Damon Cortesi's blog

Musings of an entrepreneur.

Twelve Beers of Christmas

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I’d like to bring a little personality back to my blog. I’ve been plugging away on a lot of work these past several months, the evidence of which you can see in previous posts. But here’s to more posts, even if shorter, about what I’m up to and the things I love (besides just Twitter visualization and stats ;)).

Back in October I was visiting friends/family in Boston. I had the opportunity to work out of the great co-working space, WorkBar Boston and was fortunate enough to be able to attend a Boston Young Entrepreneurs event. Matt Webster of Drink A Better Brew was presenting that night on craft beer. (That may have had something to do with my decision to co-work that day. ;)) Matt’s got the great goal of exposing more people to the wonderful world of craft beers and his passion and knowledge of the space is extremely evident. I’ve only gotten into microbrews in the past few years (living in Germany helped), but very happy that I have. Matt just sent out a newsletter with the Twelve Beers of Christmas. If you’re looking for a little something for the holidays, these all sound like great brews. Thanks Matt!

1. High & Mighty Beer Company Home for the Holidays 2. The Bruery Two Turtle Doves 3. Wychwood Brewery Bah Humbug! 4. Port Brewing Company Santa’s Little Helper 5. Delerium Noel 6. Berkshire Brewing Company Cabin Fever 7. Serafijn Christmas Angel 8. Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve 9. Ridgeway Brewing Santa’s Butt 10. St. Bernardus Christmas Ale 11. Brassiere Achouffe N’Ice Chouffe 12. Brewery Schloss Eggenberg Samichlaus Bier

Dear Twitter, Please Hire a CSO

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Dear Twitter, I urge you to please hire a CSO. A Chief Security Officer. Somebody to lead the charge and organize a security team around what is arguably one of the biggest things to happen to social media in the past 10 years. A security team to balance the risk of being completely open with our lives, happily geo-tagging our way to a billion-dollar valuation of Twitter.com. A security team to realize that we are quickly losing any privacy we have had by opting in to the great and amazing features that you’re releasing on a daily, if not weekly, basis. A security team to protect us from our own poor choices.

There’s a story on TechCrunch that Twitter was hacked tonight by the Iranian Cyber Army. Regardless of whether this is true or not, Twitter desperately needs an individual in their organization to guide them on security as they carve the path in both social media and the openness and revealing of privacy on the web. From spam to meter-precision geo-location, you are failing in this respect.

Over the course of the past year, I’ve alerted Twitter to a number of different security incidents. From cross-site-scripting to server mis-configurations to a simple heads-up about other security issues I’ve seen randomly crop up. The problem is, the same issues continue to crop up on a regular basis. Sadly, for a company with $150 million dollars invested at a $1 billion valuation and over 100 employees, they have no Chief Security Officer. And I’m not even sure they have dedicated security engineers. Just rockstar developers.

To Ev Williams, CEO of Twitter. And Dick Costolo, COO of Twitter. I beg of you. Make the investment in security before It’s too late. Twitter needs to be aware and proactive about security if it is to continue in the way that you dream of. Security is not something that can be solved as easily as bringing in a firm to do a two-week assessment and call it good. It’s a culture that has to be built from the inside that permeates not only to those responsible for systems and code, but also those that are simply part of the company in any way shape or fashion.

While no organization is ever completely secure, it is critical at your stage that you start building security from within the organization, instead of having it beat upon you from painful experiences. This is a lesson that it took Microsoft many years and millions of dollars to learn and one that you (Twitter) should proactively attack.

Please. I understand you’re building some awesome business intelligence and some advertising that we’re just really going to love. But realize that you are changing the way we share data on the Internet. And not only do you need to be the leader in social media and openness, you need to be the leader in social media privacy and security.

Twitter Trends - 2009 Coffee Activity

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After posting on 2009 airline activity on Twitter, I got a couple requests that it’d be interesting to see activity from coffee brands on Twitter. (Did I mention that I live in Seattle, home of the illustrious @Starbucks? ;))

A few tweaks and 77 minutes later, I was able to put together the following graph of tweets from each coffee brand’s Twitter account from January to October 10 of this year.

