Stephen Baker

The Numerati
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Being the wrong @stevebaker on Twitter
December 16, 2021Final Jeopardy

I'm looking at my notifications on Twitter, and they're pretty ugly. @pressuresounds writes: "@stevebaker is a liar and a hypocrite...." Others lambast me for Covid policies, Brexit, chumminess with Boris Johnson. It becomes pretty clear that hundreds of people on Twitter confuse my tag with that of @stevebakerHW, a prominent British member of parliament, a Tory and a Brexiteer. When I first signed onto Twitter, in January of 2008, the platform was relatively new, and I had what I believed at the time was good luck. I could establish an address with my name, with no numbers or other flourishes. I was the first Steve Baker, or at least the first who wanted to call himself that. Now I'm paying the price. My notifications are overwhelmed with angry Brexit and Covid tweets from the UK. I tried to minimize the damage by blocking @stevebakerHW. But that just kept a single MP from communicating with me. What I need is a way to block every tweet intended for him. That job is beyond even the highly-touted AI of a social media giant.

My namesake (left) with Boris Johnson

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How not to use Twitter
January 25, 2010Final Jeopardy

I have to disagree with Sean Nelson, who provides Twittering advice on Social Media Today (disclosure). His advice reads a bit like the social media snake oil I wrote about in my last BusinessWeek article. He seems to regard Twitter largely as a branding and broadcasting platform, and he pays almost no attention to the social dynamics.

His advice: For every month, prepare some 60 Tweets and release at least two a day. Follow lots of people, because they're likely to follow you back.

If you’re following 1,000 people and 800 are following you thats fine. Keep in mind that as you follow more people you’re going to have to remove those that do not follow you back to keep your ratio balanced.

What's missing here? Conversation. He says little about listening to the people he follows, or interacting with them. They're simply audience. All kinds of services exist where people can acquire Twitter audiences, or even buy them. But communication with all those people broadcasting to each other has scant value, because, chances are, they aren't listening either. Everyone's spamming.

For an experiment, I joined a service called a service called FastFollowers (since redubbed "Twiends"). I blogged about it. The result was that I got lots of followers, and none of them paid me the least bit of attention.

I'll confess, I started on Twitter two years ago with the intention of building an audience around my upcoming book. I was thinking largely along Sean's line. But the greatest value of Twitter, I found, is that you surround yourself with people who point to all kinds of interesting news, articles, photos, and ideas. And looking at it from a marketing point of view, if you follow people that you find interesting, good chance they'll listen to you.  

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My experiment with FastFollowers on Twitter
December 3, 2009Final Jeopardy

It was only a few months ago, at the height of British summer, that Dave Sumter, a systems engineer in the UK, began to think seriously about Twitter. He saw that newcomers to Twitter faced a fundamental problem: Everyone started off with an audience of zero. Building a crowd of followers could take months. So Sumter, in his spare time, set up a site to help people "develop a community of strangers."

The result was FastFollowers. It functions as a lonely hearts club for Twitter. Every time you choose to follow the Twitter stream of a fellow member, you earn a credit on the site. The system uses those credits to reward others for following you. Members, of course, can speed up the process by buying credits, and quickly build up a follower army of thousands. For $139.50, a user can buy 7,500 credits--and presumably an equal number of followers. "Now it's a fairly mature, self-sustaining site," says Sumter, whose service gets about 200 new members every day. Type "buy Twitter followers" in a search engine, and you'll find dozens of services selling the same fare.

Maybe you're wondering why anyone would want to pay money for a crowd of Twitter followers. Consider Steve Lafavore. A couple of years ago, the 52-year-old former contractor and investor was "forced by the make changes in my very comfortable living style." For Lafavore and many other victims of the real estate crash, opportunities appeared to beckon from the computer. "That is why I got into social media marketing," he writes on his Web page. Now Lafavore pitches his know-how as a social media expert. He establishes his credentials, in part, by uploading how-do videos onto YouTube and gathering crowds onto his Facebook fan page. And in an industry where influence is often gauged by the size of a person's Twitter following, he uses services like FastFollowers to boost his microblogging entourage (8,932)....

That was how I started the first draft of my last BusinessWeek story. It's about social media consultants. Editors thought my lead was a long wind-up, and I'm sure it was. I ended up rewriting the story from top to bottom, and removing both FastFollowers and Steve Lefavore.

