Unless you’ve been living in a cave that is protected from wireless internet access, own a tin foil hat, wear that tin foil hat with the shiny side facing out, and haven’t been talking to the hermit living in the cave two down from yours, you have probably heard mention of Twitter.
My friend Dave first mentioned Twitter about two years back. On the surface, Twitter seems like a remarkably useless service. “It’s basically like having nothing but Facebook status updates, all the time, and you follow a whole bunch of people and stay updated with them via those”.
This is the most common description that I’ve heard, and it’s a reasonably accurate one. However, one of my projects before school was to start using Twitter myself, and see what it meant to me and my own set of use cases.
The main reason I had set this as a goal to accomplish was because the more I have heard about Twitter, the less it sounded like something that I could effectively evaluate from the outside. Sometimes you simply need to immerse yourself in something in order to get a feel for whether or not it presents a piece of technology that could benefit you. This is often the case for technology, as it often enables you to do something you had previously not even realized would be of value to you. Since, up until this point, I never had the capability to broadcast a message to a large number of friends instantaneously, it would be very difficult for me to objectively evaluate whether or not being able to do so would provide any tangible benefit. How could I know for sure if I’d never had that capability in the past?
One of the things that I took away from Clay Shirky’s book, Here Comes Everybody (a recommended read) was that as people tend to age, we typically lose our ability to jump on board something new, oftentimes making the determination that it is a fad and a waste of time without ever giving ourself the time to really evaluate it. By the time it’s caught on in a big way and we realize that we need to learn this thing to get by in the modern world, we are considerably far behind and have a significant amount of catching up to do.
Although it is inevitable that as we age, we lose our agility and ability to adapt as quickly as we once did, I believe that I can take steps to minimize the scale and speed at which this happens to myself. One of the ways for me to slow this inevitability is to do things like set aside time to evaluate new pieces of technology.
An important thing to mention is that I am not suggesting the choices are binary, and that you can either adapt and start using Twitter, or not adapat and become extinct. However, by taking the time to actually evaluate a new piece of technology like this, I can determine whether or not it is something that I will actually find use for in the future (in which case it is worth my time getting to know it now).
This project was a fairly small one. My goals were to create a Twitter account and use it over the course of the next week. I didn’t have any stipulations as to how I used Twitter, just that I actually make use of it in some capacity – even if that meant updating about something as meaningless as eating dinner at Boston Pizza. While some people would deem this a waste of time, I think that part of immersing myself in something like Twitter means that I don’t set boundaries for how I use it. The real point is just that I use it. Legitimate use cases may grow out of that usage organically and serendipitously over time. If they don’t, then I’m no worse off than I began, except perhaps for the two hours of time that this project cost me (and investing two hours of time now, to determine if this is something that may have legs later on, seems like a pretty good deal to me).
So, how did things go? Well, they went about as you would expect. My tasks were:
- Talk to Davin about Twitter
- Search Lifehacker for any resources related to Twitter
- Sign up for a Twitter account
- Find some people to follow
- Use Twitter (tweet) for a week
I wanted to talk to Davin about Twitter because he has been using the service for a while as part of his role as the main blogger for the GDC (The Graphic Designers of Canada, or something like that – Davin, please correct me if I got that wrong). As he is using the service in a semi-professional capacity, I was pretty sure that he would have some good insights.
In fact, his insights were much like everything else I’ve tried to track down on Twitter. He told me about how it affects him on a daily basis, but not really what it provides him in terms of real benefits or use cases. This wasn’t his fault, but it did confirm to me that I really need to try this out to determine if it’s something worth my time.
For things like Twitter, I often check in with Lifehacker to see if they have put together any tutorials or posts related to the application. Lifehacker’s goals, direction and thrust align very closely with my own, and so they provide an excellent proxy through which I can glimpse hidden opportunities that may be relevant to my own process. Lifehacker had a few decent articles, but the main benefit I took away from them was a number of people to follow once I’d signed up.
Following someone on Twitter is basically like adding them to your friendfeed in Facebook – whenever they make an update, it shows up on your main screen and you can see what they have to say. The real point of using Twitter is to follow a number of people that will expose you to new ideas, links, etc., in line with the kind of content that you want to see. Once I’d signed up for my account, I searched for and added as many of my friends that I could find, and a large number of people that are involved in GTD.
So the last step was just to get out there and actually use Twitter. This isn’t very complicated, and was certainly made easier by installing an application called Tweetdeck on my iPhone. This allows me to get a complete view of all of the tweets from people that I’m following, and allows me to tweet quickly from my phone. You can also use SMS to send and receive tweets, which operates in much the same manner.
Twitter is kind of a funny social space. Unlike Facebook where you maintain a tight rein on who you are friends with, and what those people can see, Twitter operates on a pretty open forum kind of mentality. Random people I had never heard of have started following me, usually because I’ve either re-tweeted something that someone else they follow has said (essentially just repeating what someone else has already tweeted), or because I happened to mention a topic that they are following or have a passing fancy in.
Initially I would get an e-mail letting me know that someone had started following me, and I would look them up trying to figure out who the heck these people were and why they were interested in what I had to say. But I quickly got over that and realized that:
- They’re not really that interested in what I have to say
- It’s just part of the Twitter experience
Once you see that most people are following upwards of a thousand people, you realize that it’s just the way things are done in this social sphere.
Despite the way it sounds on the surface, Twitter obviously presents a number of valuable use cases, because it’s user base is quite large, and it has been put to use in some very diverse, very powerful situations. The election protests in Iran, and the Olympic demonst
rations/protests in China were both made possible in part due to Twitter’s ability to enable people to communicate quickly and effectively to a large number of people in a very short amount of time.
I don’t feel that a week has been long enough for me to effectively evaluate where Twitter sits in my existing set of use cases, nor whether or not it will fill a niche that exists somewhere between Google Reader and Facebook.
Some of my goals in using social media such as Facebook and Google Reader are to publish and increase the exposure that people have to skepticism, critical thinking, and scientific attitudes about the many junk claims that exist – this goal can really be summarized as an attempt to increase the education that people have, quixotic as the goal itself may be. I’m also obviously hoping to increase exposure and interest in the things that matter to me – I would love to see Popping and the other urban styles I’m into gain a greater foothold here on the island. In addition to those things, I want to provide content that people find interesting and engaging, and at the very top of the pyramid, I want to establish myself as an interesting person, and an expert in the things that I choose to pursue, be they professional (law, project management, productivity coaching), or leisure (squash, dancing, etc.).
For Twitter to have continual value to me, I would anticipate that there be specific items that I would publish or comment on in Twitter, but not Facebook or Google Reader, and likewise, I would anticipate there being items that I publish in those mediums, but not on Twitter. So far, most of what I have published on Twitter has been redundantly published on one of those other two sites, and so a distinct value exclusive to Twitter has not yet emerged. Time will tell if there is new value that arises from this service, or if it becomes a passing fad that I leave off to do its own thing.
Next up is my second week of journals related to my experiment with biphasic sleep. I will publish this tomorrow. Worth noting is that this past weekend I went away to Hornby with Bay, Ben, and Ashley. Although I had originally intended to maintain a biphasic sleeping habit, I quickly determined that this would be obnoxious to our hosts, potentially waking them up at ungodly hours, and disrupting our plans in order to allow myself 90 minute naps in the afternoon. Stay tuned for more details.