The little blue tick

In 2009 I was managing the corporate twitter account of a financial institution, it was right after the global financial crisis and the market was volatile. There were lots of real issues, there were court cases, there were rumours. Any bad news could trigger a drop in share price. Twitter was new, as a company we saw value in the platform, and we very quickly saw the risks.

Someone created a profile that looked like as if it belonged to rival company and began posting “rumours” that our company was going to be asking the government for further financial aid. If that rumour had been taken seriously it would have dropped our share price. Luckily the local journalists were debunking it in real time – asking the poster to provide evidence and pointing out the legal consequences of trying to manipulate the market. Meanwhile I was contacting twitter and trying to get them to remove the tweets – this was before Twitter had really developed business services. Twitter did not see the problem, and quoted free speech concepts at me. It was only when I said it was spam that they took action. Whew!

So when the blue tick authentication was launched it seemed a great step forward, we could now get our company accounts verified so people would know who to trust. Given the rise of using Twitter as a service channel this was hugely important for our customers, they could use their twitter accounts to contact us for help.

The verification system wasn’t perfect but it built trust. It benefited companies, customers, twitter users, legal authorities and twitter.

Twitter announced late last year that they would allow people to buy a verification mark. People pointed out immediately how bad that could be for business and there was a backdown, temporarily as it turned out. This month twitter has started removing the blue check from what are now called “legacy verifications”.

The new rules will limit how you can use your twitter account, shifting Twitter from a free service paid for by advertising to a freemium service where you can use a limited version of the service for free, but if you pay you can use a full set of features. This is not a bad decision in itself, and if Twitter had done this in about 2011 they could have built out all sorts of services that are now provided by third parties. Many businesses pay six or seven figure fees for services that include social listening, managing multiple users on accounts, scheduling content, securing content publication to prevent bank account numbers being published (for example). Twitter was too slow in understanding real business concerns to build services that are useful to people with deep pockets.

The proposed twitter offer is 100-120 euro per year for a blue tick that will let you

  • 30 minute window to edit your tweet
  • book mark folders
  • custom app icons
  • NFT profile pictures when connected to your crypto walet
  • more themes
  • custom navigation
  • space tabs – to find audio content and only on iOS and android devices
  • top articles, a shortcut to most-shared articles in your network
  • reader – for long threads
  • undo tweet
  • prioritizes your replies (so you will appear above better or earlier responses in a twitter conversation
  • longer videos – up to 60 minutes/2GB
  • longer tweets
  • use two factor authentication via SMS (this caused much discussion)

Apparently also voting in polls and “Half ads” will be added to subscribers.

I used to use twitter a lot. For many years I programmed tweetdeck to tweet something useful once a day and added my “hot takes” through the week. Then twitter started notifying me about a lot of dumb shit, and whatever I did I couldn’t turn off the “here’s something from someone who hasn’t posted in a while” notifications. It became too distracting and I removed the app from my phone. Twitter could still be a useful tool for me, technically I could afford the blue check mark. But…

Once the guidelines for a blue tick talked about “authentic, notable and active“, and thought of the purpose behind verification was “to encourage and maintain trust between users on the platform”, now the threshold is whether you can pay, and a few steps to limit bots getting blue checks.

We need to stop talking about people on twitter with a blue check mark as being “verified”, they are subscribers. There is no longer any verification on twitter.

Mashable reports that half of twitter subscribers have fewer than 1000 followers. It’s possible to use and enjoy twitter with a low follower count, but these are not the people that drive engagement. As Nathan Hubbard, formerly in charge of the Twitter media team, stated they worked really hard to bring celebrities on to twitter because “almost all of the engagement on twitter happens with tweets with high profile people/organizations across government, sports, music, business, news… they’re the lifeblood of the platform” (You can read the whole thread – it’s worth it.) Engagement translates as eyeballs, which translates as advertising money.

