Twitter and The Apprentice – some quick observations

I wrote last year about the ‘data flood’ that confronts you if you try to watch what everyone on Twitter is saying about the Apprentice. Well, it’s back, and more talked about than ever.

This isn’t surprising of course. Twitter has grown a lot since March last year, and people will always talk about what’s on television. The Apprentice, Big Brother, Seven Days and of course the X Factor are all ‘appointment viewing’ shows that are always widely talked about both online and offline.

This year, the team behind the Apprentice are not running the same live predictor play-along app they used last year, they’re instead joining in with and reflecting the activity that’s happening on Twitter.

Not only is Lord Sugar tweeting personally as @lord_sugar (yes, it really is him), there’s also an official @bbcapprentice account which focuses specifically on the show, doing a good job of sharing news and retweeting interesting stuff while the programme is on and during the week, but also makes use of a often-overlooked Twitter feature, the favourite. The @bbcapprentice account is using favourites to track the funniest and most interesting public tweets they’ve seen, and the official Apprentice site has a little ‘Favourite tweets’ box on the page which showcases them (with deep links to each), with a link back to the full list of their favourites too.

As an experiment, I used Twapper Keeper to create an archive of all public tweets using the #apprentice and #theapprentice hashtags. I’ve downloaded the archives and spent some time extracting basic stats and graphs from the results. There’s a lot of data to play with, so these are some very simple highlights.

Between 2010-10-6 20:30 – 22:30 there were 23,300 tweets hashtagged #apprentice, 19,782 tweets hashtagged #theapprentice and 390 which used both.

Here’s how the two hashtags were used during the evening. The yellow line represents all tweets which contained either #apprentice or #theapprentice (or both). This shows tweets per minute.

Apprentice episode 1, #apprentice vs #theapprentice

Both peaked during the boardroom scene, which was also the only point of the evening where #theapprentice significantly overtook #apprentice.

We can also dig into the data to spot interesting trends and popular terms throughout the evening. (Episode 1 spoilers follow…)

Apprentice episode 1, tweets hashtagged #apprentice and #theapprentice

Stuart and Dan were the most talked about characters, with Stuart getting some really clear spikes throughout. You can also see ‘sausages’ doing very well during the task, and the “you’re fired” moment quite clearly just before the end.

More stats….

Continue reading Twitter and The Apprentice – some quick observations…

How teenagers consume media, apparently

There’s a bit of work-experience-as-research from Morgan Stanley doing the rounds this week. It’s called “‘How Teenagers Consume Media’ by Matthew Robson (Aged 15 yrs & 7 months)” and if you want to read it you can download the PDF from the FT or the the Evening Standard. (Incidentally, isn’t that weird? Where’s the download from Morgan Stanley themselves? I can’t find one.)

If you want to know what a teenager and his friends think about the media, ask him. Fair enough. It is an interesting read too, giving an honest no-holds barred account of Matthew’s perspective on everything from radio, TV, games, internet music, cinema and mobile phones. However, when I read an executive director at Morgan Stanley quoted in the Guardian as saying that “the note had generated five or six times more responses than the team’s usual research” and the Telegraph claiming that it has “become a sensation among City analysts and media executives desperate to discover the habits of younger generations”, I think it’s time to get some perspective about a piece of writing that is purely anecdotal. Suw Charman-Anderson is particularly eloquent on this:

“The City, and sections of the media, are getting a touch over-excited by a “research note” written for Morgan Stanley by Matthew Robson, a 15 year old on work experience … He has written a very well thought out piece which describes the media habits of him and his friends. … But one has to put this research note into context: This is one teen describing his experience. It is not a reliable description of all teens’ attitudes and behaviours, yet both Morgan Stanley and the media seem to be treating it as if Robson has Spoken The One Great Truth. … The important thing about businesses like Morgan Stanley, and the journalists who write about them, is that they are supposed to be able to tell the difference between data and generalisations. Yet they don’t seem able to sort the wheat from the chaff.”

And as Suw points out, it’s not as though there hasn’t been any actual research into teens behaviour before now. Suw’s post links to danah boyd a Social Media Researcher at Microsoft Research whose papers are well worth reading her for her well researched and respected insights into teen behavour.

