Alex's Tech Thoughts

How Twitter Can Solve Its Onboarding Problem


Today’s post is one I’ve been meaning to do for some time. I’ve been publicly pretty vocal on Twitter’s onboarding process. Well today I put my money where my mouth is and wrote a post on how they can take a step in making onboarding better (i.e. turn more people into active users). I also got help form the talented Zhanna Schonfeld, as she mocked up a bunch of the ideas I share.

You can find it here on Medium where it shall live and (hopefully) flourish. 

If you enjoy it, recommend it on Medium and/or send it to a Twitter employee!

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Medium Twitter Onboarding
Twitter Education: Tastemakers

Twitter has an on-boarding problem. This isn’t a debate, it is a fact. And while Twitter as a business is taking off, we need to make sure Twitter as a product doesn’t screech to a halt.

I think a simple way to solve this would be for Twitter to offer the option to build your follower list for you. When coming in you should have the option to build your own follower list, but should be pushed down the path of auto-following people who are hand-selected by Twitter tastemakers. Twitter should gather your interests through questions or some simple check list and then direct you to auto-follow brands + people that fit that model. This way you’d immediately get out of Twitter the same as someone who has been on it for years.

It has taken me 4+ years to build my following list, but it still isn’t perfect. I add and subtract people all the time trying to get a good balance of my interests.

How would you help Twitter solve its on-boarding issue?

(After I wrote this post I saw a similar post written by Ben Thompson, just thought to bring it up).

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Twitter Onboarding
Why Not Knowing To Put A Period Before @ Mentions Is A Twitter Product Problem (And Not A User Problem)


The most common mistake by Twitter users is putting a handle (@) to start a tweet. By starting off with someone’s handle that means only people that follow both you and that handle (whether it is an individual or brand) will see the tweet. Sometimes this is done on purpose but most times it is not intended.

An example:

@baconseason is an awesome guy - you all should follow him


.@baconseason is an awesome guy- you all should follow him

In the first example, only people following @baconseaon and I would see that, making it irrelevant because they all follow him already! The second would be seen by everyone following me, making it relevant.

Without making any changes to how the regular twitter feed works, Twitter should take the Fiverr approach. Fiverr, the #1 marketplace for $5 (and up) services, has text pop up when you are doing something wrong (or in this case, against their TOS) while communicating with members fulfilling services.

See the below screenshot:imageimage

The first is before I begin communicating with the seller. The second is after I do something wrong (in this case, telling them to email me).

So how can Twitter solve this problem?

Easy. When someone starts a tweet with a handle as the first word, Twitter should pop up (not as an overlay but like Fiverr) some text that says “By starting with someone’s handle, the only people that will see this will be the people that follow you and that handle. Are you sure you want to do that?” This would only be done when composing a new tweet and not replying to someone else’s tweet.

Solved. Done. Over. Next.

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Twitter Fix it Fiverr
What Do You Want To Know About The People Who Follow You On Twitter?

Now that the cat is out of the bag about my next steps, I have a question that I want to bring up on my blog.

But first a few thoughts. I think Twitter is the most interesting consumer company of our time. I have met some great people, contacts, and eventual friends on Twitter (it’s also a dark-horse professional network). I think Twitter does a poor job of telling me more about the people who follow me. I know very little. I think it would be very interesting to find out more information about my followers. I personally have a long list of things that interest me in finding out (it was one of the reasons Michael and I built MVF way back when). But I’d like to hear from all of you.

What do you want to know about the people who follow you on Twitter? It could be anything from what country they are from to what industry they are in (some of this is covered in twitter ads analytics but not everyone has access to this). It could be to find out who RT’s you the most and who is your most engaged follower. Whatever interests you.

I can’t guarantee that the thing you want to know will be in the final product. We’ll definitely have people’s MVF’s plus a few tangential data points. But if it is something cool we might just knock it out and share it with you.

