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Saturday, April 24, 2010

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Unwritten Rules of Twitter That Can Get You Suspended

Ever since I started using Twitter a few months ago, I've been trying to understand the rules. However, as I study the rules more and more, I find that they aren't terribly clear. I thought it might be useful to share what Twitter *doesn't* spell out for you. As usual this is a vast subject, so I'm limiting myself to 4 main points.


In case you're wondering, here are The Twitter Rules.

Spam: There are 17 points described under Spam. But none of them are specific or use specific numbers. So what is Spam specifically?

Unwritten Rule #1: It's not clear what Spam is and the definition is a fickle mistress.

You can probably get away with doing some spammy things for a while, but even if Twitter doesn't shut you down right away, lots of individuals will block you. If enough people block you, that alone will shut you down. Some people have itchier Block Button Fingers than others and block people with ease. These are things that *I* consider serious spam: sending lots of people you don't know @ messages advertising your product; blatant porn; and the vast majority of "make money fast" messages tweeted ad nauseum. I also view links with cli.gs as a yellow
flag--it's usually crap.

What a lot of peeps fail to grasp is that even if you aren't selling anything, even if all you want to do is direct people to your blog to share Grandma's recipe for Banana Cream Pie, if you tweet it over and over and send the link to people who haven't asked for it, it's still spam.


Here are the Twitter Following Rules. But here is another discussion of Twitter's (Total) Follow Limits, and here is yet another. Here is a note about Daily Limits. You'll notice the rules don't all say exactly the same thing. So what is the real rule?

Unwritten Rule #2: It's not clear what the follow limits are and who they apply to.

The follow limits probably vary between accounts. So to be safe follow less than 10% more than are following you. If you follow more than 10% then the Twitter Gods are watching you. In a previous article, I said that I believed--and still do--that you are more attractive to potential followers if the number of people you follow exceeds the number who follows you. I still believe that. Just be careful, and keep that difference under 10% of those following you.

I have to add here that I think the concept that it's somehow better to have lots of people following you than you are following is absurd, and I don't know why that belief abounds. I also have no idea why Twitter itself enourages this concept and imposes follow limits at all. Twitter was originally used in its infancy for internal Odeo communication. The original idea was for employees to be able to talk to each other--for everyone to share information. Twitter was not designed for one person to talk and everyone else to listen. So why on earth should it be preferable and coveted to follow few people and have lots of followers? No idea.


Here are the Twitter Automation Rules . This page tells you how and when it's okay to use them. What this page doesn't tell you is the following:

Unwritten Rule #3: The quickest way to attract the wrath of Twitter Gods is to use Automation Tools.

There are lots of ways to automate your account. I'm not going to tell you how to do it because I think it's bad for several reasons. Twitter is supposed to be a social network. It's not supposed to be just free advertising (except for Twitter itself--stay tuned) and most of the people who automate their accounts are doing it to make it easier and faster to tweet crap. So let me tell you that Twitter doesn't like automation tools and as soon as you start using them, you're on their radar. While Twitter explains politely that you can use them (carefully), if you use them too much, they will shut you down. Also, if other twitterers smell automation, they will block you. So use them at your own risk. And in case you didn't know, people HATE AUTO DIRECT MESSAGES. So quit using them. People will block you, and don't come crying to me. Get people to notice you by being interesting and friendly. Nobody goes to your website or buys your product when you shove it down his or her throat. There are also automation tools for following and unfollowing. And those are including under the Unwritten Rule.


Twitter Jail. Twitter Jail is defined by twitterers as what happens when Twitter shuts you down. It might be because you've tweeted too much and your account is just locked for an hour or two. That happens to spammers and also to lots of people who are just talking to their friends, not spamming. Or it could be more serious, and you could be suspended and taken out of their search engines--which don't work all that great anyway, by the way, but that's an article for another day. I've never been in Twitter Jail, but as my buddy @asark21 put it so eloquently, I can hear them chains rattling.

Unwritten Rule #4: Suspended accounts are not easy to get reactivated. So learn what to do if it happens to you.