But I'm still fascinated by people like Lafavore. I tried getting in touch with him on Facebook, email, direct messages on Twitter, and calling up the unresponsive phone listed on his Web page. No luck. He follows me on Twitter, but doesn't pay attention to me. He seems more interested in building a following and advertising to them than in listening to them. But if he and other patrons of services like Fastfollowers amass thousands of followers who pay no attention to them, what are the followers worth?

Well, I'd say they're good for his brand. It's easier to sell himself as a social consultant if he has 10,000 followers on Twitter, even if they rarely click on his spammy posts.

I asked FastFollower's Dave Sumter about this. He has picked up a few thousand followers from his site. He agrees that they're worth less than an "organic" following of people. But it's a way to get started, he says. And gradually, Fastfollower subscribers can unfollow spammers and focus on interesting Twitterers.

So I started a Fastfollower account, summersorrow55. I quickly followed more than 200 people, and a slightly smaller number followed me. I've tried to communicate with them, and have never gotten back a human response. It's all spam. It's part of the underbelly of social media. I dropped the experiment after a week or two. I might as well have been communicating with machines. Maybe I was.

For the personal look at social media, here's Steve Lafavore's advice:

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Which companies get your e-mail address?
October 6, 2009Final Jeopardy

A new Harris Interactive survey shows that even in this spammy world we inhabit, the overwhelming majority of people still open their e-mail boxes for the right offers. According to Harris, 96% of adults have provided their email address to receive special offers or more information.(I agreed to receive this news by e-mail, which I guess helps to prove the point.) Additionally, 73% of respondents say they are more willing to make a purchase from a brand they have signed-up with.

The sponsor of this study, a lead-generation company called Pontiflex, is eager to demonstrate that people who agree to receive mailings--those who "opt in"--make for valuable customers. Creating and selling lists of people who have opted in is its business.

I wonder about the sophistication of the e-mailing public. I keep a Hotmail account for virtually all of my commercial dealings. Those relationships are quarantined from the rest of my online life, and I'd imagine that Hotmail address is worth next to nothing as a lead. Do you maintain similar accounts? What does that say about lead generation? Are those of us with multiple accounts still a minority? (Cross-posted on

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Dirty Data at Amex
September 29, 2008Final Jeopardy

One big problem for the Numerati: A lot of horrible data out there. My sister had gotten a new American Express card and was trying to set up online access. She had trouble, called tech assistance, and they asked her for her mother's maiden name.

She provided it.

Wrong, she was told.

Wrong? But it was right! Well, the help person said, let's look for another question. My sister asked how they came up with all these questions, and they said was told that they had lots of data on her. But if it was wrong, what was the point of trying to provide answers? In the end, the help desker asked for her last five addresses. She came up with one from the 1960s. Wrong again.

Let's make a new question, the help desk person helpfully suggested.

How about mother's maiden name?

So now they know it.

I'm in Portland, about to head out to Seattle on a train. I have an NPR interview this afternoon in Seattle, and a full day tomorrow, including a talk at Microsoft and a book talk/signing at (Elliott) Bay Books on Pioneer Square. Please come.

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How math led one researcher from Spam to Aids
September 7, 2008Final Jeopardy

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Splogs master Mad-Libs
July 21, 2008Final Jeopardy

Remember Mad-libs, those word games where you fill in random adjectives, adverbs and nouns and then read them in a ridiculous text? Well, from what Jeff Jarvis is reporting, the spam-bloggers, or sploggers, are teaching that same skill to computers. He reports that a blog post of his was altered for a splog, presumably to get past spam filters. It reproduced his post, but substituted "inaugural touch dances" for "opening tap dances."

It's pretty crude, actually, about on the level of some of the automatic translation software on the Net. But still, the idea that they teach machines to edit our words is impressive. And some of the edits aren't half-bad. The machine turned "annual confab" into "period schmooze." (I'd drop "period," but "schmooze" is worthy.) If you look at the splogs as a relentless publishing force, engineering billions and billions of posts to create millions of survivors, some emerging through this Darwinian process might turn out to be brilliant. Some of my old Mad-libs were. At least, that's how I remember them.

(also posted on

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