Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Pre-tagging content for sharing on Twitter

The Age newspaper has implemented an interesting social media widget on their article pages. Their 'Join the conversation' widget shows how many people are reading the same article, links to discussion of the page on Twitter, allows the reader to easily add their own comment to Twitter, lists other articles that people who read this article read, and where appropriate, adds a 'Related Coverage' section above the other standard nav links.

I've included a screenshot because I assume attention for each article is fairly transitory so there may not be other readers or twitter discussions on the sample article by the time you read it:

I'm particularly interested in their approach to Twitter. They've used automatically generated hash tags to group together discussion of each article on Twitter. For example, in this article, 'First climate refugees start move to new island home' the hash tag is '#fd-e06x'. If you use their 'Comment on Twitter' link it automatically sends a status to the Twitter site (if you're logged in) with the article URL and '#fd-e06x'.

The 'Read tweets' link takes you to the Twitter search page with the pre-populated search term '#fd-e06x'. Of course, the search won't show any discussion about the issues in the article or about the article itself that haven't used their hash tag.

The system also seems to generate a new hash tag for each article, even those that are updates on previous breaking news stories. So these two articles (Woman hit by train fights for life, Woman fights for life after train station accident) about the same incident have different hash tags - perhaps this can be fixed in a later iteration.

I wonder if it would be possible to harvest possible topical tags from other tweets about the article (checking all the various URL shortening services) to suggest more human-friendly tags related to an article? It's probably not worth it for The Age, but it might be for content with a longer life. Or would an organisation be at risk of appearing to endorse those labels?

Interestingly, the pages don't mention the hash tags, so the process is invisible to the user. Would explaining it lead to greater uptake? I use a Twitter client (partly because I can easily shorten long links, while The Age doesn't pre-shorten their links) so would take the URL directly from the location bar, missing out their hash tag.

Selfishly, because I'm thinking about it for work, I'd love to know how they generate their 'other people who read this' and 'Related Coverage' links. I assume the latter is manually generated, either as direct links or based on article or section metadata.

Also selfishly, I'd like to know their motives, and whether they have any metrics for the success of the project.


  1. Hmm. Read this just before my ride into work and I've been mulling over some ideas...

    Seems like the hashtag is sort of extraneous - as far as I can tell, generates the same hashed link for the same source url, so that can serve as the unique identifier on twitter. No need to tag it as well - you can use the twitter API to search for that link to seem who's "commented" on the article.

    This also solves the problem of people tweeting on their own. If they use, or let twitter do it, it should generate the same url and show up on the page.

    It also got me thinking about the appeal of twitter as a commenting mechanism... Our blog comments have dried up a bit lately, and I feel like it's because when people want to comment on something they just tweet about it. Why? Maybe broader readership: they know lots of people will see it. Whereas here, if I'm commenting after everyone's read this post, you might be the only one reading it! Or what if they only read the RSS? Tweeting my comment would guarantee more views.

    This sounds like an easy-ish plugin to make for WordPress, which makes me wonder if it's already out there...?

  2. One problem with tracking mentions via shortening services is that there are so many of them. As a sample of clients I have open, Tweetdeck offers, digg,, tinyurl and (with as the default). Twhirl offers, digg,, twurl and snurl (with as the default again).

    I guess the reality is that you can never discover, let alone capture all the conversations about your content.

    Your second point is really interesting. I guess when you tweet something, you have a better sense of who's going to read it - knowing your audience might make you more likely to comment; knowing that there's any audience at all would definitely have an effect.

    I wonder if a model is developing (for me, anyway) where comments on a blog post are intended for the post author, with any additional audience a side-effect; comments on twitter are for my networks.

    Have the motivations for commenting changed?

  3. My coworker Justin just pointed me to, which basically decodes all urls that go by on twitter and allows you to search for links to a page in almost any format. They also let you subscribe, so that seems like an easy way to integrate to the plugin idea I mentioned... For instance, here are the tweets about this post. (nearly real-time, it's picked up a tweet I made just minutes ago)

    But I agree in general: comments on the blog are no longer for the network, they're really intended for the author, or as a permanent record of an opinion. (or when you need more than 140 characters!)

  4. Using the URL as you say varies from shortening service-to-service and also doesn't solve the problem of co-joining subsequent content that is appended to the conversation.

    Another way to integrate said tweets into your postings would be to actually import them into the comment feed so that that comments section on any given blog post is more lively and tweets are preserved. I am sure there are plugins for this and should let users reply via twitter also.

    I recently found a tweet I had made about the songkick service end up on, and because I am a songkick user it was easy enough to login and post a reply. Ease of use and added value are definitely key in that equation.