There are plenty of other studies too. Nielsen’s report on ‘How Teens Use Media’ [PDF] from last month.

The notion that teens are too busy texting and Twittering to be
engaged with traditional media is exciting, but false

Teens are NOT abandoning TV for new media: In fact, they watch more TV than ever

Teens love the Internet…but spend far less time browsing than adults

It focuses on U.S. and while it covers much of the same ground it backs it all up with, you know, numbers.

Going back a bit further, Forrester conducted a survey of European teens for DIUS last year, and wrote it up in a report called ‘How are young people using social media‘.

Regarding Teens and twitter, of course some teens certainly do use Twitter (according to Sysomos recently, 31% of Twitter’s users self-disclosed age is between 15 and 19) but here’s Nielsen again:

“Twitterers are not primarily teens or college students as you might expect. In fact, in February the largest age group on Twitter was 35-49; with nearly 3 million unique visitors, comprising almost 42 percent of the site’s audience.”

Meanwhile, CNET reported last month on a survey from Pace University and the Participatory Media Network:

“While 99 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds have profiles on social networks, only 22 percent use Twitter, according to a new survey from Pace University and the Participatory Media Network. … 85 percent of them follow friends, 54 percent follow celebrities, 29 percent follow family members, and 29 percent follow companies”

Derek E Baird’s Barking Robot blog (‘musings on Generation Y educational and kids media, online community and youth culture’) is a great resource for people working in those fields. Recently, a post about teens and twitter gave a great summary of various studies and reports too.

If the personal touch appeals to you though, consider getting a few different viewpoints. Particularly interesting was the Guardian’s publishing of two more British teenagers responses yesterday:

Izzy Alderson Blench, aged 16 years, 11 months:

“Matthew claims that teenagers don’t have time for television or reading a newspaper. Maybe that is because he is too busy chatting to his friends on Xbox Live 360. Living in a rural area, Virgin Media is not available and the vast majority of teenagers I know use Sky. Instead of using BBC iPlayer or 4od, teenagers will record programmes on to their Sky+ box and watch later.”

The music program most popular with teenagers I know is Spotify. With (Matthew’s choice) it isn’t always possible to listen to exactly the song you want; with Spotify, it is.

teenagers DO read newspapers. Real ones, not just freesheets (you don’t get thelondonpaper in East Sussex, funnily enough). Even if it is just the weekend section or the magazine, the majority of teenagers will read an interview or feature in a newspaper regularly. Some even read the news.”

and Eloise Veljovic, 17 years, 1 month:

“As a teenager who lives in a small town in Kent, I feel some of his comments to be unfair on the general population

I believe that the radio culture is thriving among the younger generations. With popular presenters such as Chris Moyles and Fearne Cotton spilling over into other genres, teenagers are keen to keep up to date with their radio shows, even if only for the 10 minute car journey to school

As a teenage girl who cannot tell Ronaldo from Ronaldinho, I tend not to spend five hours a week watching football.

I also disagree with Robson’s take on the BBC iPlayer and his correlation to less television viewing time. Most teenagers live with the comfort and reassurance of Sky or Sky+ and will be informed whether their programme is about to begin or when it will next be on. Therefore, the use of services such as 4od or iPlayer are irrelevant and unnecessary.”

The full article is well worth a look and helps balance some of the London boy centric points.

Update: Kevin Anderson follows up with further discussion and more links to useful studies.

Second screen: this works for me

It’s Wednesday, so it’s Apprentice night again. Tonight I’ve been using Visible Tweets on an open laptop next to the TV.

Apprentice - second screen

Ray was complaining about motion-sickness with Twitterfall running in the background. Visible Tweets (thanks to Andy for the tip) is a nice alternative.

Eye-catching, simple and beautiful in full screen mode, it’s less comprehensive than Twitterfall but does show a selection of recent tweets at a pleasing pace. Here how it looks:

Apprentice + Twitter = data flood

Series 5 of The Apprentice started on BBC One last night. Wondering what the web would be saying about it, I enjoyed the two-screen experience by watching the programme on TV while also looking down at a laptop on my lap with tabs open on Anna Pickard’s live blog on the Guardian, the Apprentice message board, and, of course, Twitter.

