Alex Kessinger Drupal Con SF 2010 Presentation Notes Page

How To Mine Social Media For Cool Drupal Gigs

Here are the slides


My talk is about social media, and how to make it useful to you. I have some goals for this talk, first the two of you, who may possibly not be already consuming social media. I want you to start. I want 100% of you all to become consumers. Some of you consumers I want to turn into curators. Curators are like the decomposers of information. We take in a bunch of raw material, and churn out gold. The curator level is super important. Curating is a simple as tweeting a link, sharing something on facebook, or google reader. Its really easy to do this. Finally, some of you out their, may just be on the verge, I want to push you off the cliff. This is won’t be the last time I say this, but the real secret message I have for you today, is that the best way to get more out of social media, is to be a producer in the ecosystem. Besides moving you guys up the social media pyramid. I have two other things I want to do. I spent a large amount of my time at collage immersed in communications theory. Their are some great ideas in communications theory that can help us understand social media today. Really, this is a practical guide on how to cull social media. Today, I have some slides on finding Drupal stuff, but really these ideas apply to anything you want to find information about.

Who Am I

I think this the obligatory part at the beginning of any presentation like this. I need to explain a little bit about why I am asking for your to give me an hour of your time. When I sat down to write this part, I couldn’t come up with any thing, that did sound bland, and all business. And then I realized I went about it all the wrong way. Yes, I am an engineer, and I work at yahoo. Yes, I consume social media, and spend a large amount of my time thinking about it, but that doesn’t tell you why should give me your time. This actually Dovetails nicely with the theory part. So, who am I, A panda-bear ninja who trains in the art of media, messages, and meaning. but, seriously. As an engineer, I spend a fair amount of time translating mediums from one format to another. Like xml to html, or json to html. I help orchestrate HTMl, CSS, and Javascript on to this thing we called a webpage in the hope that we can share meaning, between the viewer and the website, thus have a communication. This idea of media, is core to who I am, and its core to what I want to talk about today.


Social media, is different then many of the media that came before it, and that difference, however slight, is super important. Its important theoretically, as well as practically to you. I am going to talk about the practical nature of social media, but first I think it always helps to address criticism, and in doing so, it should demonstrate some communication theory. I have two big ideas from, two big people. both are hero’s of mine. Both are groundbreaking in their own way.

“The Medium Is The Message” - Marshall Macluhan

Marshall Macluhan, is a big media theorist. He was a professor of media studies in Canada, he wrote a lot about media, but this quote is key I think. If you haven’t guessed, this quote means a lot to me. This guy realized the moment we connected the world together, into one telecommunications network, that one day it would be instantaneous, and the nature of that kind of communication, would have huge ramifications. Its manifest in this statement, the medium is the message. Think about that, the medium is the message. Now think of a band like the Beetles. Arguable the biggest band in the world. How did they become the biggest band in the world? Sure, they had talent, but what if you removed from our world, records. What if you removed, radio, or television, or newspapers? Without the major broadcast mediums of the last 150 years, the Beetles might be an awesome band in Liverpool. The idea he is trying to get across, is that in the span of ages, the medium of communication, matters more the message that gets communicated. The reason I bring this up, is that sometimes when evaluating social media, I think we tend to look at all the wrong parts, and I am going to talk more about this in a second.

Ira Glass

“It’s like a law of nature, a law of aerodynamics, that anything that’s written or anything that’s created wants to be mediocre.”

Ira Glass is the host of “This American Life”, a show on NPR. Each week they choose a theme, and put together a show around that theme. Usually a mix a real stories, they have interviews, spoken essays, sometimes some fiction, really anything goes, as long as its good. Even though they aren’t persey “creating” the stories, they are producing the stories. What I find interesting is they have put on 400 shows, mayby topping out at 1000, 1200 stories, but they started in 1995, which puts them tops 100 stories a year. Only a 100 stories a year are good enough to put them into their show. And these people do their show year round. They go all over the country and they can only come up with 100 good stories a year. In one sense it feels like they aren’t trying hard enough, but in reality all we have to do is look around us. Do you all tend to walk around everyday having really important conversations. No. None of use do. If we look at what Glass is saying, that most things are mediocre, he doesn’t know why, and its not really a bad thing, its just the way things are. It takes a serious act of will to make something good, or even great. These two ideas are important to social media, and they are practical, we’ll get there I promise.

Social Media Sucks

I might be preaching to the choir here, but there are more then a few gentiles out there. Even though I find internet oriented people to be more open, there is still a lot of social media skeptics. These two ideas help to paint a better picture, maybe change minds slightly.


Before I launch in to the bad criticisms, I want to say there are some good criticisms of social media out their. Privacy, is a real concern, and shared by many. Social media isn’t great at this. While there maybe a little getting used to the new world order, there are still better ways of handling privacy.

Danah Boyd

Danah Boyd is a social media researcher, and she has been doing some great stuff around investigating actual use. She just did a great talk at SXSW about privacy, you should check it out.

It’s filled with crap.

Twitter is filled with crap, blogs are filled with crap, why would I ever want to look at a blog about some woman’s dog, I don’t care what people ate for lunch. Sure, I get it, and I totally agree, but if we look at what Ira Glass said, most things are going to be mediocre, why do we expect them to be something else. Besides that, context is king. > JoeChicago: I just ate a bad sandwhich.