The obvious solution is try to avoid it. Don't get suspended. But sometimes people get suspended that aren't spamming; they are naive and had the best intentions. So what do you do?

A. As a precaution get the email addresses of a few of your Twitter friends--I call them Fritters. Most people call them Tweeps. If you get in trouble, quickly email your buddies and get them to make some noise and try to help.

B. Make a new account and start making noise. Twitter Gods hate noise. So if enough people make noise, it puts a lot of pressure on them.

C. Log a help ticket. It's really hard to find this link. I'm not sure how much good this does. I often get the impression that the people who receive and work on these tickets just sit back and laugh at them and don't actually do anything, but it's worth a try. Stories abound on the internet of people who asked for help and waited a long time to get any.

D. Send a distress signal to @twitter_tips These guys know everything. They can give you advice.


Why are all these rules so vague? There are several possibilities: one is that they are deliberately left vague so those in charge can change them continually without us knowing when or why. [Likely] One is that they are inadvertently left vague because the software people who developed Twitter are too [stupid] brilliant in technical matters to write good English. [good possibility] Another is that they are deliberately left vague because different rules apply to different accounts. [very good possibility]

In closing I have to mention a few peeps who I talk to and laugh with every day. If I end up in Twitter Jail for tweeting too much, it will be because I was talking to them: @aussie_home_biz @takethe_plunge @lovegoldcoast @singhd and @budgetdude


Friday, April 2, 2010

6 Things I Learned Living in France

In 1985, as a young 23-year-old American girl newly married to a French guy, I moved from New York City to France. I couldn't speak or understand a word of French, but I had studied the language in school so I had some basic understanding of grammar--enough to write a few correct sentences on a postcard, for example.

I lived in France until 1991 when my husband and I and our two children--both born in France--moved to and immigrated to Calgary, Alberta, Canada. During those six years, I learned to speak fluent French, fluent enough to pass for French; I learned my way around; I got a job; and my two children were born there. My years and experiences in France are largely enough fodder for a book. But I've scaled it down for the purposes of this blog to the following.

6 Things I Learned Living in France:

1. Assertiveness

Some people who know me today might say I'm assertive to a fault. A long time ago, however, I was pretty shy and quiet like a church mouse. I wasn't very good at saying what I wanted or needed. Living in France changed that. The main reason for this change is that the French theory of retail business is "the customer is always wrong."

This reality was a struggle for me in my first few months there, but I eventually learned that if I did not become more assertive I would not survive.

The following is an incident of me buying a turkey at the bird (chicken, fowl etc.) seller (at the open-air market). It was October and I was planning a 6-course dinner for 16 people. All the dialogues I'm recreating here in English, originally took place in French.

Me: Hello, I'd like to special order a turkey that weighs 16 pounds that I can pick up next week.

Turkey Lady: 16 pounds?

Me: Yes, please. 16 pounds.

Turkey Lady: You don't need a turkey that weighs 16 pounds. How many people are eating?

Me: I want a 16 pound turkey. Can I please order a 16 pound turkey.

Turkey Lady: How many people are at the table?

Me: It doesn't matter how many people are at the table. I want a 16 pound turkey. Can I order a 16 pound turkey?

Turkey Lady: You know we don't usually get turkeys that size except at Easter and Christmas.

Me: Can I order a 16-pound turkey?

Turkey Lady: Are you sure you want such a big turkey? That's a VERY BIG TURKEY.

[Translation for the reader's benefit: You are an idiot. You don't know how to cook or how to plan a dinner. You don't know anything about fowl, and you look very stupid to boot. No one in Europe cooks a 16-pound turkey in October. And your sweatpants are ugly.]

Me: Can I please order a 16 pound turkey and pick it up next week.

Turkey Lady: Yes.

Me: Thank you very much.

2. French Women are the Epitome of Fashion

I don't want my readers to go away with the notion that everything in France was a negative. Absolutely not. There are many many wonderful things about France. Here's one: French women know fashion. They are lovely to look at at every age.