Killing the verification option is not only bad for users, it introduces risk for consumers and businesses and will be bad for twitter’s bottom line. There was no reason to kill it. A smart leader would have introduced a freemium model with some sexy new services alongside the verification service. I might have paid if you’d offered editing + extra content options to make all 4054 of my followers happy.

It is possible that the actual verification service might be reinstated once the data is in – but I’m not holding my breath.

Non-paid blue ticks have been removed, except if you’re seriously famous with more than a million followers, or able to troll the CEO of twitter. It’s an ongoing story.

And today I saw a tweet in the “for you” feed from the glorious leader himself

Fair enough, he owns the place. But I found I was also following him, and I would swear I have never followed him and that on the 10 November 2022 I ensured that I was not following him when I posted this.

I’m already using Mastodon, this weekend’s project will be exiting Twitter.

Header image by Lisa McCarty from Pixabay

Goals for 2023

I’m fully aware that I am writing this in February.

We’ve all had a rough few years haven’t we? I think most of us have climbed back to something like normal, but it feels fragile, there are multiple new COVID variants floating around and we are starting to understand the long term health impacts of that. I’m in Europe and horribly aware that there’s an active warzone way too close. The economy is a little shaky – with predictions of recession floating around. It feels way too hard to “make plans” or even have big goals.

So here are my three very simple goals to make 2023 a little better.

1 Go to the office

I have worked from home since 5 March 2020. In 2022 I made it into the office about 3 times. My goal for this year is to go more often, I’m aiming for once a month. I’ve just taken on a mentoring role, which is a work that really benefits from being face to face, so that will help!

2 Read More

When I lost my commute I lost a chunk of daily reading time, and somehow have read fewer books in the last couple of years than ever before. So this year I’m going to read more. This will mean less screen time, which is a bonus. I’m also going to try to vary my reading, and seek out some writers from new places. I took some inspiration and book recommendations from Ann Morgan’s Reading the World Project, but I’d love to hear your recommendations as well!

3 Write More

I’ve been really slack on updating either of the blogs that I’ve written for years, turns out if I don’t go anywhere or do anything I have much less to say. So this year I’m aiming for at least one post on one of the blogs each week.

This means I have an appetite to collect experiences again – such a nice feeling!

Let’s see how well I do.

Image from pixabay

Just Stop It – don’t make me scroll

Just Stop it

I was making a purchase online this week – new wine glasses, don’t judge. The site required my phone number to complete the purchase. And they needed me to select the international dialing code.

Here’s the form, you’ll note that I’ve already told them the country to ship to, it would be a reasonable assumption to default the international dial code to that country. But they didn’t. It gets worse.

Once I opened the drop down menu it turns out that the company had decided to list the international dialing codes in a cute way, little buttons of the country’s flag next to the international dial code.

There is no way to type the actual code or country, so the user has to scroll to find the right flag/code.

Some flags are distinctive, but the top two shown are Ireland and Italy, and I would not be surprised if someone with colour vision deficiency could not distinguish between the two.

I was looking for the flag of the Netherlands, the Dutch flag is three horizontal stripes from top to bottom they’re red, white and blue. Look at the image can you match the flag? Nope, that’s Luxembourg.

Please just use a country list with predictive texting. Illustrate the list with flags if you like, but don’t make the visual ID of a flag the primary search tool.

Standards Mean Fewer Errors

I received a gift certificate from my company for Christmas, how nice!

I needed to log in to a site and select what I would exchange it for.

Here’s the login information on gift certificate

Here’s the log in screen to redeem that gift certificate

How many of you would have entered the password in the right place first time?

I didn’t, I entered it wrong three times. I had just started an email to complain when I stopped to actually read the card. So happy I did not send that email. I bet I’m not the only one!

When every website presents the login screen with the login name first and the password second make sure your instructions do the same. It’s very simple standard to follow. It will save your users a certain frustration and reduce the workload of your call centre. Many standards exist just to make life easier for visitors to your site.

