Can you rely on Twitter?

Of late, my engagement with Twitter has decreased as my cynicism about social media has resurfaced. I have always held the belief that Twitter is, at first, a link-sharing service. The 140 characters and URL shortening services came out of that. However, they have actively tried to increase engagement.

It doesn’t happen like that. The rates of engagement (defined by clicking on the shared links) are abysmal. It means that anyone given the user is at the mercy of algorithms. Any change in that and the discoverability falls to zero.

The Twitter timeline is unsuitable for orderly consumption. I had mentioned before, and I reiterate- it depends on how algorithm ranks your association and engagement with other users. I have tried, with varying levels of success, to participate in the “live-tweeting”, but the heterogeneous nature of discussion doesn’t add structure.

I have bet my horses on Telegram instead. It is growing, without any direct marketing. The groups remain functional by use of bots which automate policing the channel. It ensures that no one misuses the allotted privileges to speak up. I have been managing a group recently which makes it easier for disparate users to discuss issues cohesively and understandably. Sharing links, inline players and in-app browser (or instant view) is a huge plus.

If the bottom line is efficiency, then yes, Telegram wins hands down. Twitter is becoming a mass of super-added mess. I use the offline Tweet clients because the web-version has a subpar experience. Besides, it tracks using cookies and other means.

I have tried (valiantly!) to convince users to switch gears. Staying online makes it worse for identity thefts. People implicitly trust social networks, but it is a decision that is fraught with danger.

Twitter is in search of a business model that would pay up for itself. As an ad-supported service, the users are the product. Despite the real-time insights, Twitter has been dumb enough not to be able to capitalise on the generated data. Either way, despite the promises of being able to provide a medium of discovery, the real fun happens in closed groups where we chat up, in detail, about issues that are close to heart.

The new promised updates to Twitter will still languish and leave you at the mercy of nameless, faceless algorithm. Think about it.

There’s still time to change gears.

Twitter: Towards a slow spiral of death

Twitter is getting desperate after an increased focus and scrutiny of its actual number of users. While they use metrics like users who were online in the past month, Twitter knows that it is a sinking ship.

There was a lot of hoopla about Twitter making its first profit after consecutive losses. However, it seemed like a flash in the pan. It is yanking off the API’s (third party services which connect via desktop applications). It wants web-only services so that it can serve up “personalised” advertisements. The daily engagement with the service is declining.

It is a worrying trend. While the BTSM practitioners have linked and bonded over this microblogging service, it is easier to get lost in the din of rapid tweets which makes it impossible for any coherent discourse. I have seen posts from institutions- pictures shot from the OT about the cases that they have done. Why this kind of marketing?

The impact of social media ought to be real- like reaching out to potential donors, for example. However, that individual tweet is decidedly less likely to be seen by a specific person. Re-Tweets or Symplur impressions hardly have any bearing on the impact of “tweet”. It only states how many people could have possibly seen. Were they the correct target audience?

A vast majority of the population isn’t aware of nuances of Twitter which can be overwhelming. Mobile interface, like Telegram, needs to be explored in earnest. It should be linked to all the Telegram links (like URL’s). That is also a safe, secure service which doesn’t track you, unlike Twitter.

Social Media: Falsehoods

I was alarmed to read about falsehoods about health spreading through WhatsApp. It is a Facebook-owned application which has millions of users worldwide. It is impossible to get the actual numbers but suffice to say that it is prevalent in emerging economies.

The alarm went off with an excellent article from The Wired which has chronicled the rise in Yellow Fever epidemic in Brazil and the falsehoods surrounding the vaccination. I reproduce some essential bits here.

In recent weeks, rumours of fatal vaccine reactions, mercury preservatives, and government conspiracies have surfaced with alarming speed on the Facebook-owned encrypted messaging service, which is used by 120 million of Brazil’s roughly 200 million residents. The platform has long incubated and proliferated fake news, in Brazil in particular.

The phenomenon of fake news isn’t peculiar to Brazil, but these spread rapidly through the social networks.

“These videos are very sophisticated, with good editing, testimonials from experts, and personal experiences,” Sacramento says. It’s the same journalistic format people see on TV, so it bears the shape of truth. And when people share these videos or news stories within their social networks as personal messages, it changes the calculus of trust.

If you wish to have a scientific basis to why this happens, Science published a great resource.

