Some thoughts on Twitter

I started to play with Twitter in late July. My first few posts were answers to the Twitter question (“what are you doing?”) and they were incredibly dull. It didn’t take me long to give up on Twitter — I hadn’t found the secret sauce.

But I didn’t quite give up (probably because I had a bookmark on my iPhone, and I kept seeing the site when I hit that browser window). I started playing with Facebook, too, and saw some of my friends there add a Twitter app to their pages. I even sent a couple of @replies to friends, but it was all one-way broadcasting on my part.

And there was one other use I had for Twitter: Remember the Milk, an online to-do list which I’ve also been toying with as part of my Getting Things Done efforts. RTM featured a Twitter interface, so I could easily add a task to my list by sending it a direct message from my phone — and since I had 200 messages a month, whether I needed them or not, it seemed like a win to me.

Early in December, I started noticing (and following) more and more IBM friends on Twitter, and then I had a conversation with Sacha Chua, one of the people I mentor at work. She convinced me to give Twitter a more serious try, so one evening, I started looking at replies to people I was following and inserted myself into a conversation or two.

It didn’t hurt a bit. And I found myself conversing with Industry Names like Ed Yourdon and pundits like Michael Krigsman. Not necessarily about industry topics, either. It’s amazing how much can fit into 140 characters — the sidebands are amazing!

And then on Boxing Day night, I was stuck in a crafts store while Diane was shopping, so I sat down with my iPhone and turned to Twitter. There was a discussion of painkillers happening, and somehow it swam into my ken (probably indirected through Robert Scoble). I didn’t actually have anything to add, but it did remind me that I had a big bottle of expired aspirin to dispose of, so I tweeted a question. And I got an answer (which I still haven’t acted on).

But I also got drawn into the general conversation (hey, I was bored!), and by the time Diane was finished (and it wasn’t that long), I was following a bunch of people I hadn’t known existed 30 minutes before. And they were discussing serious topics like Susan Reynolds‘s cancer (hence the painkillers) and silly topics (too numerous to mention).

And I’ve been wandering around those discussions and increasing my circle of contacts for the last week.

Is Twitter a substitute for face-to-face contact? No, definitely not (especially when the avatars change for special events like Frozen Pea Friday, or @newmediajim’s birthday), but it’s a good way to meet people you wouldn’t encounter in a more focused environment. And if you happen to find you have something in common, you can chat with them and even choose to follow one another’s tweets. (And there’s the secret sauce!)

I wouldn’t use Twitter for mission-critical communications — there are clearly scaling limits, both technological and human — but it’s a useful tool to have in the toolkit, and it’s fun! And if it weren’t fun, it’d be a lot less useful. What could be more boring than reading streams of 140-character messages from total strangers?

3 thoughts on “Some thoughts on Twitter”

  1. David, I think it’s the combination of the silly and the serious that make Twitter so real and so valuable. Glad you got bored enough to give Twitter another try. And remind me not to play Hearts with you. :)

  2. I’ve been toying with twitter as a sort of web version of a disconnected service machine. In theory that’s something one could do/have done with various instant messaging services, but twitter (or the twitter model) combines multiple message paths with a nice basic API and low barrier to entry / experimentation.

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