May 19, 2009
Mindcasting: defining the form, spreading the meme

A method I endorse is to understand things by participating in them. By doing your own thing, you learn the difference between possible actions (what you can do with the system) and likely behavior: what most people will tend to do when that system is switched on for them. Forget this difference and you foreclose on your invention.

I started about a year ago in my project to understand Twitter by being on it.  I wanted to know what it could be used for by citizens of the Web seeking knowledge for any reason.  As a writer I wanted to make it work for me and my interrelated schemes. (Which is the approach I have with Tumblr, too.  And Friend Feed.)

Taking @jayrosen_nyu for my ID on Twitter brought the social graph of the university and its requirements into play.  Constraints create the “field” in which a style can emerge upon a practice.  The name I’ve given to the posting style I favor is mindcasting. These notes are in further definition of the form, which is also a meme that is incompletely spread.

But it has spread, as I will try to show. And I am trying to spread it now, by posting this compendium.

Notes 1-16

1. Home page of my Twitter feed. “I don’t do lifecasting but mindcasting on Twitter.”

2. David Sarno, technology reporter for the Los Angeles Times: On Twitter, mindcasting is the new lifecasting (March 11, 2009)

Twitter, the micro-messaging service where users broadcast short thoughts to one another, has been widely labeled the newest form of digital narcissism. And if it’s not self-obsession tweeters are accused of, it’s self-promotion, solipsism or flat out frivolousness.

But naysayers will soon eat their tweets. There’s already a vibrant community of Twitter users who are using the system to share and filter the hyper-glut of online information with ingenious efficiency. Forget what you had for breakfast or how much you hate Mondays. That’s just lifecasting.

Mindcasting is where it’s at…

“Mindcasting came about when I was trying to achieve a very high signal-to noise-ratio,” he explained. This meant using his Twitter account to send out tweets pointing to the best media news and analysis he could find, 15 or 20 times a day. “I could work on the concept of a Twitter feed as an editorial product of my own.”

As Rosen noted, that product is itself a distillation of the huge stream of input he gets from the nearly 550 journalists, analysts and news outlets he follows on Twitter. “I’ve hand-built my own tipster network,” he said. “It’s editing the Web for me in real time.”

Also said to be practicing the mindcasting style: Tim O’Reilly. (Who later responds on Twitter: “I only wish I was as disciplined as to use the process [he] outlines in #3.”)

3. From Digital Media Buzz, Mindcasting: the New Blue Ocean:

The act of building an editorial presence in Twitter by filtering, processing and structuring the flow of information that moves through the medium using one’s follow list, journalistic sensibilities and individual right to publish updates.

  • Account title to the discretion of the owner
  • Follow list used as an editorial filter
  • Three content layers: established, daily and one-off themes that interact dialectically
  • Posts, done 15-20 times per day at different intervals
  • Professionally written tone
  • Direct interaction with audience/readership
  • Liberal, sensible use of hyperlinks
  • Fully articulated thoughts
  • No retweets (instead use the via @GrammarGirl convention for crediting the source, then reword the post to sharpen, comment or otherwise add personal value. — JR)

4. New method: (Twitter, April 4th, 2009) Slow blogging at PressThink, daily mindcasting at Twitter, work room at FriendFeed. Example: post in gestation.

5. Mindcasting: Field Notes

√ Demo for a breaking news approach: Example of trying to be first for followers, with new facts and perspectives on a story. Which are then—if it works—spread by followers.  (The story: “Seems Maureen Dowd plagiarized from TPM’s Josh Marshall. Wonder what the explanation could be.”)

√ Demo of a Tweet that uses 140 characters but it’s constructed for easy re-tweeting via the chopping method.

√ Demo: professional press watcher’s hand-built tipster network and alert system.

√ Demo: live bug catching in an AP report about a Twitter-based TV show.

6. Twitter is blogging adapted to the live web. (Read Doc Searls on the distinction, live vs. the static web.) PressThink, begun in 2003, is the site I use for long-form blogging: feature posts typically run 2,500 words with dozens of links, plus an After Matter section that curates reactions and adds related material. Each feature attempts to be definitive in some way; they succeed in search when done right.

The research question was: can ‘casting on a theme over an interval in editorial time—a month, say—drive the production of an standout long-form blog post on that theme, in that time? (The month.)  Here’s the demo I did to test the idea: links were proven effective on Twitter, then woven into a round-up post on a big debate going on now. The final product saves the user time and meets other ends the university has. It is J-school on the extension model.

PressThink, Rosen’s Flying Seminar In The Future of News (March 29, 2009)

The pace quickened after Clay Shirky’s Thinking the Unthinkable. Here’s my best-of from a month of deep think as people came to terms with the collapse of the newspaper model, and tried looking ahead. I know these twelve links work. I tested them on Twitter.