Coffee activity on Twitter - Jan-Oct 2009

A few interesting observations. There were only four brands even on Twitter in January of this year. Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts dominated then, as they do now. There was an interesting peak among most brands around July and September of this year, with many having their activity taper off after that.

Dunkin Donuts has been tweeting a lot this month. If we take a closer look at their Twitter stats from October, we see that October 6th was a busy day. A little research shows that the 6th was the day they came out with their annual fall lineup and that they also had a promotion for firefighters in DC that day.

Amazing what a little visualization will show.

PR in a Twitter World

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I’m mildly amused at the response of Pepsi and the negative response to their “AMP UP Before you Score” iPhone app that objectifies women and parodies off the typical male approach to dating in the year 2009.

Conversations flared on Twitter this weekend after the company launched their iPhone application. Interestingly enough, the response from AMP and Pepsi at the moment is to try to cram a PR response into a 140 character tweet.

AMPwhatsnext Response Pepsi Response

Originally tweeted out from the @AMPwhatsnext account, the @Pepsi account re-tweeted the message shortly thereafter. At the time of this writing, this is the only official response I could find. Nothing on the Pepsi website or the AMP website. Just an apology crammed into 140 characters using numbers to abbreviate words.

Is this really what PR has come to in the world of Twitter? The other side of this, though, is the interesting fact that this may be all that’s needed to address this bit of PR. Where opinions can blow up in a matter of minutes and spread like wildfire, the days of delicate PR are long gone for real-time PR in the nature of the medium.

Twitter Trends - 2009 Airline Activity

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This has certainly been an interesting year for little ‘ol Twitter. Growth has exploded, celebrities have been joining in droves and Twitter continues to expand their feature set in an amazing effort to make those 140-character tidbits all the more valuable. Brands have also noticed the value in Twitter, listening in on the thoughts of millions of people in hopes of not only improving customer satisfaction, but winning customers over with a personal touch. Fellow Twitterer Dave Peck experienced this earlier this year when Southwest Airlines tried to help him out after getting stuck in Austin.

How appropriate, then, is the graph below that shows @SouthwestAir as the most active airline on Twitter, based on the number of monthly tweets from January to September of this year.

Airline activity on Twitter - Jan-Sept 2009

I decided to put this graph together after reading @BrianSolis’ post on airline activity in August. Curious what the rest of the year looked like, I pulled some data from TweetStats and decided to try to represent the data in a StreamGraph, courtesy of Lee Byron’s awesome StreamGraph work. This is my first attempt and could certainly use a little tweaking, but the trends in airline activity over the course of the year are readily apparent.

In addition to simply seeing how active airlines have been over the past year, the graph also shows the overall number of tweets for each airline (font size) as well as the most active month for each airline (placement of their Twitter username). There are some airlines not marked on the graph as their activity is insubstantial.

Also of note is @FlyHawaiian, whose usage of Twitter increased tremendously in September.

Detailed stats for any of the airlines can, of course, be found on TweetStats. ;)

Life Inspiration

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Some wisdom from my 18-year-old self.

I’d dare to make more mistakes next time. I’d relax, I would limber up, I would be sillier than I have been this trip, I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would take more trips. I would climb more mountains, swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I’d have fewer imaginary ones. You see, I’m one of those people who live seriously and sanely hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had to do it over again, I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day. I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute. If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have. If I had to live my life over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds. I would pick more daisies.

I’m happy to say I feel I’ve achieved all of these in the past three years of my life and part of the reason I moved to Seattle. I’ve climbed mountains, I’ve danced a lot, I’m in the middle of a three week trip visiting friends and family, I’ve started a company and will be a founder again, and Molly Moon’s in Seattle gets me to eat my fair share of ice cream. ;)

For Wil Wheaton

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Here’s the un-bit.lyfied version to download your last 3,200 tweets in one shot on a machine with curl installed.

curl -O -u username:password "https://twitter.com/statuses/user_timeline.xml?count=100&page=[1-32]"

Replace username and password as necessary. If your password has a special character like an exclamation point or an ampersand, you’ll have to put a backslash () before it.

Twitter only allows you to retrieve your last 3,200 tweets, but I’ve got more archived over at TweetStats - just email or call with contact info from the sidebar.

Damon (@dacort)

Have You Entered the Twilio Contest?