Hit me up in the comments section or email me at

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Modern Mast Twitter Analytics MVF Questions
The Free Economy

Google, Gmail, Google Calendar, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Tumblr, and many more of your favorite companies and tools are free. They are supported, primarily, by advertising. They don’t sell you a product, you are the product.

This has led me to think that if people are okay with being the product for some of the biggest internet companies, why haven’t we seen this offline and in other parts of our lives. Food, home-owners/renters, entertainment, travel, clothing, and more. Why can’t some of it be offset by advertisers?

Why don’t real estate companies and agents work with advertisers to offer an offset on apartment cost by putting a few banners outside your apartment? I would gladly accept a few hundred dollars off my rent due each month to hang a banner for Pepsi outside my NY apartment.

Maybe companies have tried this. Maybe not. I don’t think it is a terrible idea. I’ve heard worse. I think the only question we really have at the end of the day is that if this were to become rampant, is this the type of world you really want to live in?

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Free Economy Google Facebook Linkedin Twitter Tumblr Advertising
50 Websites You Can Make Side Cash On


Two Sundays ago, I asked a question on Twitter. “Is there a website that shows you all the legitimate ways to make side money?” I was specifically talking about skilled labor, like a driver of a Lyft, teacher of a Skillshare class (not signing up for products and/or surveys).

I quickly found out there was not. So I put one together.

You can find it at SideCash.

It was pretty simple to set up:

Step 1: Lock down Tumblr and domain. Set up a re-direct.

Step 2: Compile a list of companies that fit the bill

Step 3: Ask for help and feedback

I’d like to add more companies to the list. I think it would be a good resource for people.

Can y’all give me some help and feedback?

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SideCash Twitter Lyft Skillshare Tumblr
My Obsession With Distribution

For as long as I can remember I’ve been obsessed with distribution. For me, distribution is getting myself and things I do out there. A piece of it is networking, physically going out and meeting people. But a bigger part is what I write or things I am interested in. I write frequently here and distribute it via Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Gchat status, Hacker News, Reddit, Google + and other outlets.

Distribution is an exciting space. Some of my favorite companies are in the content distribution space, specifically Outbrain and Taboola. These outlets get more people to your content. Content owners pay per click, the clickers come in naturally through publishers (i.e. in a nice way) and the distribution companies make some dough.

What other content distribution outlets are out there? What about product distribution? What does a new apparel company do to get the word out there? Buy Google AdWords? Promoted tweets? Facebook ads? What about as an individual? How do you get your personal brand out there? What methods can you use?

I’m fascinated by methods of distribution (specifically digital distribution) and want to hear more about what else is out there. Share with me please.

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Twitter Analytics


I’ve been saying for months (to friends and family) that if someone built a consumer facing analytics platform for Twitter it would be a huge hit. People love statistics about themselves and the vanity around it.

It wouldn’t be a venture funded business, but it could be a good lifestyle business.

Well, Twitter has put out a version of personal analytics/statistics. You can find your own here:

It tells you your timeline activity (i.e. replies, retweets, favorites, clicks), gender breakdown, location breakdown, who your followers also follow, and interests.

It’s pretty cool and hopefully it will continue to improve. Thanks Twitter!

Editor Note: You need to have used twitter ads at one point (I experienced with them earlier this year). So yea….

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Twitter Analytics
Would Anyone Care If Your Startup Disappeared?


As a startup, the only way to tell if anyone truly cares is if you disappear. You don’t need to disappear for long, but if your service or product is unavailable for a period of time and users or clients get upset or complain, then you know they care.

Think about Twitter. When it used to go down for a few hours (it doesn’t really do that anymore) people would freak the f out. People really care about Twitter.

So when building a business or thinking about the company you work for, make sure you are working on something that people, clients, etc would care about if it would disappear. This is another way to think about building something people want/love.

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Startups Building Twitter
Digital Tools I Use Everyday

I’ve been thinking about tools I use everyday and wondered how they stacked up to others.