I chose a book voucher as my Christmas gift, I’m looking forward to choosing some nice reading for Christmas.

This was not spam

This all happened a while ago, I wrote up my rant, decided to sleep on it and review it the next day and now it’s a year later and I’ve found it lounging in my drafts folder. Faced with the choice of trash or publish, I’ve gone with publish.

I wrote a polite, considered response to a COVID denier on Facebook who was using incorrect data to promote the idea that we are being fed a wild story by mainstream media. I backed up my comment with data from a reputable source and linked to that source.

Given Facebook’s declared commitment of combatting covid/vaccine misinformation I’m doing something that helps them. But they don’t think so, they’ve identified the comment as Spam. This is the second time this has happened. The first time the link provided was the CDC.

Here’s the comment in full that Facebook says goes against their community standards of for spam.

Here’s Facebook’s community standard on Spam in full

I’m clearly not cloaking, posting misleading content, using a deceptive pop up of any type, like/share gating, using a deceptive landing page, or impersonating anyone. It’s really unclear how my post can be identified as spam.

Given that it has happened twice it suggests that the Covid deniers have figured out that any post with a link will be accepted as spam by the Community Standard Bots if they complain about it.

It also suggests that Facebook are not able – or worse, not willing – to write an AI program that can recognize credible URLs since the two times this has happened to me the link has been to a government website. Once from the US government and once from the Dutch government.

Of course Facebook give me the chance to disagree with their decision.

I did disagree with the decision, and here is the automated response.

They’re using COVID, the very thing my original post was providing factual information about, as an excuse to not review my post.

They’re saying they have “fewer reviewers available” because of COVID. But this is a job that can 100% be a work-from-home job. Given Facebook’s enormous profits they have no excuse.

And what have I learnt from this? I won’t add URLs to controversial posts, making it harder for people to fact-check my statements against the sources I’ve used.

Spamming in Europe

One reason it’s easy to identify spam in Europe is the challenge of writing in a local language. In one early spamming attempt here in the Netherlands an email purporting to come from a Dutch bank began with the Dutch equivalent of “Darling client”, which put the unsentimental Dutch immediately on their guard.

But today’s spam attempt took the language challenge to a whole new level.

screen grab of the problematic email showing text in Swedish, English, Dutch, Norwegian and Italian

For added fun there are at least a couple of errors in those languages.

So who clicks on the link? There’s a theory that spammers deliberately make their emails bad because they only want to attract gullible people. But I think even the most gullible would spot this!

We All Work from Home Now

laptom and glasses on a table. text reads "we all work from home now"

Like most people with an office job, which is most people working in digital, I’ve been working at home for year. At first I didn’t realise quite how long term this would be, and I definitely didn’t think it would be permanent – and it could be.

Late last year we were asked what our preferred work pattern would be, and I chose a “mostly work-from-home” pattern. My company has been very good about employees wanting to continue to work from home, but other companies are taking a different route.

Google is limiting its work at home option to 14 days a year, and wants everyone back in the office by September. Twitter is happy for people to work at home. Facebook is re-opening offices at lower capacity, with a plan to reach full capacity by about September. Barclay’s chief executive pointed out that it becomes harder to maintain collaboration and company culture if people are working from home. I hear people talk of being “zoomed out”, and it’s true that after a year of working from home and dealing with a lot of uncertainty we’re all tired.

I’ve been 100% work-from-home for more than a year, I had lunch with some colleagues last September but I haven’t had a face to face meeting with colleagues since 5 March 2020. It is, as the kids say, a bit extra. When I made the decision to be on a mostly work-from-home pattern I thought hard about what would work best.

  • Almost of my meetings are multi-location
  • I work with people with good digital skills
  • My direct colleagues and my boss are in three other countries so they don’t know where I am
  • I like to flex my work day to be available for calls to the US, so generally work to 7pm my time
  • No commute = more time for me
  • Location, I’m closer to good coffee when I work from home

The one downside, I’m isolated, I miss talking to colleagues face to face once in a while so I am looking forward to being together. And my real office is close to Schiphol, so extra convenient for emergency city breaks once we can have those again.