Twice a week in the little village where I lived in a suburb of Paris, there was an open-air market. Once I learned how to speak French, and could count my money/change quickly, I went religiously. I went the same way I went to Walmart today, 25 years later: I'd had a shower, my long (now grey) hair was in a ponytail, no make-up, no nail polish, no perfume, wearing sweats and sneakers.

This is how my neighbor (and friend) and every other woman my age went to the market: Her hair was short, styled and sprayed; she had on a touch of make-up and perfume; she had on jeans that were ironed with a sharp crease in the front; she had on stockings and red pumps with heels; she had a pretty little purse, a white cotton blouse with a collar and a small brightly colored red and white scarf at her neck. Anybody see a difference?

3. The Food is Better over there. Everywhere. Anywhere.

This is something hard to believe until you've experienced it. Fresh produce is, well, different than here. Compared to what we're used to, it's more brightly colored, more flavorful, much dirtier, usually smaller and locally produced whenever possible. There are many more cuts of meat available, and all of it is tastier and fresher.

The cheapest restaurant in some little town has better food in it then the vast majority of "good" restaurants in any big city here. The ingredients are fresher. Cooking is taken very seriously over there and not to be trifled with.

I'm lucky because my then-mother-in-law was and is a great cook, and she taught me lots. I also made a friend the first year I lived there who was and is a pastry chef, and fairly quickly I arranged trading English lessons for cooking lessons. I learned how to cook over there and feel very fortunate to have had that experience.

4. Women's Bodies are Valued and Appreciated More and Differently in France

I found this interesting and unexpected. When you have a baby over there, ob/gyn's do not want you to gain more than 20-25 pounds. And I mean it. This proved to be a headache for me because a) I've had a weight problem my whole life and b) I put on 40 pounds with my first child. They don't want you to put on a lot of weight because they want you to be able to return to your "before" shape easily and as soon as possible after birth. Exercise and treatment with a physical therapist is routine and covered by health insurance following a pregnancy to regain use and control of abdominal muscles.

I once visited a "breast specialist" MD in France for a persistent lump. (I didn't know there was such a thing. Can you imagine?) This doctor had a large beautiful office in a lovely district in downtown Paris. His office had several rooms each with different types of equipment for different diagnostic tests. But he didn't offer his patients any gowns. I'm not kidding.

"Get undressed." I was told.

I asked the nurse, "you think I'm going to walk around this office from room to room topless?"

"Well, of course!" she said.

I grabbed my clothing and held it in front of my chest and asked the doctor if he was on crack. (By now I was pretty assertive.) He laughed and said yes, he knew he would have to get some robes for his "Anglo" patients.

There are *much* lower rates of both hysterectomy and mastectomy in France than in N. America, in part because culturally they do not want to damage the woman's body unless there is no other choice. Makes you think, eh?

5. Medical Care is Excellent Over There

I'm not going to cite a bunch of articles that no one is likely to read, so just take my word for it. When I had a baby, they kept me and baby a *week* in the hospital. General Practioners typically have 50% of their practice as housecalls. Yup, housecalls still exist in some places--and what a blessing they were if you had a sick child. Anybody can call and schedule an appointment with a specialist and the waiting periods are not absurd.

When my family learned that I was having a baby there, they acted like it was a third-world country. It's not. I could talk for hours on the healthcare debate, but I just want to be clear. It's great there. It's a better healthcare system over there than in Canada or in the US--and it's a Nationalized System although it has some private aspects.

6. Living Abroad is a Life Experience I Recommend for Everyone

While some of my time in France was hard, it was overall a positive life-changing experience for me. There is something about living in another country where people speak a different language than the one you're used to, and value different things than you do, that makes you see the whole world differently. I honestly believe that living through hard times--like being unable to answer the phone because you can't understand ONE SINGLE WORD that anyone says--makes you stronger, tougher, more flexible and more resilient.

People often ask me if I can still speak French. Yeah, sure I can. It's rusty, and I've lost lots of vocabulary, but if you put me in room with just French speakers, I would understand 95% of the conversation. I could make a hotel reservation for you on the phone, and I could still go to the market and count my change--quickly. ;o)


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