Yea, not so interesting > MarioBatali: I just realized that basil grown in Sicily is the secret > to a great pasta sauce.

Okay, mayby, but this next one this is where Twitter shines > CoWorkerJane: A Korean BBQ Truck just pulled up outside Yahoo!

Awesome right, its an integration of, local, timely, and personal, pull? What would JoeChicago care what CoWorkerJane had seen, he might have thought the same about what she had said that we might think about. This is where we can begin to see the medium is the message come into play, the medium of twitter, is what allowed those contexts.

We Are All Narcissists

Again, I think people are saying these things because they are true. While I think they are using the word narcissists to denote a negative, but the truth is that we are all individuals, and at some level what we see and hear means something, even if it only means something to us. Where this gets flipped on it’s head, is that twitter has the ability to flip this effect on its head, and extract huge value, out of what would have been something just valuable to yourself. Something else twitter can do an is a little more practical, is geo locate tweets. What if you were a mayor or something, and you started seeing people tweet something like > HenerySanJose: I just heard a huge bang, whats up?

What if we multiply HenerySanJose by a 1000’s, and put it on a google map. We can start to see a pattern, this is exactly what happened in portland a month ago. Out of a 1000 tweets you can extract useful information.

Twitter Movies

Another one is this guys is tracking tweet volume around movies coming out, and being able to predict with a high degree of accuracy, how much money they are going to make. I know its dry, but basically this is his graph showing that he did better then HSX, which is like a fantasy market for movies. I know that I ma just talking about twitter, but what I am getting at is that we can’t treat the new media like our old media, we can’t treat these new social media like our new old media like email. They are a new class of media, they can’t be bucketed and dealt with like email. Also, when you look at social media, often what is helpful is in the aggregate, knowing what lots of people think, know about the volume of conversation.


Super Secret Tip

First part of being practical is to give back to the network. Be prepared to share. Tweet a link, blog a picture. This maybe the most important takeway. I can tell you about how to consume, until I am blue in the face, but you will never truly get it, untill you contribute back to social media. Besides getting it, this will help you get good gigs.

Not A Secret

Social Media is a stream, well more like a river, a torrent of information flowing past you. While email, might be considered to land in a mailbox. And there are great people out their helping you to reduce your unread count to 0. That does not apply to Social Media. Far to many people think they need to consume it all, they think of it as a task to be done like email. Its not this can really only be for fun, or it won’t work. You are going to be fishing for good stuff. Tools: Your first line of defense. My tool of choice is a blog aggregator. Specifically Google Reader.


First is the idea of triage What I know about triage is what I see on medical dramas on televsion, you know ER, Trauma. Basically the idea is that in the face of an insurmountable, comptley opaque task, just start makeing descisons. It works better the more you do it, just like a doctors with 10 years of experience will know quickly who needs immediate care and who doesn’t You need to get better at recognizing the good stuff. What is the goal of triage. To read less crap, and more quality. This is where something like google reader really shines, I can just use this star feature, and then its gets filled away for latter perusal.

Organize For You

Most important, too least important. your #1 folder is your protective cradle of what you enjoy best. This folder has to be like your crack cocaine, it needs to keep you coming back for more. A rule of thumb for myself is if I am not enjoying at least every 3rd item then something is wrong, and I need to weed out the bad content. This folder is easy to clean out in like 20 minutes, and it drives most of my pleasure. When this folder is done I move down the stack. Into the larger folders like twitter.

Where To Consume

You don’t watch newspaper on the TV, and you can’t see the radio host. I find it easier to consume stuff in different ways, like tweets can be read in the google reaer, but long form journalism desvers like the iPad treatment, or the kindle. I use instapaper for this sort of thing. I haven’t found anything like this for video, I am thinking about building something like this, if anyone has any idea? Hint Hint, come talk to me afterwards.

Drupal Sources

Good Sources for Drupal news, and possible ways to get good gigs. - Craigslist - Twitter - Gran Daddy Drupal Planet -

Plan of Action

This is just stuff that is Drupal specific, what would be better is if you monitored the web for people trying to do stuff. Start Small, cultivate sources, organically grow You need time to develop a sense of social media, but investing some time can pay off in the long run.

An Example:

Jay Rosen, a tweet, led to a blog post, led to a discussion, I read through it, and lots of people were against, lots of people were for it, but no one was talking about building it. So I offered to build it, and I knew that Drupal would be able to do something like this quickly, so I was able to show him something in a couple of days. Then we launched it. I made a submission to the Knight News Foundation, we didn’t make it the whole way but we got through the first round. We have been working with The Nation and a reporter of theirs to try and beta test this system. Its been really fun so far, and I have had the chance to work with a diverse set of people to try and help fix real problem.


Just start, I know there is some more awesome stuff at this conference, but just start go home today, and setup a blog reader, start sharing on twitter, start writing small blog posts. If you are at all like me, you have been told your whole life that you are a bad writer, and I know that for me that is true. I will be a good writer in 20 years. But, what I didn’t realize is that being a bad writers, is not the same as being some one who has nothing of value to say. In this small niche, social media, drupal, there aren’t many “professional” writers, and we don’t need them, we need people who can build stuff, and can also write a little bit about what they are doing. So don’t let the fact that you are a bad writer stop you, just start.