Here is what I use:

1) Twitter (news)

2) Facebook (distribution of my blog and keeping up with friends)

3) LinkedIn (getting updates on who moved jobs, looking up people, connecting with others)

4) Google+ and Skype (google hangouts with Dwolla team for daily meeting and skype for other calls)

5) Google Docs (I rarely use Microsoft Word or Excel- only if I’m in a spot with no internet)

6) Tumblr (post my blog on Tumblr)

7) Gmail and Gchat (to email and chat)

8) Instagram (when I take photos)

9) Foursquare (using Explore to find places around me or to let friends know where I am)

10) Citibank and American Express (check on my finances)

11) Reddit and Hacker News (I’m mostly a lurker, but peruse both each day)

12) Dwolla (I work there and I pay people back with Dwolla)

13) Eventbrite (I typically have an event going on, so I check Eventbrite frequently)

14) Verizon, Time Warner, Con Edison (check my bills almost daily)

15) Games: Angry Birds, Derby Jackpot (Angry Birds played typically in the subway if no internet)

16) Spotify (I listen at my desk and with mobile app- easily worth the $10 a month)

17) Brewster (I have found it to be a much better address book)

18) Dropbox (sharing files and such)

I’m sure I am missing a few, but that is a good high level overview.

What am I missing? What do you use that is awesome and you can’t live without?

Leave it in the comments below.

Twitter Search Magic

I’ve been using Twitter Search more and more to find links, clips, info. I’m not sure if this is a new trend others are seeing as well.

I was looking for the clip of Obama talking to his staff to show my wife and I couldn’t find it on Google (I searched “Obama” “staff” “video” “2012”)- at least not the one I was looking for- it kept showing CBS or NBC talking about the video I was looking for. Then I went to Twitter and clicked Search using “Obama” and “staff” as keywords. It was the top result.

This is probably scary for Google. I also see a similar trend for product searches. I don’t search Google for products, I search Amazon.

Google currently has a monopoly on general information searches, but if you think the search game is completely over, you are dead wrong.

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google twitter amazon search
@ Mentioning People When Tweeting An Article

I have a various methods for distribution of the content I produce.

My gchat status, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Hacker News, Reddit, and more.

One thing I have learned about getting some extra distribution is that if you @ mention someone when you tweet it out, you have a high probability of having them retweet it, and subsequently more eyeballs will see your content.

That doesn’t mean you should @ mention random people with lots of followers hoping they will read it and RT. You should only @ mention people who are relevant to the piece. 

I’ve done this both successfully and unsuccessfully before.

Success has come when there were either one or two people or companies @ mentioned that were highly relevant (two cases for me were: 1. @ mentioning Dave McClure on an post about great tech writers, and 2. @ mentioning Warby Parker in my article about them for Forbes).

Failure has come when I @ mention too many people, some of them not being super relevant to my post (earlier writing days).

Bottom line: If you are a relatively unknown tech blogger, a very valuable method to gain some initial traction is @ mentioning one or two people who are either relevant or included in the piece you are posting.

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Twitter distribution best practices
Long Emails, Twitter Bios, and Other Miscreants

There are few things I hate more than long emails. I used to be guilty of sending long emails myself, typically for blind reach outs that amounted to nothing. I thought I had to send the recipient everything they needed to make a decision about whether they wanted to work with me. That meant sending everything from who I am, what I am offering (company, product, etc.), everything about the offering, my cousin’s uncle’s life bio, their dog’s best friends, and everything else that was totally irrelevant. See the problem with the reach out and long email, was that I thought this was my only shot to get there undivided attention. An email. The thing I didn’t realize until later was that the long email was lightly glanced at and then discarded, whereas if I would have kept my blind reach out email short and to the point, they would have read the entire thing.

I learned (this is now going back 3-4 years) that the goal of the blind reach out email is to pique their interest enough to respond. You aren’t going to close that deal on the blind reach out, the best end result is a response for more information. So now if you change your strategy based on this newfound knowledge, a short email that is intriguing is so much more effective then sending a laundry list of things about you and your offering. If they aren’t going to respond to your  well put together five-sentence email, then they aren’t going to respond to anything.

