William Kamkwamba on Jon Stewart

The shy boy who barely spoke English when I first met him in Arusha two years ago (and had this impromptu on-stage conversation with him http://bit.ly/9Q3l ) gave an amazing interview on Jon Stewart last night. Everyone at TED salutes him.

You can learn more about William and his astonishing story of building a windmill in his home village in Malawi here.   His book is storming the charts at Amazon here http://bit.ly/IDJgf     (A special call-out to TED's Tom Rielly @trielly who urged me to bring him to the stage at Arusha and who has since been supporting his education and much more. Also to @emeka_okafor who brought William to Arusha as a TED Fellow.)

Mind the Moonfruit! Company hashtags could drown Twitter in spam.

The sly marketing folk at Moonfruit have been able to secure Twitter's number 1 trending topic just by offering 10 free MacBook Pros as prizes over the next 10 days, the prize being selected at random from all tweets containing #moonfruit.

Think about this for a minute:

- Currently #moonfruit is being tweeted more than 10,000 times every hour, so more than 200,000/day. 

- Unless you're willing to subject your poor followers to endless spam, your tweet has a miniscule chance of winning. 

- Would you post an ad for a random company through your friends' doors in return for for a 1 in 200,000 chance of winning a computer? (If you did that every single day your whole life,  chances are still overwhelming that you'd never win... ...and even more overwhelming that you'd end up with no friends .)

- Assuming each tweet gets seen on average by 20 people,  Moonfruit are buying media "impressions" here at a CPM rate of less than 50 cents... equivalent to 'junk' space online, and easily low enough to tempt in a lot of other companies.

- Bottom line... our words and connections are being bought on the cheap! And unless the Twitterverse wises up, we'll end up getting deluged with hashtag spam.  

Meet Gene

I met a remarkable man just now on the street near our home in Tribeca, New York. Gene spends his day searching through the city's open trash cans pulling out cans and bottles for recycling.  On a good day, he can make $200.  Today $50.  In his makeshift pushcart pictured here... $2 worth.  By my calculation he personally ensures the recycling of more than 1m cans and bottles a year.

Gene walked at twice my speed, ignoring the traffic, still going strong at 8.30pm after traveling down from the Bronx early in the morning. He was upbeat, funny, cool and proud of his high-speed trash-picking technique.

I'm in the middle of Alain de Botton's brilliant new book "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work" on finding meaning in what you do. Gene should have had his own chapter. An inspiration.

Spectacular new web project seeks to connect cultural ideas

Just received this from the brilliant web artist Jonathan Harris (who spoke at TED here). His new project is unbelievably ambitious, and -- as with all of Jonathan's work -- simply oozing beautiful design.  

The project appears to have been commissioned as a non-profit spinoff of Sputnik Inc, a NY-based marketing consultancy. I've played with the site for half an hour or so and it's seriously seductive. But I'm not 100% clear yet on how it will actually be used.  Is it best regarded as an encyclopedia of video-based learning, or as an art project? Is it something people will tinker with for a pleasurable hour or so, or something they will come back to? Intended to be scientifically credible or a teensy bit new-agey? (Not quite sure what to make of this 'about' page.)

If you have an opinion, please add a comment!  For now, mine is simply.... wow !

From: Jonathan Harris
Date: June 30, 2009 2:20:40 PM EDT
Subject: New work: Sputnik Observatory

Sputnik Observatory

Hi everyone,

I wanted to let you know about a new project of mine that just launched today:

The Sputnik Observatory ( http://sptnk.org )

It's the result of a two-year collaboration with New York-based Sputnik, Inc., an organization that documents contemporary culture through intimate video interviews with hundreds of leading thinkers in the arts, sciences and technology, covering a wide range of topics.

The central premise of the Sputnik project is that everything is connected to everything else, and that topics and ideas that may seem fringe and even heretical to the mainstream world are in fact being investigated by leading thinkers working in fields as diverse as quantum physics, mathematics, neuroscience, biology, economics, architecture, digital art, video games, computer science and music. Sputnik is dedicated to bringing these crucial ideas from the fringes of thought out into the limelight, so that the world can begin to understand them.

Conducted over more than ten years and previously unavailable to the public, the interviews within the site chronicle some of the most provocative human ideas to have emerged in the last few decades. The site itself aims to highlight the interconnections between seemingly disparate thinkers and ideas, using a simple navigational system with no dead ends, where every thought leads to another thought, akin to swimming the stream of consciousness.

