My personal feedback loops

As a sort of companion piece to the previous entry, I figured it might help other web writers to know what tools are available to them, as well as to possibly fill in some gaps I have in my own process (I bet someone reading this knows how to find info on the things I'm blanking on).

So there are several communities I'm familiar with that might republish or comment on something I've created and they are as follows:

  1. Twitter
    1. tweets mentioning my username
    2. tweets mentioning my full name
    3. my tweets retweeted
    4. my tweets marked as a favorite
    5. mentions of my blog posts in twitter
  2. Tumblr (any mentions of my posts)
  3. FriendFeed (comments on my blog posts and/or tweets)
  4. Delicious links leading to my blog
  5. Google Reader
    1. Number of times and who shared a blog post of mine
    2. Any "shared with note" of my blog posts
    3. Times someone hit "Like" on my blog posts
    4. Any comments on my blog posts
  6. Facebook (any comments or likes on my photos, blog posts, and/or tweets)
  7. Flickr (any comments or favorites on my photos)
  8. Other blogs linking to my posts
  9. Google's Buzz? (mentions of my blog posts, tweets, photos, comments on them)

Now, here's my toolset.

For Twitter, I check my "mentions" within various Twitter clients as well as a search for my username "mathowie" and my full name. There's a new "your tweets, retweeted" feature only available on twitter.com itself (is it in the API yet? I haven't found any other clients with this information). I'm a bigger fan of favorites than retweets and I usually find enough info from favstar, where I look at my recent posts with favorites, but of course that's an outside service that scrapes the content and it's not complete (I've tried 2 or 3 other twitter favorite trackers and they all report different # of favorites and often show different people). The service BackTweets.com lets me track a feed of mentions of my blog URL in any tweet and it does a pretty good job.

For Tumblr and other blogs mentioning my posts, I use an old citations search at bloglines set to search all RSS feeds for my domain. I do this for several domains where I write stuff. Here's the search for my personal blog URL. I've used this tool for almost five years and it still does the trick.

I have an account at FriendFeed, and it thankfully just emails me when someone comments on anything in my feed, which is handy and direct (but could get annoying if it was more than once or twice a day).

At Delicious, I follow a network of 63 people that mark interesting stuff and sometimes my own stuff shows up there. If not, I can do a backlink search and save the resulting URL to see how many people liked it enough to save it and if they said anything about it. I wish the backlink search let me look for anything with my domain in it, but it is specific to every single bookmark but something is better than nothing there.

For Google Reader, I'm pretty much in the dark. I once tried out the Firefox extension feedly and was taken aback by the tool's overlay on my blog showing tons of Google Reader activity on every one of my posts. My initial reaction was "who the hell are all these people and why didn't I know they were talking about my stuff before?!" I'd like to see some tool beyond a special browser plugin or bookmarklet hack for aggregating Reader activity on my stuff because it's currently a blind spot.

Facebook is much the same way. Once in a great while I look at web stats and I might see a bunch of facebook.com referrers and sometimes (if it wasn't followed from their main page) I can figure out where something I wrote was mentioned. This is another feedback black hole.

Flickr offers the wonderful Recent Activity page that I loved so much I copied it for MetaFilter. It's pretty much the ultimate tool for finding what has happened with your content on the network and I hope other services are watching and following suit. I would love to see an internet-wide tool that worked like this to track stuff people have said about my writing/photos as well as any followups on comments I left on any other blog. Many companies have tried, no one has succeeded yet.

Google Buzz is another new mystery. Given people can post links there, I have no idea where, when, how or what they've said.

Conclusion

That's about it, and I know there are other communities like StumbleUpon, reddit, and Digg that might rate and/or comment on my work, but I generally don't feel like tracking them and only occasionally see them pop up in web stats.

I'm aware it may seem like I'm sitting here pushing 25 buttons like a Skinner box every hour trying to figure out if people like my stuff, but really most of this stuff is automated as RSS feeds in Google Reader, so I can just pull up GR and see that maybe two new tweets mentioned my blog, four tumblr blogs reblogged something I said, etc.

If anyone has any tips on how to track your own URL mentions in Facebook or Google Reader (or Buzz), I'm all ears.

Broken feedback loops

Last summer I wrote this quick quip on twitter about my frustrations with Google Reader and Facebook comments:

Screen shot 2010-02-10 at 12.18.02 PM

Many years ago, people started building weblog ranking lists and then weblog search engines and eventually we had a rich set of tools that let you know what someone was saying about something you posted online. At first, these were often dubbed "ego search" and there were comparisons to navel gazing that early bloggers (myself included) were known for.

Over the years I realized tracking mentions of your work across the web wasn't merely for the ego stroke, it was quite a valuable bit of feedback. In addition to the direct feedback you might get on a post through your own comments system, following mentions in Technorati, RSS search engines (I still use bloglines' citations to do URL searches of my domains), and Delicious (which offers a simple backlink search) gave a broader picture of what people liked and disliked about your work. On places like Flickr that are more about sharing photos and sometimes about the nature of learning photography, direct feedback is key to becoming better at what you do.

Today Buzz launched and I realized my annoyance expressed last July was going to get amplified again as there was yet another new channel that could chop up any piece of micro-content I've produced and let people comment, rate, and share it without me having any remote knowledge of it unless I happen to follow someone that interacted with it. It's just like how Facebook doesn't inform me that this very blog post might be shared as a link there, and maybe 7 people hit the "Like" button and maybe there are five comments on it there that I can't answer because I don't know it exists. Google Reader, as much as I love it as a tool for reading blogs, suffers the same issues.

Let me be clear this isn't an ownership issue, it's not a frail ego issue, and it's not that I don't love remixing (I do!). My point is when there are half a dozen places someone can hit a like button or mark as a favorite or leave a comment that I have no knowledge of, the feedback loop is broken. 

When I think about the years I've learned to become a more concise writer and a better photographer by throwing shit online and gathering feedback, then repeating the cycle again, I'm dismayed to see all these new tools that lack appropriate feedback mechanisms that can relay information back to the original authors.

So to future application creators I ask that you simply respect the creators of content and help them improve by offering notification, search, and/or backlink capabilities so it's possible for someone to see where their creations end up. I know it's a lot easier to just consider it all "output" within your application, but the internet is a great communication medium not just for relaying information from anyone to anywhere on earth, but for also making it a dialogue between reader and writer. 

Don't break the feedback loop. 

Update: It might help other writers and photographers to know what tools I use (that you might not be aware of) as feedback loops. Here's a follow-up post about that.

Layer Tennis this week

I went to the dentist last week and while I was still high off the fumes, I mistakenly said “yes” to doing commentary for this Friday’s upcoming Layer Tennis match. I’ve spent the better part of today reading up on old matches and following Rafe’s excellent guide to judging.

This week they’re doing video with After Effects and since I know virtually nothing about actual motion production, I promise to be a completely clueless flailing treat to everyone.

Adventures in $40 eyeglasses

I posted about my experiences buying glasses online over at 43 folders. It may not be a major thing for most people, but when I consider the many thousands of dollars I’ve paid for glasses all my life and the mystique surrounding the production (optometrists make it sound like a highly trained set of monks hand-carve every lens somewhere in the Himalaya), finding out I could buy half a dozen pairs for a couple hundred bucks was huge. I keep reading about opticians freaking out about these cheap glasses sites and whenever I see someone digging in deep to defend a business model that’s worked for the past 40 years, I feel a tinge of joy knowing that wall is crumbling down.