Lessons So Far

This has been a year of forced experimentation so what have we learnt?

Asynchronous for the Win

The in office meeting culture forces a certain structure to our day. But if you’re in an internationally distributed team (4 locations, 4 time zones) you learn to make that time difference work for you. My US colleagues now know that they can work on something to the end of their work day and hand it off to me to pick up while they’re asleep. We’ve got better at agreeing on a structure of a project, or a content outline, and working independently. We’ll email or message each other frequently, and come together only towards the end to workshop the final product.

This requires knowing your colleagues strengths and being able to trust them to do their work. It’s meant that in some teams I’ve been able to halve the time to launch. It allows us to focus on the work to be done, rather than fit the tasks into snatches of 20 minutes between meetings. It’s taken a lot of the urgency out of projects, and yet the work is getting done faster than before. Long may it last.

Meeting Skills Matter

I suspect that the “zoomed out” feeling is a consequence of poorly designed meetings, and a lot of it would go away if we had better meeting skills
– make your meetings shorter
– specify the purpose of the meeting in the invite
– enable people to decline if they judge they don’t need to be there
– if the meeting is more than ten people designate someone to manage questions via chat while the meeting leader or presenter continues. The idea that anyone can interrupt with a question at any time sounds great – but it can be really destructive on productivity when 29 people have to listen a question they didn’t have.

One concern I have about continuing to work from home when others don’t is that hybrid meetings when most people are in the room and just one or two are online will become unbalanced – something to watch for.

Work Patterns are Individual

I’ve been calling my work pattern “work from home”, but the reality is that it will become “work from anywhere”. I’m fully planning to take advantage of cafes as they open up to get a different view of the world – and coffee. I hear there is wi-fi at the beach these days.

The debate how “work from home” vs “work at office location” is a false dichotomy. I think we can be more flexible than that in many jobs. We should be talking about work patterns for individuals rather than a single rule for everyone. It takes more focus from managers, more planning for individual work, but it could be a great step to a happier, more inclusive workforce.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

No News is not Good News

Good morning Australia!!! Today you will not get any news from Facebook. Tune in to your radio instead.

You also won’t have access to:

  • the bureau of meteorology
  • some emergency services in Western Australia
  • health services in Queensland and South Australia (yeah, in a pandemic)
  • parks services – clearly listed as a government organisation
  • Women’s community shelters (for women escaping violent partners)
  • charities
  • some politicians
  • news satire sites – much to the amusement of Australians everywhere.

This is genuinely what Australia woke up to this morning. Organisations have scrambled to point people to the right resources held on their own sites, post notifications on their Facebook pages, and work with Facebook to prove they’re not a news site to get their page reinstated.

Why is this happening?

The Australian government passed legislation that tech giants such as Facebook and Google should pay news organisations to publish their news.

As someone who has watched social media for more than a decade it’s a neat twist, we’ve gone from free social media, to companies paying to have their content displayed to an audience, to the tech giants PAYING for the content. In a logical sense it makes sense, Facebook takes the advertising money that once funded news publishers and would be nothing without content. According to the Guardian “for every $100 of online advertising spend, $53 goes to Google, $28 to Facebook and $19 to everyone else.”

The Australian legislation sets up a process for tech companies to negotiate with news outlets, and provides a resolution process when no agreement can be met. Google followed that path and came to an agreement with news publishers, meaning that Australians could still search for their news outlets today and find the other organisations they need to reach.

Facebook did not reach an agreement. Facebook is the richest social network in the world and 98% of their income comes from advertising, so it’s not surprising that they will resist any attempt by governments to regulate them. Their public statement is that the law is overly broad making it hard to determine when something is news, “As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted,” a Facebook spokeswoman said.

