Saturday, January 17, 2009

Twitter Revisited

A while back I discussed why I don't use Twitter. But despite my disclaimers, my curiosity about the service was unabated. Finally, after yet another friend asked for my Twitter ID, I decided to give it another try.

This time I made a concerted effort to use Twitter. By that I mean there is no driving need to use it, but it might provide benefits to my life and/or work. And there was no way to know without giving it a try.

I conscientiously used Twitter for two months. This took more effort than I would have liked. I had to remind myself to tweet. Occasionally it seemed like I was making things up to post (usually trivia about what I was doing -- cleaning the basement, making dinner, etc). But more often than not, there was something on my mind that seemed it might be remotely interesting to others. And at times I became quite voluble, as thinking and twittering became almost one and the same activity.

Let me just say Twitter is useless without friends -- and I have to thank a number of people, in particular Brian Halligan and John Tropea, for making my Twitter experience successful and enjoyable. In many ways, the two months flew by. They taught me a tremendous amount about what is interesting and what is not on Twitter.

For example, I discovered (as I had expected) that I do not like hearing the minutiae of people's personal lives: what pastry they are eating, how long they had to wait in line at the bank, what they are drinking, where they are drinking, how drunk they are, or who they are making out with while doing it.

On the other hand, it is quite exhilarating to see the breadth and depth of ideas people are pursuing within my fields of interest. A number of times I became engaged in conversations with fellow practitioners around the world re: the pros and cons of various KM concepts or methodologies, poetry, etc.

Finally, the open conversations in Twitter have introduced me to some surprising new members of a constantly expanding circle of friends and associates in the topics that interest me (and some I had not expected to pursue).

The world doesn't need yet another "why/how to use Twitter" blog entry. So I will refrain from that activity. (I think Mr. Tweet's 5 Stages of Twitter Acceptance is perhaps the best and most succinct of that species.) But I have noticed a few commonalities that I find interesting.

The most obvious is the personal/professional tweets dichotomy. There have been many posts arguing against flooding your twitter feed with too much personal trivia (even Tim O'Reilly mentions it as a cause for early pessimism about Twitter). However, this is not a black and white issue. For some people that is exactly what Twitter is for: a personal stage in an ever-expanding virtual social gathering. So it is a matter of personal opinion whether overtly private information is objectionable in tweets or not.

Also, it is not necessarily just a question of personal vs. professional. There were a number of times I found someone's professional tweets trite and almost intrusive. Too many "I'm at the office", "In a meeting with an important client", or "my PC is rebooting" type of tweets can be as uninteresting as what someone is having for lunch. So the personal/professional dichotomy might actually be more accurately a temporal/ideological split.

It is also not black and white because not all temporal tweets are annoying. In fact, I find that the people I am most interested in following tend to tweet a mix of ideas, actions, and questions. There are multiple layers: personal vs. professional, ideas vs. actions, statements vs. questions, theory vs. practice, proposal vs. proclamation... The twitterverse begins to look like one of those medical anatomy diagrams covered in transparencies -- each with its own brightly colored orgains, veins, muscles etc -- you uncover one at a time to understand the different ways in which the body works.

The twitter interface asks "What are you doing?" (It is the naive simplicity and flexibility of that question that imparts much of Twitter's power, allure, and mystery.) But that's not really the question. Just like someone asking "what's up?" at a party, the question is more of an opening for you to use as you see fit than a specific request. A party where everyone is listening and the conversations go on 24 hours a day.

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