As the crisis in newspaper journalism grinds on, people watching it are trying to explain how we got here, and what we’re losing as part of the newspaper economy crashes. Some are trying to imagine a new news system. I try to follow this action, and have been sending around the best of these pieces via my Twitter feed. It’s part of my experiment in mindcasting…

We like to test our work: did the flying seminar take off? Google search for “the future of news.”

Also: by using Twitter as a simple notification system I can drive as many users to my new blog posts as I used to get by wrangling links from other bloggers and aggregators. This is because the people who follow me have selected for what I ‘cast about, as you can see here.

7. It’s true that mindcasting is a pretentious term. People have always told me that certain things I do are pretentious. Every occupation has its hazards, right? What saves mindcasting from being totally so is that it’s an alternative to an even more pretentious notion: lifecasting. Still, I have no quarrel with lifecasting; I just don’t do it, myself. Twitter’s architected question, “what are you doing?” got crossed out, in favor of: “what are you thinking? ” and (via Chris Brogan) “what has your attention?”

8. Sean Carroll at Discover magazine’s Cosmic Variance group blog.

The biggest substantive complaint is that we have become a society of over-sharers, and one simply doesn’t want to be continually updated about what people had for dinner. Again: fine! Just don’t subscribe to Newt Gingrich’s feed. But the claim that Twitter is nothing but mindless inanities is just as wrong as the analogous claim for blogs — in fact it’s precisely the same claim, five years later. There are other things you can do with the technology — the technical terms are “lifecasting” [here’s what I had for dinner] vs. “mindcasting” [here’s a thought, a question, an observation, a link to something more substantial]. And if someone else really does want to know what their friends are having for dinner, why should you be so bothered?

9. Wordspy (“the word lover’s guide to new words…”) has an entry on mindcasting.

pp. Posting a series of messages that reflect one’s current thoughts, ideas, passions, observations, readings, and other intellectual interests.
mindcast v., n.
mindcaster n.

10. A Blog Around the Clock: New Journalistic Workflow (April 5, 2009)

Step 1 is mindcasting on Twitter (often misunderstood for time-wasting lifecasting, e.g., this)

Step 2 is aggregation of a number of imported tweets and digestion of them on FriendFeed

Step 3 is aggregation of several FF threads into a more coherent blog post.

The next step, Step 4, could potentially be to aggregate the ideas and knowledge from several blog posts and publish as an article in the traditional media outlets.

I can think of even Step 5 - aggregating a number of media articles into a book.

11. Mindcasting has metrics. Of course it does. See “These are the 40 most recent links I’ve pushed through Twitter, ranked by the number of times they’ve been clicked.”  (You’ll see that “Seems Maureen Dowd plagiarized from TPM’s Josh Marshall” did very well.) is a Twitter application in the development phase, created by media hacker Dave Winer, author of Scripting News, godfather of RSS. We discussed it in this 45 min podcast, part of a series we do called Re-booting the News. The top 40 list is a tool “of” mindcasting. It teaches me about what I am doing. What works with the crowd I am doing it for. (Currently around 21,000 people.)

12. Christopher Geidner at Law Dork, 2.0

As I deal with figuring out what Twitter means for my blogging, I’m trying to post much of the “quick links” and pithy (or not) thoughts (what Rosen calls “mindcasting”) at Twitter while reserving the blog for longer, more developed posts.  In other words, if you like Law Dork, I’d encourage you to follow chrisgeidner @ Twitter.

13. New York Magazine’s Twitter approval matrix.  Graphs Twiiter users on two dimensions: “insightful” to “insipid” on the vertical, lifecasting to mindcasting on the horizontal.  Meme spread high point. Caused Twitter to put me on the suggested users list on April 29, 2009.  The next day I requested that they take me off the list, for reasons explained in the first 15 minutes of this podcast with Dave Winer.

14. Stowe Boyd, Word of the Moment: Mindcasting (March 15, 2009)

We’ll have to see if the subtle shading of mindcasting really catches hold. I am betting no, although I appreciate the nuance.

I favor streaming as the core verb for all these activities, anyway. Casting is too strongly related to broadcast, which is strange, considering Jay is the guy who coined the term “the people formerly known as the audience.”

15. Comment I left at Mindcasting: the New Blue Ocean.

I’d like to add one component to your list of key features in mindcasting as currently practiced…

  • Liberal, sensible use of hyperlinks
  • Fully articulated thoughts
  • No retweets


  • Complete freedom of speech

16. Julian Dibbell, Is a Tweet the New Size of a Thought? (

It may begin as just a seed of an idea — a thought about the future of online media, say — tossed out into the germinating medium of the twitterverse, passed along from one Twitter feed to another, critiqued or praised, reshaped and edited, then handed back for fleshing out on a blog, first, and then, perhaps, in a book. It’s not that tweet-size sparks of insight haven’t always been part of the media ecosystem, in other words. It’s just that Twitter now has given them a vastly more exciting social life.

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