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@SharePointChat – the bot that you want to hate and what it learnt

June 21, 2011

I recently created a new Twitter account: https://twitter.com/sharepointchat with a very specific purpose, investigate what a hash tag actually means in the modern thinking of Twitter vs. how we used to help out in previous electronic mediums such as IRC. Step one in this test was to have a hashtag that help was provided and see what that I could do and get away with. I could’ve gone through the work of creating a thriving community or, as I did, be lazy and abuse someone else’s hard work.

I choose the #sphelp tag because it is so highly “moderated”, I’ll explain that shortly, and it is a BRILLIANT idea for the use of a hash tag – if someone has a burning issue, they can post and we will help out.

For the experiment I wanted to try and do something that was all too common in IRC help rooms, someone coming in and abusing the help room. Thankfully we had bots and admin rights to block those people – so what happens with Twitter when something you have put hard work into is abused and you do not have those old solutions. To simulate this I would “take control” of the hash tag by overloading it with valid messages asking for help (Thankfully there is PLENTY of people needing SharePoint help), run it for a a while to get responses, and people did respond, and then kill it and then do some introspective of what it did or didn’t do. I didn’t care about this account, it is just an experiment.

I mentioned moderation above and you may be asking how can a hash tag moderated? Basically if you use #sphelp in a way someone monitoring it doesn’t agree with you get, what I see as a, snotty messages back telling you not to spam it. I find it personally funny that they use the hash tag in those, which in itself is not the “correct use”. Then again I did this experiment for my version of fun, so you can assume my humour is equally broken compared to your version humour.

First Observation: People on Twitter are lazy. Really in the IRC days we would maintain FAQ’s and point newbies to those in a friendly way. This seems to have been forgotten. What Thomas (below) should be doing is directing people to the link above about how the hashtag is supposed to work so that they can learn, not being snotty.

Second Observation: There is no registry of hash tags, there is no one who can tell you how to use it. This is the same as IRC, there was never a rule for what a room could or couldn’t do and it was only through moderation tools was any order kept. Without those tools a level of anarchy should be expected and people need to calm the down about this stuff and rather than ordering people to stop “spamming”.

One aspect that came out of monitoring this group is that there is a sense of ownership of the tag. That observation made me laugh so much that I put in the profile description that I owned it, just to see what response I could get. By now you must think I am a monster and a SUPER jerk – just going online to piss off people with my own experiment and to damange something good? Well, yeah but this is the internet, bad shit happens, expect anarchy and grow up or get off. I don’t feel bad for what I did as it satisfied something for me, even at the expense of others – but that is just normal human reactions too.

Only one person in the accounts life reached out with a real message that would be helpful to a new user doing something incorrect.

Third Observation: Twitter like IRC pulls in both good and bad and some have not fallen into the trap’s of the first and second observations.

I knew from the start this account would be hated and eventually I would kill it or Twitter would beat me to it (Twitter won, life was less than a day) because it is utterly pointless to people on the internet but there are two interesting aspects of it’s death worth reviewing.

The account was not suspended because of spamming (even though it posted 100+ messages in the first few hours), nor because so many people blocked it. It was suspended because I was following SO many people. I wanted to ensure people could DM me and so I followed everyone I could find and Twitter blocked it based on that behaviour not the tweeting.

Forth Observation: Content and other user actions on Twitter are not moderation tools. This is a big problem for the management of hash tags for this type of scenario.

What I never expected was that it would actually help a single person or give out any good info but somehow it ended up in one of those papers, meaning someone got something helpful from it.

Fifth Obsercation: No matter how bad the idea, the internet is so broad that someone somewhere will get benefit from it.

Fifth & a Half Observation: Those Twitter Papers are full of shit. My next experiment will have to be in that.

The interesting thing about Twitter and hash tags is that it was so easy to ruin it by just increasing the volume of posts and this is something people need to think about when using hash tags. They have value at the low usage end, but at the high end the volume of noise ruins it.

Sixth Observation: Either you can have a highly valuable hash tag with low reach or a low value hash tag with high reach and it is too easy to lose control of the hash tag.

Anyway that about concludes my thought experiment for this account and my journaling of it. Hopefully you find this interesting as I do, in which case let’s get a beer since we both are messed up… if not maybe it can serve as a reminder to be friendly to newbies and not to become attached to things that don’t exist (go hug your budgie).

The last question you may have is will SharePoint Chat come back for revenge? nope – it is dead. Thanks for the phish 🙂

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