September 10, 2019

This article originally appeared in Try This! — Tools for Journalism, our newsletter about digital tools. Want bite-sized news, tutorials and ideas about the best digital tools for journalism in your inbox every Tuesday? Sign up here.

A person or organization’s social media account reveals two layers of information.

The first is, obviously, the contents of the posts themselves. The second — much harder to obtain at a glance — is the structure and patterns contained within those messages.

The latter can often enhance or, more common than you’d think, negate the former.

A football star, for example, may say that he’s working hard and sleeping well and focusing on getting prepped for The Big Game. But a quick analysis of his Twitter account may reveal that he’s tweeting at all hours of the day and night (including during practice) about a variety of topics that have nothing to do with his team.

Normally, this bird’s eye view (I know, cliché, but I can’t resist a Twitter pun) of information is interred in Twitter’s API, available only to those adept at coding and analysis, or to those willing to navigate the myriad tools that claim to be the best at extracting useful information from the site. But data analyst Luca Hammer just relaunched his Account Analysis tool, a longtime favorite of mine, to make it even easier to explore Twitter accounts on macro and micro scales.

Account Analysis (sign-in required, pro plans optional) uncloaks a ton of great information about any public Twitter account, including daily rhythms; frequency of tweets by specific dates and days of the week; and data about languages, interfaces, most common URLs shared and more.

I like to tell people that we should look at digital tools as we do physical tools in our toolboxes at home: ready and available when you need them, out of the way when you don’t. It’s appropriate, then, that Account Analysis comes from a man whose last name is Hammer — probably the most useful tool there is.

PICK YOUR POISON: If you need to dig even deeper on Twitter — say, tracking usage of specific tweets or an account’s performance over time — or track other social media sites, it’s time to employ another tool. How do you decide between the 150-plus social media management tools available? Not to get meta, but there’s a tool for that. The sensibly named Social Media Tools Comparison (honestly, I’m thankful for any tool without a name that sounds like kindergarten psychobabble) tracks the best social management options out there. It allows users to filter based on what they hope the tool will do and how many people on their team will be using it. Though it’s run by one of the listed companies — — and that tool seems to appear at the top of every search, the results otherwise seem fair.

LICENSE TO REGISTER: What’s a news site to do when Google implements a change to its browser — the one that more than half of all internetters use — that allows visitors to effectively block a paywall? If you’re The New York Times, The Washington Post or one of many other publishers out there, you put up an additional registration wall. The latest Chrome update includes a feature that disallows publishers from tracking users who are in Incognito Mode, thereby preventing websites from cutting people off after they’ve read a certain number of articles — a common ploy often referred to as a “porous paywall.” Although a registration requirement “inevitably increases attrition,” Esther Kezia Thorpe writes for What’s New In Publishing, “they have argued that drive-by readers who aren’t willing to register aren’t worth anything to the brand, whereas those who are willing to share information in exchange for an article are far more valuable.”

LIKE A FAUCET: At first, it doesn’t seem like too bad of a leak. Sure, it affects 419 million accounts, or 20% of Facebook’s total users, but it’s not like it involved passwords. Leaked information included user identification numbers and phone numbers, and in some cases a person’s name, gender and country. But think again. That’s information that scammers can use for phishing or cracking into other online accounts. And, as I wrote about just a few short weeks ago, a phone number can be used in a lot of malicious ways.

SPEAKING OF NUMBERS: Kids are going back to school and asking for help with algebra that their parents forgot long ago. Journalists are still joking that we don’t know how to do math. And Facebook is awash in another “solve this equation” meme. The solution: Photomath, an app that ingests equations and spits out answers. (h/t to my colleague Al Tompkins)

SMART CHARTS: Data visualization tools have evolved so much over the past decade that it often seems like they shriek comic book exclamations when they load on users’ screens. BOOM. BANG. KA-POW! But while they add a lot of visual interest to data, these graphic gluttons can muck up a site’s load times or worse, not display at all for users with slow internet connections. That’s why, sometimes, a static chart says it best. And there’s no reason a static chart can’t also be visually stunning, as National Geographic Magazine proved with its data-driven look at human migration over the past 50 years.

MUM BOTS: You won’t find me advocating for a lot of trendy mumbo jumbo in Try This! I’m interested in what’s working or what has clear potential to work (bonus points for ideas that are brazenly weird). That wasn’t always the case. A few years ago, I was convinced that chatbots would take over some of the more mundane duties of journalism. But now? As Justin Lee writes for the Startup: “Chatbots were the next big thing: What happened?” The answer is complicated, but worth considering when the next Next Big Thing comes around.


The Times and The Sunday Times worked with digital publishing company Twipe to build an artificial intelligence tool called JAMES. The hunky robot butler focuses on “getting audiences the right content, in the right format, at the right time.” Over a year, news subscribers who interacted with JAMES saw 49% less churn.

TikTok, the social app that The Kids and Washington Post love, has been sending some media companies a weekly newsletter of trending hashtags in an attempt to woo them into adopting the tool. As of press time, I cannot confirm whether “The Git Up” by Blanco Brown autoplays when said newsletter is opened.

Speaking of young people, they sometimes download news apps but they rarely spend time using them. A small but deep sample of youth news habits from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that the only news app that young people used extensively was … Reddit.

The joke goes something like this: “Thanks for fixing _____, Twitter, but what about removing the Nazis?” This time, we’re thanking Twitter for making it easier to find relevant accounts to follow.

Watch out, Tinder! Facebook Dating just launched in the U.S., making the creepy hunt for your matches’ personal details a heck of a lot less complicated.

Try This! is supported by the American Press Institute and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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Ren LaForme is the Managing Editor of He was previously Poynter's digital tools reporter, chronicling tools and technology for journalists, and a producer for…
Ren LaForme

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