Initially, I thought I’d be able to regularly search to keep an eye on people using the word apprentice, or the #apprentice tag. (Of course, searching for the word ‘apprentice’ gives both, so what’s with the fuss around hashtags? Surely the ultimate tag is one you use anyway, without having ugly markup around it?)

With new updates appearing about as fast as I could read them, and sometimes faster, I turned to Twitterfall. Now it gets fun. Here’s a capture from early in the episode.

By the end, it was updating at three times that speed. In fact, Twitscoop tells me that during the boardroom scene that forms the climax of the show, there were 300 updates per minute using the word ‘apprentice’.

Apprentice trend (via twitscoop)

5 messages per second is more than I can manage in real time, but I did spot some lovely gems in there.

top trending twitter topics at ten pm

By the end of the show, 4 of the top ‘trending’ (e.g. currently most popular) words and phrases, according to Twitter search, were apprentice, Sir Alan, theapprentice and Anita.

The Apprentice was always going to be popular on Twitter, but I’m impressed at the scale here. Of course, most of the time you don’t care what everyone is saying about the Apprentice, just what your friends are saying. And that’s what Twitter’s good at. The ability to tap in to this real-time flood of info is pretty powerful though, even if it’s getting hard for one person to be able to even monitor it in real time.

How do you use Twitter?

I was recently asked by a colleague to explain how I use Twitter, whether people reply to appeals for help/contributions, what I’ve learned along the way and how the BBC should use Twitter.

I use Twitter quite a bit. I follow a couple of hundred people who I care about enough to want to know what they’re doing and thinking. Many are good friends while some are people I’m interested in getting to know better.

Other people have described this better than I can. In March 2007, Leisa Reichelt wrote about what she terms Ambient Intimacy

Ambient intimacy is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible. Flickr lets me see what friends are eating for lunch, how they’ve redecorated their bedroom, their latest haircut. Twitter tells me when they’re hungry, what technology is currently frustrating them, who they’re having drinks with tonight.

More people follow me on Twitter than subscribe to my blog feed (perhaps I’m more interesting when I’m less verbose?) and I mainly use it to share what I’m up to, and sometimes use it to ask for help or advice. Some examples are more serious than others. At the silly end, I once asked Twitter whether any English word rhymes with ‘Gareth’ and got a staggering number of replies, which I collated here. Slightly trivial perhaps but it pleased me no end. More recently, I asked what people thought about O2 as an ISP, because I was considering switching from PlusNet. The results were very useful to me but I was particularly impressed that someone at PlusNet was keeping an eye on people complaining about their service and asked me if I needed help. I’d never have thought to find or follow PlusNet on Twitter but they didn’t need me to; PlusNet keep an eye out for the people they most need to start conversations with directly.

Twitter is, for me, a lot like a highly conversational, lightweight and highly interconnected blog. I don’t think we need additional guidelines or rules for individual BBC employees using it, since the existing ones (here, here and here) are perfectly sufficient.

In terms of how the BBC can use Twitter to support its output, I’d say it only really works when we treat it as a properly conversational tool, not as another place to spew automated feeds. As with blogging, the effective corporate use of Twitter won’t necessarily look very dissimilar to an effective personal use of it. Big Cat Live was done quite well because the team didn’t treat Twitter as a broadcast. They paid attention to people talking back to them and engaged in conversation, answering questions.

This is the year of Twitter going properly mainstream, answering lot of big names have started using it. John Cleese, Jonathan Ross, Stephen Fry, Graham Linehan, Robert Llewellyn and Neil Gaiman are all excellent. Even Britney is on Twitter and her team has done much to improve the transparency of their act since they started.

All of this celebrity interest comes at a cost. The press have started paying attention recently, though (as with blogging a few years ago) they still don’t quite ‘get it’ and there’s plenty of scorn. Matt Sandy and Ian Gallagher at the Mail (‘How boring: Celebrities sign up to Twitter to reveal the most mundane aspect of their lives’), Bryony Gordon at the Telegraph (‘Twittering is for twits with nothing better to do’) and Nick Curtis at the Evening Standard (‘Is Twitter the new Facebook?’) have all missed the point in quite a big way. (Paul Carr, writing at the Guardian, made an amusing and constructive response to that last one). Of course Twitter is full of trivia and inanity but when you’re following people you find interesting, sharing the trivia and small moments in their lives is anything but dull.

