of my first five years of blogging, and with the dawn of a new decade I'm wondering what the next year is going to be about. More daily conversations, I think, are in order. If you're here for just productivity talk or design, update your RSS subscriptions to the topic-only feeds listed in the sidebar.


    The Way We Were

    One thing I've noticed about the past few years has been a topical shift in my writing. When I first started blogging, I didn't have a particular agenda in mind so I just wrote about what caught my eye and elaborated on the why of my interest. I tried to close each post with a useful observation or distillation, more for myself than any reason, because I expect the stuff I read to have some kind of "takeaway". Writing, you see, is how I untangle the writhing mass of thoughts in my head into something that is clear and actionable. I always feel a little bit better when I wrestle some truth, personal or otherwise, from an experience.

    This started to change after this blog became known for some of the tools I've released over the years, notably The Printable CEO series of productivity forms. These forms were born from a need to organize myself, and I shared them because I had just given someone advice with regards to how to drive traffic: people love free stuff. As the forms started to become known through word of mouth, I experienced for the first time being recognized for providing value to people I had never met, but nevertheless started to care about: people like me who want to make stuff and become more than we are now, well-intentioned and creative, but kind of scatter-brained due to an overabundance of curiosity. That description may not apply directly to whomever happens to be reading these words, but it's who I think I am writing to in my mind.

    With the definition of an audience, I found myself starting to second-guess what I was writing. I know it's hard to believe, but I used to write shorter blog posts that just captured a thought or three. My posts of the past few years have been longer and more self-contained, but I feel that I have missed the sense of daily community that I think I had in 2006 and part of 2007. I knew there was a hardcore audience of people who were just interested in the forms and productivity tips, and while I didn't want to go down the "tip a day" path of other successful bloggers, I nevertheless felt I shouldn't stray too far from the "productivity blogger" mold that I'd fallen into. This self-editing has taken some of the exuberance out of the writing impulse. I'd been feeling it for quite some time, as evidenced by the drop in the number of posts in the past few years, but I hadn't quite realized that it was a major problem until a few weeks ago.

    Recently, I started an experiment with Colleen Wainwright, who is one of my favorite voices on the web, using that new-fangled Google Wave technology to followup on a tweet I'd made regarding the statement Do Not Hurry. Do Not Wait. Colleen, who at the time I didn't actually know that well, responded with an enthusiastic offer to try to implement DNHDNW somehow; it had struck a chord with her. And so a few days later, I figured out actually how to sign onto Google Wave and watched enough tutorials to figure out how to make it do something, and off we were. It's been a rather remarkable experience, sharing the daily stuff that was on my mind with someone new, and it helped keep me on track and accountable to myself. I also know that when I write something here on the blog about some planned action, I have more of a tendency to follow through with it because I want to share what happened to other interested parties. I know that the experience will be stumbled-upon by a random search engine user, and it may provide a useful boost. That's reason enough for me to do it. However, there's pressure for me to package the experience in a form that doesn't waste time or wander too much; the result is that I again lose the fluidity of the writing experience, and I think that's going to be increasingly important in 2010.

    The Way Forward

    Although I don't have a clear sense of exactly who this blog's 12,500 average RSS readers are, I do have some general ideas. I always feel immodest when I list the reasons why people would want to pay attention to what I'm doing, but I'll put on my consultant cap and spell things out bluntly:

    • People who want to know what new productivity tools and updates I have available. They aren't reading, but they are monitoring for what's new an interesting, as I have gained a reputation for making good-looking stuff that's a little different and free to download.

    • People who are interested in how I think about and approach productivity in general and in action. They like the way I write about the topic, and consider me an expert in the field at some level. While not on the level of the big guns or reliable as a regular news source, I'm at times relevant to people.

