Dear Twitter… Help!

Sad Twitter BirdI started on Twitter back in February 2007, joining the service as user number 779,452 using the name @betchaboy. At the time, I thought I was already late to the Twitter party but looking back at it now that the number of users has crossed into the billions, I guess that wasn’t the case.

In the time I’ve been part of Twitter, my use of it has grown considerably. As I write this, my Twitter account follows 3,931 people (mostly other educators with a nice mix of others thrown in just to keep in interesting), and there are 8,496 people following me. With over 11,000 tweets since I joined, Twitter has been a big part of my learning for the last 7 years.

Twitter has been an incredibly valuable tool of connection and learning, and has enabled me to be part of conversations and communities that I never would have discovered otherwise. Twitter has, quite literally, been life and career changing for me.  I’ve written quite a few blog posts about Twitter over the years, some of which have been quite widely read. You could say I’m a fan of Twitter.

So here’s the problem…

Twitter had a security breach earlier this year and numerous passwords were compromised, apparently including mine. Now, when I try to access my account on, it tells me that I have to change my password.

Fair enough. Click the link and it sends me off to do a password reset using either my username, email address or mobile number. The trouble is, no matter which one I use, it doesn’t work. The username and email options are supposed to send me an email so I can reset the password, but no such email arrives (and yes, I’ve checked the spam folder).  Likewise, requesting a password reset using my mobile number is supposed to send me a text, but no text arrives.  After exhausting all these options, I get a note on the screen that says “If you still don’t receive a message in a few minutes, then unfortunately there is nothing else we can do to help you regain access to your account.”

Come onTwitter, you can’t be serious!

To make things even more bizarre, I can still tweet from that @betchaboy account from devices on which I’ve never logged out since the password problem arose, and which are set to remember my password. I can tweet from my iPad, from the Chrome web app of Tweetdeck and from Tweetbot on my Macbook, all of which I have never logged out of since the problem.  However, on new devices I can’t connect, and I can’t connect any app or service that needs to talk to the Twitter API.

I find it really odd that I can tweet from existing devices that remember my  password (presumably the old password) but that I can’t log in with any new devices. And the fact that I can’t retrieve or reset my password and that I’ve written to Twitter Support six times now, all with no response, is just beyond frustrating.

I suppose I could set up a new Twitter account and just start again, but with so much invested into my original Twitter account, I really don’t want to have to do that. My Twitter username, betchaboy, has been very much part of my online identity and digital footprint and I really don’t fancy losing it. And of course, it takes time to develop a large network on Twitter so I definitely don’t want to have to start that process over again if I can avoid it.

Twitter, please, can you help me sort this out? I don’t know why the normal reset processes are not working for me. I don’t understand why I can’t get anyone to respond to a support request made through the proper channels. I’m super frustrated by this whole thing, but I really want to get it sorted out.

If you know someone at Twitter, could you pass this post on to them?  If you have any suggestions, could you let me know. I just want to get it resolved and move on.

Mining for Meaning with ThinkUp

Judging from the blog comments and the @replies and the RTs on Twitter, it seems that my last blog post really resonated with a few people.  Apparently I’m not the only one who sees both the enormous value of Twitter as a social networking tool, and also a level of frustration with people who dismiss it too quickly for all the wrong reasons.

Here’s another tip about Twitter than can exponentially improve its usefulness. But be warned it’s a little geeky, and if you want to set it up for yourself it will require a certain level of technical know-how. But if you can work it out, it opens up lots of possibilities for Twitter power users and anyone who just loves playing with data.

The tool is called ThinkUp, and is an open source project led by Gina Trapani (who some of you might recognise as the founder of LifeHacker, and a regular guest on the TWiT network’s This Week in Google). Among other things, Gina is a web developer who’s been working on building tools to help mine the wealth of information that flows through the tweetstream.