The Real Britney Becomes a Bit More Real

Compare and contrast: Stephen Fry, John Cleese and Britney Spears are all on Twitter.

Brittney’s account is called ‘therealbritney’, but it initially read more like a collection of abbreviated press releases than anything else. Talking about things like “Britney’s new YouTube channel” and asking “Have you joined the Britney social network yet? Connect with other Britney fans…” was a great way of undermining the description of it being ‘the Real Britney’. In fact, it looked like a naive way of promoting her website, and felt like a wasted opportunity. When social media tools do no more than offer an alternative feed of existing content, there’s not really much point.

Gary Vaynerchuk took Britney and her team to task in this video (“I applaud Brit or her team for jumping in this space but I really think she is taking the wrong approach and should take control of the situation RIGHT NOW!”) and I was very impressed to see Lauren Kozak, Britney’s social media director, actually paying attention and reacting within 48 hours of Gary’s post. First of all, she replied to his video with a thoughtful comment as well as an acknowledgment via Twitter, which earned her an equally thoughtful response from Gary.

What really impressed me was that the team immediately started labelling posts with the author’s name, so now we get updates like

We’re talking about Brit’s next video tonight. They wanted real animals, but Britney vetoed- she’s allergic to horses. Posted by Andrew. [


I want to thank all my fans for making Womanizer #1. I’m recording my new album & hope you guys are blown away. Thank you so much! ~Britney [

Full marks to Lauren for understanding a bad situation, defusing it quickly and massively improving Britney’s Twitter feed in the process.

Britney joining Twitter is no doubt a milestone. It marks a step in the journey of Twitter (and other social media tools) becoming properly mainstream. It’s clearly a bumpy ride, but let’s hope that everyone who follows has learned something about authenticity.

Blogjects and Tweetjects

Before there were blogjects, there were blobjects. In the closing speech at SIGGRAPH 2004, Bruce Sterling started by talking about blobjects, or blob-shaped consumer items.

Blobjects are the period objects of our time. They are the physical products that the digital revolution brought to the consumer shelf.

Sterling goes on (via ‘gizmos’, the current state of the art) to introduce spime.

At the moment, you are end-using Gizmos. My thesis here, my prophesy to you, is that, pretty soon, you will be wrangling Spimes.

This subject is covered more completely in his Shaping Things book, which is reviewed here by Cory Doctorow. Cory handily sums up Spime thus:

A Spime is a location-aware, environment-aware, self-logging, self-documenting, uniquely identified object that flings off data about itself and its environment in great quantities

Meanwhile, to fill the gap between blobjects and spime, we have blogjects. Julian Bleecker’s ‘Manifesto for Networked Objects — Cohabiting with Pigeons, Arphids and Aibos in the Internet of Things‘ introduces Blogjects, describing them as an “early ancestor” to spime. While spime is still speculative, Bleecker says

I can make Blogjects now because the semantics are immediately legible — objects, that blog. Tonight, I can go into my laboratory and begin to experiment with what a world might be like in which I co-occupy space with objects that blog.

Bleecker says there are three key characteristics of a blogject:

  • Blogjects track and trace where they are and where they’ve been;
  • Blogjects have self-contained (embedded) histories of their encounters and experiences
  • Blogjects always have some form of agency — they can foment action and participate; they have an assertive voice within the social web.

The last point is important, and while he’s not expecting them to pass the Turing test, they need to interact. Good bloggers don’t ignore their comments; thats where most of the fun happens. In the same way, blogjects participate and converse both between themselves and with us.

The significance of the Internet of Things is not at all about instrumented machine-to-machine communication, or sensors that spew reams of data credit card transactions, or quantities of water flows, or records of how many vehicles passed a particular checkpoint along a highway. Those sensor-based things are lifeless, asocial recording instruments when placed alongside of the Blogject. … The social and political import of the Internet of Things is that things can now participate in the conversations that were previously off-limits to Things. … Things, once plugged into the Internet, will become agents that circulate food for thought, that “speak on” matters from an altogether different point of view, that lend a Thing-y perspective on micro and macro social, cultural, political and personal

If a blogject is an object that blogs, a tweetject is clearly an object that tweets (an intransitive verb: the act of using Twitter).