We classified news as true or false using information from six independent fact-checking organisations that exhibited 95 to 98% agreement on the classifications. Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, and the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information. We found that false news was more novel than true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share novel information.

This is an example of a rumour cascade:

The purpose of this post is that physicians should step up their game and have an active social media presence. A lot of sane voices will go a long way to dispel myths and fears about public health initiatives.

That is the reason why I set up Telegram channel to have physician vetted information and a one-stop solution for brain tumour affected patients. We owe people more!

Why blogging is essential

When you face an empty sheet, the hardest part is to define the direction you want to give to your words.

This post was in response to a brilliant blog post on 33charts, which is peddled by an influential paediatrician. I love the way he wraps up his ideas which is both a joy and a delight to read.

I have flirted and experimented with blogging consistently over the past few years (a decade or more). I am aware of how the blogging landscape evolved.

This neuroblog was set up later in response to many recommendations by those who had been there. Blogging is the best way to be able to get your ideas out. It showcases what is on your mind.

If you are clear in your mind, you can set out to do what you wish to achieve. Hence, this blogging platform is essential to categorise as well as firm up the opinion.

Twitter is sorely limited to express both the nuance as well as context. A blogging platform only explains the background, but spoken word or personal interactions best explain nuance.

Each one of these leads to a more vibrant diversity of opinion.

(Images are subject to copyright of their owners)

Why a Telegram channel for brain tumours was created?

The idea behind setting up a Telegram channel and a group was inspired by holding a Twitter-based discussion with a colleague. I am placing this on record here.

The central premise is a straightforward thing. If I were to face a similar situation, what would have been my state of mind? What is the ideal way to go about this? So, I decided to set up something in a way which I would have wanted. The first and foremost is the platform wherein I could access psychological support. These issues hit from nowhere, and it is essential to know that I am not vulnerable nor alone. While a lot of emphases has been placed on breaking bad news by the oncologists, handling the aftermath of emotional distress by a patient is an unaddressed issue. Having access to psychological resources or a support group becomes imperative at that moment.

How do I choose a support group? Ideally, one that has an active involvement of a clinician in some capacity. Most patients hit Google with a furious pace to know more about the disease. It is essential to guide them efficiently to informed sources about what we are dealing with, the likely side effects and estimated financial impact. Like a multi-disciplinary set up in a hospital, it should reflect some of it’s moving parts in a chat group as well. Patients should reasonably be expected to be guided through a simple workflow; a place where their queries are answered.

That, in simple terms, is the purpose of having a dedicated Telegram group. It is envisaged that patients would find others who have gone through similar experiences, interact with rehabilitation specialists (the medium should allow exchanging large files like videos or multimedia content) and access all old messages about the same thread (through a global search or use of hashtags). These are the broad contours to get the project off the ground and fine tune it as we go along.

Besides, regular updates and events about brain tumours need to be disseminated. A stream of messages in the proper group would become too overwhelming for every participant. Telegram offers a mechanism to copy the link of a particular message in the channel and share it anywhere (each exchanged message has a unique link available for the administrators). This would make it more efficient to share content across the application.

As with any application, users would need time to get used to the user interface. Twitter isn’t intuitive but is most widely used (along with Facebook). Twitter is meant for the immediacy of events, as they unravel. Hence, it becomes difficult (or even overwhelming) for a vast majority of users to get used to it. Like for example, no one subscribes to public lists of patient advocates that I have curated and collected, because most users aren’t aware of how to use Twitter effectively. As a result, their timelines are cluttered forcing them to spend more time. Due to process improvements, I usually skip over my timeline (using Mac desktop version) in less than 15 minutes because everything I need to focus on is there.

I hope that users find Telegram a vital addition to their daily lives.

The launch of Telegram channel (CNSSM- Central Nervous System, Social Media).

Over the past few months, I have been exploring Telegram chat application over the choice of other options that have flooded the cyberspace. Telegram embodies the best prospects of all in one neat package. It’s apparent that its closest competitor WhatsApp is the most commonly used app on the planet, but it comes with several limitations. The chief amongst them is constant surveillance by Facebook which makes it impossible to be “private” even though; it may have end to end encryption. I won’t go into details here but suffice to say that Telegram offers a much better option to interact.