To install ThinkUp you need access to the back end of a webserver and the ability to set up and connect PHP pages with a MySQL database. You’ll need to be able to manage the database access and FTP files onto the server, so this is probably not the sort of thing you should try unless you run your own (or a hosted) server. But if you can get it set up, it’s pretty interesting.

ThinkUp connects to your Twitter account using all the usual APIs but then tracks, monitors and archives a copy of your Twitter activity into your own database. If you take Twitter seriously as a tool, this is important because you normally have no way to permanently archive and capture your own Twitter activity. It normally resides on Twitter’s servers and is fairly ephemeral – once a Tweet is gone it’s gone, or at least it’s usually too hard to retrieve.  Finding a Tweet that you wrote, or the responses you might have received to it, can be difficult once the moment has passed. Trying to dig up a Twitter conversation from six months ago can be near impossible.

What ThinkUp does is to archive and organise your Tweets in your own database and provide you with tools to make more sense of them. One of the most useful things is to aggregate the replies to a question I may have asked on Twitter. Here’s an example… I recently sat in a meeting at school where we were talking about the challenge we were facing with kids keeping their laptops charged, and someone asked “I wonder how other schools handle this issue?”  While sitting in the meeting I Tweeted out the question and within minutes the replies started to come back in from all over the world.

The next day I had about 20 replies to the question, and while those replies were useful, the way Twitter normally works makes those replies hard to see in aggregate form – they were scattered all over the previous 24 hours of the public Tweetstream. With ThinkUp however, the replies to the original question can be brought together in one place, providing an easy to read Q&A type page with it’s own URL. Thanks to Twitter I was able to get a broad range of responses to the question, but because of ThinkUp I was able to get a clearer insight into what that response thread was actually trying to tell me. It also gave me an easy way to share that insight with my colleagues via a single URL.

From your ThinkUp homepage you can browse a range of interesting views of your Twitter data, such as…

  • The week’s most replied to posts
  • The week’s most retweeted posts
  • Graphs to show your follower count trends
  • Graphs to show where and how you tweet
  • Inquiries (a collated list of all your Tweets that contained a question mark)
  • Most replied-to Tweets
  • Most retweeted Tweets
  • Mentions (anything that contains an @ reply to you)
  • Conversations (and exchange between you an another user)
  • Chatterboxes (people you follow who post a lot)
  • Deadbeats (people you follow who hardly ever post)
  • All your favourite tweets in one place
  • Tweets that contained URLs
  • Tweets that contained pictures

and much more.

Next to each tweet are numbers to indicate how many times it has been replied to or retweeted. Clicking on the number takes you to a page listing all the details. On some pages you can even see a Google map that show the geographic locations of where each tweet originated (I’m having a bit of trouble making this bit work on mine but it’s a neat idea!) Update: It’s mostly working now!

As you can see, over time you’ll end up with an enormous amount of data in there. But because it’ all now in your own database, that YOU manage, you have full control over it. As you should… after all, it’s YOUR data. But what makes it all so much more useful is the way you can mine this data for meaning, because it’s in the mining for meaning that real insight about the data starts to emerge.

You can find my own ThinkUp page at If you want to try ThinkUp for yourself but can’t install it on your own server, just make yourself an account on mine (by clicking the Log In link then click Register.)  I’ll leave the site registrable for a few days for anyone who wants to try it out.


Tiny Bursts of Learning

Despite the fact that I know many teachers who would rank Twitter as the most valuable and powerful networking tool they have access to, there are still many more who simply don’t “get” the value of Twitter. I’ve been to lots of conferences over the last few years where the enormous value of belonging to a Personal Learning Network was being touted, and Twitter is nearly always being suggested as the ideal tool for building that network. At one recent conference I asked for a show of hands for who was not yet on Twitter, and many hands went up… my response was “Why not? What are you waiting for? How many times do you need to hear people say that Twitter is the most valuable tool they have, before you actually try it for yourself?”