There are about 200 videos on the site today, and there will be thousands more added over the coming weeks, months, and years.


Jonathan Harris

Now THAT's what you call wingspan

Here's the amazing Solar Impulse, unveiled in Zurich today by Bertrand Piccard and his team. It's designed to fly purely from solar power, day AND night, courtesy of a vast surface area of solar cells.   TED's European Director Bruno Giussani, who was at the launch, says: "The plane has a 60-meter wingspan covered by solar cells, 4 propellers, a tiny one-pilot cockpit, and a total weight of 1.6 tons. -- that makes it the wingspan of an Airbus A320 and the weight of a car. It is an amazing sight."  

He shot this 15-second clip of the unveiling:

Piccard will be sharing his vision for the plane at next month's TED Global. He plans to fly the Solar Impulse around the world in 2012.

Here's Wired's take on the launch.   The Solar Impulse website.  And more background on the project.

Iranian students are spammers from Israel?! Er, no.

You can make a conspiracy theory out of anything, but this article is ridiculous.

The writer claims that @change_for_Iran, @persiankiwi,  @stopahmadi and others are fake accounts created in Israel. The six points he uses to back up the claim are pathetic.  

1.  They each created their twitter accounts on Saturday June 13th.

That would be the day when it became clear that the election had turned out badly...  and that a new anonymous Twitter account would be necessary. (Tweeting from a named account would be incredibly dangerous. A few courageous and/or foolish souls continued to do this.)

2.  Each had extremely high number of Tweets since creating their profiles.
Well, duh. The whole point of creating these accounts was to alert the rest of the world, and each other, what was going on. 

3. “IranElection” was each of their most popular keyword
 Hello?! That was the subject of their tweets. IranElection was the number 1 trend on Twitter generally. 

4.  With some very small exceptions, each were posting in 
If the goal is to raise awareness of their situation in the rest of the world, what language would you use?

5.  Half of them had the exact same profile photo
For the first few hours  these accounts were just using the default Twitter icon.   Then some began adopting the same green icon as a sign of unity. Copy, paste, click.  How hard is that?

6.  Each had thousands of followers, with only a few friends. Most of their friends were 

The writer is clearly clueless about Twitter. Why would they follow anyone other than other Iranian twitterers, any of whom would be easy to find with the 'IranElection' hashtag?

He makes great play of the fact that the Jerusalem Post was the first to report their existence. But its report was posted many hours after thousands of Twitterers had already discovered them online. How were they found? Because they hash-tagged their tweets #Iranelection.  Anyone following that tag immediately saw that they were worth following.

I was only Change_for_Iran's 1100th follower, but was still well ahead of that Post story.  The power and significance of what Change_for_Iran was writing was obvious, and it certainly reads as if it were genuine: the tweets included doubts, typos, retractions and the occasional flailing out, as well as heart-stopping descriptions of real-time events such as a tear-gas attack.   But to make doubly sure I contacted Twitter's CEO Evan William (@ev) and he confirmed to me that @change_for_Iran appeared to be tweeting from inside Iran.  

I think history will show that the use of Twitter and other tools by these students has taken social media to a new level of significance by engaging millions of people around the world in a personal way in an issue they otherwise wouldn't look twice at.  Whether or not you agree with their protests, they at least deserve respect for incredible courage and ingenuity.

Simple tips for a better Twitter experience

With Twitter's huge recent growth, there are numerous brand-new users of the service. If that's you, welcome. Here are my quick tips.  (Experienced Twitter users, pls add your own suggestions in the comments section!)

1. Get good at Twitter search
The best way to get excited about Twitter is to experiment with its search function.  Try typing anything you care about -- your home town, your company, your hobby, or any Twitter username -- into the search box in the RH column of your Twitter home page. You'll probably be amazed at what you see.  (eg. The search below reveals Twitter users who apparently haven't figured out yet that there's a public search function!)

Unlike Google, Twitter searches what has been said by people in the last few minutes, hours, or days. It gives you a whole new way to get a sense of what "the world" is thinking right now about pretty much anything.

And there's a v cool advanced search function here. You can use it to create quite complicated searches like this one that's tracking down interesting articles about Twitter.

If you create a search that's useful, save it, or in the case of advanced searches, bookmark it! 