One of its redeeming features is channel and hashtag search. Channels are uni-directional flows for information. It means that users can read it but not reply to it. Subscribers can be directed to chat groups to discuss any pertinent issue. Since the channels have unlimited members, Telegram offers a perfect scalable option for that. The exciting bit is hashtag function which, for me, was quite serendipitous. The posts come tagged automatically like #events #charity (pushed by different brain tumour charities), #updates and my favourite #motivation (posters with quotes). I can also add reminders for various websites/ events over a recurring interval.

A Telegram group works like any other chat application but with distinct advantages. It can have multiple administrators (to moderate discussions over different time zones), users can also add hashtags to search (or do a global search for anything discussed), access to all previous messages for new members, mute notifications and notification alert only if their username is tagged in replies. I prefer anonymity and privacy in social networks. Twitter may serve as an excellent platform but is not altruistic- it logs and tracks every user. Further, it has a severe limitation of characters which does not address individual queries effectively.

The idea behind is to consolidate everything in one application. The telegram app is accessible via desktops and multiple platforms (including a web browser) which doesn’t constrain users from one locked in place. Phone numbers aren’t required to join a group or channel. They just need to do a global search via public username; here in this case “cnssm” (without quotes).

Another distinct advantage is an amplification of social media messages. We are drowned in by mobile notifications and Telegram offers granular control over what gets your attention. Much of what I do on Telegram is automated which makes things easier to manage.

I hope that most charities would consider this platform- its fast, quick, private, secure, scalable; indeed, everything that’s required to keep privacy intact. Once the channel grows, I plan to introduce video messages; a quick blurb on what patients need to do and focus on; have a separate group for professionals to share best practises and files. Ideally, we could have a rehabilitation specialist, a dietician and social workers. Charities should also keep a token presence here to identify users and guide them efficiently for financial issues.

How to use Telegram chat app for academics

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This post is prompted by a discussion I had with a few people on Twitter recently.

Instant messaging applications abound; the most popular amongst them is WhatsApp. It relies on phone numbers to get the work done. By being dead simple, WhatsApp became the most popular application for majority of the users. I believe that it is only a SMS replacement and nothing else. Furthermore, other reason I don’t use it is because its now completely owned by Facebook. The wealth of data related to our social interactions is more important for the company (and thats the reason why its free). Nevertheless, I’ll come straight to the point. How I found Telegram to be better than any chat application and how I use it effectively.

  1. The most important aspect: Bots. They are small nifty software programs that run on the application and automate things. For example, in a group, a Group Butler bot will assist the administrator in welcoming users, make them aware about the rules, limit the media (from pre-arranged rules) and prevent users from flooding. There is a classical music bot that works like Spotify 🙂 The possibilities with bots are endless. Payment bots are maturing on the platform as well.
    bots
  2. Notifications: This is the biggest bane of chat applications and serves to distract us most of the time. As a result, we are hooked to the devices. In Telegram, I have muted all users/groups/channels. The group notifies me only when someone mentions me by my screen name (like Twitter). This indeed is a life saver!
  3. Instant view for articles. It loads up the article (for example from New York Times) inside the app itself. This ensures that I don’t have to jump to the browser.
    instant-view-telegram-updated
  4. Channels serve as a mechanism for one way flow of information. Channel owners can post in media (file limits of 1.5 GB are pretty generous); videos, files, pictures etc but the subscribers cannot comment on it. This avoids the hassles with comment moderation. Channels can have unlimited number of subscribers while groups can accommodate upto 50,000 users (easily managed by bots!) Channels with companion groups can serve as a decent platform for two way communication between users. I manage couple of channels (which are automated) and serve as an admin for several groups without breaking into a sweat.
    Telegram-Channels-List
  5. Last but the not the least. It is a cloud based platform which ensures complete cross platform availability. I can start the conversation on my desktop and continue the same on my mobile device. It can also be accessed via browser. A personal cloud storage comes with it that can store my files indefinitely. Numerous granular privacy controls ensure that I can restrict users from adding me to groups or controlling who can initiate voice calls with me.
    telegram-two-step-verification

Publishers should explore Telegram channels; they can have dedicated systems for payments for premium content (which is invite only link); instant view from the app can ensure filtered information. This app can serve as a distribution hub for media. Bots can be used to link Telegram channel with Twitter, for example. The possibilities, actually are endless! Better still, you get to control access to your busy schedules (Personal chats, except family, groups and channels are all muted).

I really hope academicians and fellow professionals explore this application in right earnestness!