I spoke to a group of preservice teachers recently who were basically told by their lecturers that they needed to join Twitter. Despite the fact that it was being promoted to them as a powerful way to learn and network with others, most of them seemed to join up simply because it was part of their assessment requirement.  Because they joined Twitter “under duress”, I don’t expect them to actually buy into it, use it well, or continue to use it past the mandated requirement to use it.  And that’s a bit of a shame.

In contrast to all this is the general sentiment among many teachers that “we need more PD!”, or the always-amusing “How can they expect us to learn new things if all we get is a few PD days a year?”

If you still believe that professional development is what happens on those two or three days each year when you sit in a classroom and have some expert “deliver” it to you, I have bad news. That model is no longer sustainable and the days of PD as something that is done “to you” by “experts” a couple of times a year are over.

Learning needs to be ongoing. The world is changing. There are new tools that can help students learn, new ideas about learning, new brain research, new emerging technologies, new social structures, and so on… to think that you can maintain a professional outlook by attending two or three PD workshops a year is almost laughable. To keep up with new learning, you really need to be plugged in to an ongoing source of professional discourse and resource sharing. It needs to be something that happens regularly, at least several times a week. Like so many other aspects of the 21st Century, some of the “ways we’ve always done things” don’t really cut it anymore.

So how can something at simple as Twitter possibly be used to stay professionally current?

How I use my Twitter PLN to learn

I’ve been keeping an eye on my Twitter stream for the past 10 minutes or so. Using the Twitter app for Mac, it sits in a narrow vertical window on the right side of my screen and as the people I follow add their tweets they flow by in a steady stream that updates every few moments. How fast this flow happens is obviously dependent on how many people you follow… I follow about 2600 people, so it tends to be a pretty steady stream of tweets, but yours might be more or less. Occasionally I glance at this “stream of (networked) consciousness” and spot little gems that look interesting.

For example in the last ten minutes I’ve spotted the following things…

…to name but a few.

In the same 10 minutes worth of tweets, I also responded to a couple of questions from other people that I felt I could help them with, saw a funny story about Moodle, watched an amusing exchange between some people I know, and ended up getting invited into an Elluminate session about developing Moodle courseware.

Just ten minutes. Even just skimming through that list of things would give me more relevant PD than most teachers get exposed to in a whole year. And those of us who use Twitter in this way are able to tap this stream of information any time we like.

(I hope you also noticed that I still don’t know what Ashton Kutcher had for lunch, or what crazy antics Charlie Sheen is up to. I don’t care about that stuff, so I don’t follow those people, so I don’t see those tweets. Twitter works because you get to make choices about who is part of your network.  You create relevance for yourself.)

Now, before you assume that I spend my whole day getting sidetracked by Twitter, let me assure you that’s not the case.  I’m telling you about this 10 minute slice of time to make the point that Twitter, when you build a network of relevant people, is an amazingly rich sources of ideas, inspiration and connections.

I don’t read every tweet. I don’t follow every link. I let most of the tweetstream just flow by me, only dipping into it if I get a moment. If I spot something interesting I hit the star to favorite it and come back to it later. If anything really good turns up in the stream and I miss it, it gets retweeted over and over so the chance of me seeing it is still pretty good.  But mostly it’s just there, flowing by, ready for me to dip into it and pull out a few gems whenever i have a moment. Do that every day and pretty soon you have a substantial body of PD building up.

I understand why people find it hard to get their head around Twitter.  I understand why people are still skeptical when they hear others say things like “Twitter is the best PD you can get!”  It sounds like complete hyperbole… How on earth can a random collection of short messages from strangers possibly compete with professionally organised training and PD sessions?

It competes because it’s more relevant, more timely, ongoing, interactive, daily and personal. Traditional PD just can’t offer all that.

If you’re one of those people who resist Twitter because it just doesn’t seem logical, please just suspend your doubt and give it a go. Don’t just join and do nothing; give it a proper go. Follow a bunch of relevant people – at least 50 or 60 – get a decent Twitter client, and open yourself to the possibilities of what a network offers. You won’t regret it.