    • People who identify with the complexity I present in my philosophy of life and desire to be more productive. I write using myself as example, and I never prescribe a list of sure-fire steps to be more productive. I talk a lot about the motivation and emotional aspects of getting things done, and try to dig out the nuggets of insight that help reframe my perspective on what's possible and what's ultimately doable. The effort I put into clarifying my state of mind helps other people in the same boat.

    • People who like the way I think. They find some cleverness in what I do and in how I approach things. They don't mind reading about my latest cooking experiments or tangents into children's books. They just like it. Although my subject matter tends to be randomly spread across design, development, productivity, world domination, community, gear, and eating delicious things, the approach is consistent in some way that is appealing. I also try to be clear, to be methodical without being close-minded, and to be logical as much as possible. Some people like that.

    • People who view my daily activities as a compass bearing for their own lives. I'm a struggling freelancer, trying to make things work, and I share what I do. I procrastinate. I have problems work-life balance. I'm single. And I write about it all in the context of trying to figure it out, pretty openly without being too emotional about it. When I got started blogging, I followed the adventures of Jory Des Jardins, who later co-founded BlogHer. She was writing about going freelance and the daily trials and tribulations she was experiencing in a way that I could identify with. She transparently wrote about her fears and doubts in a way that did not diminish her optimism and strength. When I finally met her at one of the SXSW events, I was so in awe that I couldn't even look directly at her...it's so silly. The writings of Kathy Sierra fell into the same category, and when I steeled myself to meet HER at SXSW I felt the same disabling awe come over me. I'm not one to usually be impressed by celebrity for its own sake, but these two people were instrumental in providing the anchors for my own development at critical points in my life...and they don't even know it. They are ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things that touch people at just the right time. From emails I've received over the years, I think I serve the same function for a few people, just by having shared what I've experienced. We all have that ability to affect each other, but writing daily makes it a little easier.

    This list is roughly in the order from "most common" to "least common", and what I want to reconnect with is the last three. That means more writing, which I will do under a new category: dailies. It'll be filled with writing like this post, largely unedited and posted like this. There's a possibility that this will turn off productivity tool enthusiasts who are following the main feed; for you, I have a separate productivity-only feed that only carries the productivity-related posts. Subscribe to http://davidseah.com/syndicated/productivity and you'll be all set. Likewise, I have a separate design-only feed that carries design-related posts only; http://davidseah.com/syndicated/design will get you there. The blog sidebar lists all the separate feeds at the top, so update your RSS subscriptions accordingly.

    Let me know what you think

    So that's my best guess at the moment...but if there's a different reason why you are reading this blog and don't mind sharing, I'd love to know. I'd never thought of just ASKING outright; thanks Colleen for the kick in the pants!

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  • Twitter and Me! Why It’s The Only Social Media Tool I Use.

    wadhwa twitter

    With all the excitement about the Crunchies awards, I thought I should cast my ballot: Twitter. No, not because it’s the best product (I think Android is), but because it has impacted me the most. To young TechCrunch readers, this post will seem pretty lame. An old professor trying to seem hip by writing about social networking. Yawn. But I’ve never been a fan of social media. I have more than 500 connections on LinkedIn, but have never invited anyone to network with me. I’ve never used LinkedIn to ask anyone for an introduction. I never had a blog (I find it much more effective to write for BusinessWeek and TechCrunch). I never had a Myspace account (does anyone still use Myspace?). Even when I signed up for Facebook, I did it reluctantly because I kept getting friend requests and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

    But Twitter is a different. I get a stream of concise notes from people who want to bring things to my attention and from news outlets. I can follow anyone who seems extraordinarily interesting (and doesn’t tweet about brushing their teeth every morning). I can read up about people I’m not following any time I want. And I get immediate feedback to my ideas.

    I didn’t feel this way a few months ago. To me, Twitter seemed like another silly tool for kids to tell each other how much alcohol they had just consumed. But a respected professor of journalism at Columbia University, Sree Sreenivasan (@sreenet) kept sending me emails suggesting I sign up for his webcasts on Twitter for journalists. And he kept telling me I would “be a natural” on Twitter.  Why would I send streams of short messages to people I don’t know, I wondered? Sree insisted I try it. So I did. And he became my first follower.