I’m not convinced, Facebook hires smart people, content in Australia is in English, they have an office in Sydney, they have the world’s best geeks working on AI. They are perfectly capable of distinguishing between a health service and a news organisation, legitimate news and satire, emergency services and a newspaper, community shelters and breaking news.

So this is a power play.

By halfway through the day a number of the affected accounts had had their content reinstated, and we have all been warned about the power Facebook holds. Time will tell whether governments give in to that power or seek stronger regulation.

Image by Maher Ahtsham from Pixabay


Do you find yourself scrolling through twitter of facebook posts far longer than you planned because all the news is so terrible? You’ve been doomscrolling.

It’s hard to stop, even though it makes you feel worse and is likely to be bad for your long term mental health. In this weird time when we’re all so isolated, and when there is awful news from almost every country from the wealthy country refusing to provide food for children in need to war in a country you’ve never been to, to protests in another, and the election in the world’s most powerful nation.

Don’t click on those links, it won’t make you feel better.

And if you feel the urge to comment on any of the things you read the feelings of Doom get worse.

What can you do?

Practical defensive measures.

  • turn off notifications
  • move the apps that you’re most addicted to off your phone, or at least off the home page of your phone. I moved Twitter off the home page some time ago when they changed their notification settings level to VERY ANNOYING.
  • leave your phone outside your bedroom, or at least out of reach when you go to sleep… added advantage you’ll need to get up when your alarm goes off and you’re more likely to start your day on time.
  • don’t read the comments
  • mute or unfollow the accounts that are producing overwhelming news – whether that’s by the volume they publish or the scariness of the content. You can follow them again later.

Positive Distraction

  • do something to entertain yourself online that isn’t on a social platform
  • watch a movie, or listen to an audio book or podcast – but pick something from the before times that won’t send your mind spinning on lockdowns, protests and vote counting. If you need to keep your hands busy and away from your phone teach yourself to knit.
  • read a book, a real paper one.

Break the doomscrolling habit, you’ll be happier.

Image by Viraj Tamakuwala from Pixabay

The New Normal


The “new normal” is weird.

It’s 150 days since I had a face to face conversation with any colleague.

On Friday I had virtual meetings to farewell colleagues.

On Monday I interviewed a new colleague, via video call. That’s not so unusual, but she will not meet any of us at any point in her recruitment or her on-boarding.

I have left this city twice since March – I would normally commute daily.

Every meal I have eaten in that 150 day period, I have eaten alone. For the first 90 days or so every meal was home cooked, but I’ve relaxed a little and now order meals online.

Every night I’ve slept alone, not just alone in my bed, but alone in my apartment.

It’s very easy for a week to go by in which my only face-to-face interaction is with service staff at supermarkets and the one cafe I trust.

And when I leave my home, I wear a mask.

The “New Normal” is very weird.

For many people that term is stress inducing, it’s easy to mock, and lends itself to irony. I might be alone in finding it helpful in accepting that these are the things I have to do now.

So are there any positives?

End of open plan office space

We may never go back to open plan offices.  The negative impact of open plan on productivity is something I’ve thought a lot about, in the most densely populated office I wore sound cancelling headphones in order to concentrate – and wondered why that was the solution to a shortage of working space in a highly profitable company. I’ve found it so much easier to concentrate on my work, and I am happier about being flexible with my hours – talking to Asia at 8am and America at 7pm doesn’t seem so bad when there isn’t a commute each side of that.

Museum visits


Museums are slowly re-opening, but they are limiting visitor numbers and in some cases limiting the number of people in a room. This makes visits a delight. Those two trips to Amsterdam included visits to the Rijksmuseum. The image to the right shows the room control on the threshold of each door at the Mauritshuis.

These two positives don’t make up for all that has changed and all the suffering of those who got this wretched disease.

The new normal is indeed, weird.

Header image by Omni Matryx from Pixabay
Museum image by me.