2. Don't take the update question literally!

Even though the main update box asks "What are you doing?" you don't need to answer that directly. Twitter started as a service in which people kept a few friends up to date with their activities.  But its usage has continually evolved, and now a lot of Twitter users, including me, prefer to answer this question:

What can you share that might interest others?  

You could provide a thought, a quote, an article, a provocative question, a video, a picture, a funny turn of phrase --  or just "retweet" what someone else has shared (see below).  The best way to have a great experience on Twitter is to figure out your own way of giving your followers and potential folllowers something they'll like.  (By the way, that rules out product pitches and charmless self-promotion.)

3. No need to Tweet all the time
Once you've signed up an account it's easy to worry that you have to tweet (ie submit a message) every hour. Don't. No one's counting. Once people follow you, they're unlikely to unfollow you unless you annoy them. So it's fine to tweet only when you have something interesting to share. Once a day, once a week, once a month... it doesn't matter. The whole Twitter world will be grateful for less noise, more signal!  Speaking of which...

4. Less is More
The ridiculously short character limit seems like a pain, but is actually the key to Twitter's success. Apart from the fact that it makes updates over SMS text-messages possible, it forces people to be disciplined and creative. To phrase things in a way that cuts to the core. And if there are times when you absolutely need to share something longer, you can try what I've done here - set up an account on a blogging service, create your longer post, and then link to it from Twitter. (Posterous is super-easy, by the way. You literally just email them some text or pics, and they auto-post.)

5. Shorten web addresses
And when it comes to linking, the limited character count means you'll need to use a service that shortens any web addresses you refer people to. Try http://bit.ly  It has the additional benefit of tracking how many people click on the links you send round. 

6. Help spread the good stuff by ReTweeting (RT)
Information can spread across Twitter like wildfire. It happens because if people see something they like, they ReTweet it. Here's how to do it:  And here are 3 reasons why you should:
- You're helping spread the word about things you care about.
- You're being generous to the Twitter user(s) you're retweeting. They will notice.
- You're giving your followers great content without having to write it from scratch!

7. Twitter is NOT great for conducting a conversation. Don't overdo.
You can reply to someone else's tweet by clicking the reply arrow, but bear in mind that :
- some of your followers may also see the reply (namely those that are also following the person you're replying to)
- anyone who clicks on your user name will see your full stream of tweets including public replies.
- in Twitter's current incarnation, it's hard for other users to follow a conversation, either because you're just looking at one side of it, or because question and answer are often separated by numerous other tweets. You prob don't want your tweet feed looking like this all the time:

My conclusion: Don't let replies become more than a small part of what you tweet. Direct Messaging, IM or email are much better tools for conversations, though I understand Twitter is working on features to make conversations better.

8. Understand the realities of Twitter numbers
Twitter has enjoyed explosive growth. Some people are following hundreds or even thousands of others. But no one has figured out how to fit more than 24 hours in a day.  So most Twitterers can respond to only a tiny fraction of the tweets from the people they're following. In fact most tweets are probably not even seen by more than 10% of that tweeter's followers, because either the followers are not online at the time of the tweet, or it gets drowned out by the deluge of other messages. Also a lot of Twitter accounts are dormant.  So tweet with confidence... but don't be disappointed if the response is sometimes less than you hoped. 

9. Now read a REAL Twitter guide
Here are the best I found:
- for absolute beginners: http://bit.ly/A4DrC
- wide-ranging: http://bit.ly/jUBz
- Twitter jargon explained: http://bit.ly/2K5d2
- how to get more followers: http://bit.ly/xhXL
- the best 3rd party Twitter apps: http://bit.ly/1gtcbO

Oh, and finally...
...if you're unfamiliar with TED, the non-profit organization I run, it's all about "ideas worth spreading".  We put online short videos of talks on all subjects given by amazing people. Try these first.  There are hundreds more at http://ted.com.  But look out... they're addictive!

Time's stroke of genius: Twitter, iphone and Steven Johnson

This is one of the cleverest magazine covers I've seen in a long time. My favorite writer on my favorite social media service served up on my favorite gadget.  Striking image and brilliant marketing concept all in one. (Yes, this tweet has already spread across Twitter like wildfire).

Congrats, editor Rick Stengel on a masterstroke.

The article is online here.

And check out the Robert Wright piece too. His upcoming book "the Evolution of God" is utterly fascinating.