    2008-07-25_pcwIt was pretty lonely at first, tweeting to myself, and I was rapidly losing interest. Having six followers (two of which wanted me to check out their sexy pictures) seemed pretty embarrassing. Then BusinessWeek’s former community editor, Shirley Brady (@shirleybrady) came to my rescue and tweeted to ask her followers to follow me. Soon I had over a hundred people to talk to and it didn’t seem so bad. But my tweeting quickly went beyond conversations and into new and better ways of accomplishing tasks.

    Last July, my research team published a paper about the backgrounds and motivations of entrepreneurs. I created a slide show on this for BusinessWeek. One reader asked me a question which haunted me: what is the difference between a small business owner and an entrepreneur? I had assumed that everyone who starts a business was an entrepreneur. But the more I researched this topic, the more obvious it became that there was no clear answer.

    So I went to my new friend: Twitter.  I asked my followers if they could help me solve this puzzle. Before I knew it, I had received several insightful responses. I ended up writing this BusinessWeek piece which featured Sue Drakeford, Miss Nebraska 2001 (yes, she does tweet). Since then, I’ve had my Twitter followers help me with most of the articles I’ve written. They provide a sounding board, valuable feedback and examples. I’ve quoted several followers who offered themselves up as sources (see my last post on stealth companies – Preetam Mukherjee(@_marcellus) was one of my followers as was Alex Kosorukoff(@alexko3), who I highlighted in a post about the Founders Visa).

    More recently, I’ve been getting demands from my Twitter followers for articles. My post on selling and why everyone in a tech company should have sales training came about after a series of Twitter requests. I’m writing a piece on women in engineering which is inspired by Women 2.0 founder Shaherose Charania (@shaherose) and Cisco CTO, Padmasree Warrior (@padmasree). And I’m writing a follow-up to the post on stealth because twitter followers have been bombarding me with questions about protecting intellectual property. I’ve joked that my Twitter followers seem to be setting my research and writing agenda these days and it’s not that far from the truth.

    So, Twitter has become a very useful tool. I hope I never become like Sarah Lacy (@saracuda), though. On our recent trip to Jaipur, India, she tweeted while sitting on an elephant. I kid you not. She wanted to let Twitter founder Evan Williams (@ev) know she was the first to do this.

    At present I have 3600 followers and they keep coming out of the woodwork. Many are amazing people. I follow only a few because I can’t keep up with all the conversations. If a follower looks very interesting I do try to at least read some of their tweetstream. I click on their names on Tweetdeck and read their last 20 posts. I have a few people I like to read closely for different purposes and topics. In that way, too, Twitter is amazing as its the most efficient mechanism I have ever seen to allow me to peruse the thoughtstreams of others who live all over the world.

    I firmly believe that of all forms of social media, Twitter (or more accurately, microblogging) is the only one that could have achieved this sort of effect. Writing a full blog post is time consuming and comments can be lengthy. Who wants to read or police all of them? IM is essentially a one-to-one communications tool. Facebook has elements of microblogging but it’s not really the kind of place where I want to share thoughts about immigration reform, if you know what I mean. With Twitter, I learned it in an hour, became proficient in a few more, and spend no more than 20 minutes per day on this. Because the message size is so concise, I find people say important things (or silly things, but at least they are short silly things). So Evan and Biz, you have my vote for the Crunchies, guaranteed.

    Editor’s note:  It should go without saying that Vivek doesn’t get any special votes for the Crunchies other than what any TechCrunch reader gets.  You can vote for your favorite startups for the Crunchies here. And you can follow him on Twitter at @vwadhwa.

    Crunch Network: CrunchBoard because it’s time for you to find a new Job2.0

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