There are instances where long emails make sense, but they are when you know the person you are emailing and you have broken it down with 1) 2) 3) or bolded and bulleted pieces of it.

While on the topic of long emails, what’s with long twitter bios?

Maybe it’s not a new trend, but a long twitter bio tells me two things about you. One is that you don’t know how to concisely express yourself. Two is that you probably don’t really do anything. Because anyone that is actually doing, co-founding, contributing, etc., to five or more things (at once) is probably not doing any of them well.

I recently saw a bio of someone who was the co-founder of three companies (all active), board member of two more, organizer of four events, and a few more things. Somehow he/she fit it all in their Twitter bio. I couldn’t control myself from thinking they were full of shit. If you want to be taken seriously, cut your bio to 1-3 sentences (or fragments). It should say what you are currently doing, maybe what you did before (listed not in detail), and maybe one more thing. For example, “Director of marketing at Tumblr. Previously at Yelp and Foursquare. Lover of pizza.” Short, cute, and concise.

Bottom line: If there is one skill you should learn in the business world it is keeping your communications to others, short, effective, and powerful. Longer doesn’t mean more powerful. Shorter and more substance can be the most powerful weapon at your disposal. Wield it wisely.

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communications email twitter
My Thoughts On Promoted Tweets (After Ten Days Of Playing With Them)

I have been playing with promoted tweets for the past two weeks and have some thoughts about my experience:

  • I was really excited to get access to them and allocated some money to play around with my tweets for a month. I decided I was going to spend $250-300 for 30 days and see what would come about. 
  • I decided to use promoted accounts and promoted tweets allocating $5 per each per day.
  • For promoted accounts I’m paying between 50 cents to $2.50 for each new follower and could expect between 6-7 new followers a day.
  • For promoted tweets I’m paying between 50 cents to $1.50 per click and could expect between 7 and 8 clicks a day.
  • In 10 days I’ve spent $112.
  • For promoted accounts I’ve had 12.2k impressions and 26 followers, a 0.21% click rate.
  • For promoted tweets I’ve had 4,216 impressions and 76 clicks, a 1.80% click rate.
  • I originally was targeting the entire USA. But I honed down target locations to NY, SF, LA, Seattle, Boston, CT, DSM, NO, Austin, Detroit, Chicago, and Sacramento.

What I like:

  • That I can promote my blog posts and get extra eyeballs on them.
  • That I can control the location of my promoted tweets.
  • That I get detailed stats on my promoted tweets (and know which ones perform better).
  • That I can control which tweets I promote.
  • That they show me my stats and conversion in my dashboard.

What I don’t like:

  • I think my conversion for promoted accounts is pretty low. I don’t think I’m the right account type for promoted accounts.
  • That I don’t know who is clicking or following me from my promoted accounts. It would be nice to know if the people clicking on the promoted tweets/accounts were actually worth paying for. 
  • That it grabs any tweet I tweet out and starts promoting it. This forces me to go in and manually stop promoting it. For example, one of my regular tweets was promoted and there were lots of clicks and I was paying for it instead of for my blog posts. It was a funny tweet, but I wasn’t looking to “promote” it. I really only want to promote my blog posts so I wish I didn’t have to manage it that deeply.
  • That I can’t get more information about where these impressions are. I think it’s super valuable if I was showing up in someone like Fred Wilson or Ben Horowitz’s feed. But I have no idea where these impressions are. Even a general idea (not person specific) would suffice.

Final Thoughts: I am enjoying my experiment and plan to re-evaluate after 30 days. I’m actually going to be switching up the gameplan a bit. I’m going to stop doing promoted accounts and double down on promoted tweets. So instead of $5 for each per day, I’m going to do $10 a day for promoted tweets and focus on getting more distribution for my blog posts.  

Have you used promoted tweets or accounts? Any feedback?

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twitter promoted tweets experiment
A Daily Newsletter You’ll Want To Actually Open: theSkimm

Here is my latest Forbes piece:

Let me know your thoughts!

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theskimm startup launch news twitter