There are already lots of examples of objects using Twitter to interact with people, usually to report about the state of things in a convenient form. Botanicalls is an interesting project, aimed at “enhancing person-plant communication” using tools that can be used by people as well as plants. As a result, Pothos is a plant that knows when it needs watering (learn how to make your own).

Gareth Jones wrote about getting his laptop to tweet when Bluetooth devices come in and out of range. For a while that script was updating as gareth_laptop on Twitter. As long as some relevant mobile phones and laptops have Bluetooth enabled, there are some useful and interesting elements of personal presence detection here. Who is nearby? With some additional second-order agents running to work out what these devices are and what they mean (is Gareth at home? If he’s at work, who is nearby?).

Andy Stanford-Clark has an impressively complex home automation setup in his house on the Isle of Wight. It’s been online for a few years already, but has more recently been exposed via Twitter as andy_house. (Although Kelly raises bots as one of her Twitter pet peeves, she makes an exception for Andy’s house.) Andy also Twitter-enabled the Red Jet ferries which go to and from the Isle of Wight, where he lives.

There are many more tweetjects out there too.

There have been lots of weather bots on Twitter for a long time. Here’s one for Brighton and here are links to many more. Radio 1 is tweeting the playlist and summary information about listeners’ text messages. Mario Menti set up a lot more BBC bots too. Tom Morris hooked the various London tube lines up to Twitter. The Lovell telescope at Jodrell Bank tweets what it’s pointing at (and it’s not alone). Tower Bridge lets us know when it’s opening and closing (and for what). The Heavens Above user updates Londoners with the times and directions of Iridium flares and International Space Station flybys over their city.

There are many more, and lots more will no doubt be added this year. Currently, most Twitter bots are one-directional. Things will get really interesting when more of them converse as well as simply report.

Further reading:

Twitter Updates for 2008-02-20

  • Twitter updates from my mobile seem not to be working today. How annoying. #
  • So far have given a presentation, seen Miguel Imas talk about storytelling and Nicole Dempster talk about the Guardian’s use of social media #
  • Now scoffing a quick lunch under the golden arches on Victoria St (free wifi, music is too loud). #
  • Next up: heading to Russell’s office near Warren St for a chat with @russelldavies and @bowbrick. #
  • (The event was a Post Graduate Diploma in Internal Communication Management workshop) #
  • At the Bafta bar with @rachelclarke @danhon and @jeremyet talking about our SXSW panel. Its not like a court case; we’re allowed to conspire #
  • And I’m home. That was a long day. #
  • I thought I was going to @russelldavies’ office in my tweet earlier. Turned out to be his (charming and lovely) house. I met Arthur! #
  • Seems I’m going to Oxford to give another BCS talk tomorrow evening. I’m going to try not to forget to record this one. #

Twitter Updates for 2008-02-09

  • Gently tutting at Matter blog for using Creative Commons Attribution Flickr photos without credit: #
  • It seems tutting had the desired effect. #
  • Lunch, then a drive. #
  • Combining lunch and the drive: KFC for breakfast on the way to somewhere coastal. I love the freedom to be childish that adulthood brings. #
  • Arundel and Lancing are lovely. Brighton is nice, but wow the traffic sucks. Going for a walk on the beach. #
  • Park first. Once you get IN to Brighton it really is lovely. There are people in the park exhibiting various skills. Juggling. Skating… #

Concrete They Are Buying Your Happiness. Steal It Brighton Brighton Ship. Sunset. Silhouette

Twitter Updates for 2008-01-29

  • LinkedIn gardening. Adding people I’ve previously missed. Feel free to connect if we know each other: #
  • Reading John Humphrys in Saturday’s Daily Mail on social networking & virtual worlds. He has no friends online? Virtual doesn’t mean unreal. #
  • Maybe “virtual world” is a confusing name. Maybe “online social environment” or any of the other dozens of alternatives would be better #
  • “Multi User Virtual Environment” obviously suffers in the same way. “(immersive) online world” might be a good fit. #

Powered by WordPress with GimpStyle Theme design by Horacio Bella.
The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent my employer's positions, strategies or opinions.