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Because you should…

I first tried Twilio at a Six Hour Startup event here in Seattle. While I didn’t have a specific use for it at the time, I was surprised by how easy the API is to use.

Fast-forward seven months and Twilio has an ongoing contest going to win a Netbook by building an app on their API. What caught my interest is the most recent contest to build a Twilio app on the Heroku ruby platform.

I’ve developed a fond love for ruby frameworks in the past year, building a couple Twitter apps on Rails and Heroku seems like a great service.

So last night I sat down and about an hour and 125 lines of code later, I had a fully functioning Twilio app deployed on Heroku using the Sinatra framework.

Really, it’s that easy - you should definitely enter the contest.

Some Fun New Twitter Tools

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If I’ve been a hermit lately, it’s because I’ve been hard at work in the Twitter world. Apologies to my family for not calling as often.

I’ve been busy during the day doing some fun work on a variety of things. Between the hours of midnight and 5am, though, I’ve put together a few fun new Twitter tools. The first was inspired when I spoke at the first Twitter conference back in May. I got followed by a lot of interesting people, but some of them got lost in the random follows I get as well.

So I built FollowBack y’all - a simple little tool to follow back people that recently followed you, based on their tweets. Once you log in, you’re presented with a list of recent followers you’re not following and a search box. Entering a term in the search box searches tweets and tries to match up new followers that mentioned that term. Then you can follow back with one click of a button.

The other couple tools are based off something I built that could be useful for Twitter developers - programmatic access to Twitter avatars based off a username or user id, something Twitter doesn’t provide at the moment.

The first is called Commonality - a tool to show you what friends and followers you have in common with somebody else on Twitter. Seeing as how it was built in about an hour, the interface is certainly lacking but here’s an example that shows the common friends and followers I have with @securitytwits.

The second is called FollowMinder - a tool to remind you when you followed somebody on Twitter. Again, more of a demonstration of the TwitterAvatar tool, but interesting to remind myself when or why I followed somebody. As an example, @wardspan was the second person I followed among a few good friends.

Finally, I was curious one night who I’ve blocked on Twitter and the API had just been updated with new “block” methods. A little while later and I had put up TwitBlocked - a tool see who you’ve blocked on Twitter.

I hope you enjoy!

Twitter Spam Evolution

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Every once in a while I revisit Twitter Spam. It’s always interesting to see the evolution of spammers as it’s happened on other social networks before and their behavior on Twitter is similar.

Essentially, they get smarter. It’s as simple as that. Early spammers on Twitter would simply follow lots of people and send obviously spammy messages. Twitter put a cap on that with their follow limits. Spammers of course then gamed the system by figuring out who had auto-follow turned on and following those folks as well as following regular people and unfollowing when not mutual. Twitter is since in the process of disabling auto-follow, though other services exist and will pop up.

The latest iteration, which I’d seen evidence of before but only from the initial prep stage, is the “almost real” accounts. Let’s take a look at @james_mahoney. [caption id=”attachment_1513” align=”alignright” width=”150” caption=”Spam(?) Account on Twitter”]Spam(?) Account on Twitter[/caption]

Now this looks like a fairly normal account. Tweeting about basketball, college. But let’s take a closer look at a couple of those messages. Specifically because they might look a bit familiar…

Yup, that’s right. Those tweets are simply duplicates of tweets made earlier by other, real people. This account is simply duplicating them to appear legitimate. Now those links for the Kindle are starting to look a little suspicious, too. If we take a closer look, we notice that it’s a legitimate link to Amazon, but with the spammer’s associate code in the URL.

You can see that his account also looks real enough that people even engage in conversation.

So the associate code means this spammer will get a few bucks if somebody actually buys the Kindle. How many times does @James_Mahoney send out these tweets? About 200 out of 800 - just see for yourself. Even a few hits makes it worth it if this is automated in any fashion.

A final note - want to find some other accounts in the initial phase of this scam? Just click through some of the recent follower icons on @James_Mahoney’s page, particularly the ones with the default avatar - you’ll notice they all have an eerily similar set of first messages. Welcome to Social Network Spam.

Thanks to Mike Dahn for the heads up on Mr. Spammy Spammer.

(p.s. Don’t forget to click my affiliate link to the right. ;))