“I’m finding that social media is so much easier to ‘do’ than to explain.”
- Twitter: @ittybitties
This is a quote from a college student in one of Brad King‘s (@brad_king) Media Informatics courses at Northern Kentucky University (just outside of Cincinnati – my own home town). And this is the first thing I thought about when I started working on a post about the conversation I’m sick of having: “Why should I use Twitter, and how would using Twitter help me?” I have three problems in trying to engage in this conversation effectively…
The first problem is that Twitter is fascinating its skeptics and driving huge amounts of conversation about how much people hate it – both on the interwebs and in face-to-face interactions. Anything that drives naysayers to be naysayers, rather than just to ignore what they don’t like, clearly has some kind of appeal to it. Whether it’s Britney Spears, Radiohead, bubble tea, Pinkberry, or any other celebrity or attention-grabbing piece of popular culture, there has to be some kind of magnetism to stir up the naysaing to begin with.
The second problem is that I’m kind of a dork for semantics and logic. So when a friend’s wife turned to me at dinner the other day and said “So why should I be using Twitter?” my response, and the correct response, was to say “That’s something for you to answer.” A mite snarky… sure, but this was just the straw that broke the milkshake‘s back after a long string of conversations where people who didn’t ‘get’ Twitter approached me, effectively with a challenge to either defend my usage or convert them. F. That.
The third problem is that what I want to say, and the reason Twitter is a valuable service… well I don’t know how to do it in one paragraph… let alone 140 characters.
Look. I don’t care if you use Twitter or not. Just like I don’t care if you use email, a cell phone, or write your thank-you notes by hand (though I still do because my Mom cares a great great deal). However, whatever you do or don’t do affects how I’m able to interact with you, and more importantly it affects how you can interact with your world.
Just like horses, trains, phones, cars, planes, and email, Twitter is just the latest in a string of advances to help us extend the boundaries of the world with which we can interact. Domesticated horses (and camels depending on your geography) drastically extended the speed at which information traveled, and the distances those ideas could easily reach. All of a sudden a day trip was extended from 5 miles away to a distance 15 or 20 miles away. Conversations, relationships, and exchange of information (and war, but lets not dwell on that too much for the purposes of this post) were extended further by multiples as the areas of different populations’ interactional reach expanded and overlapped to greater and greater extents.
Email and the recent proliferation of mobile phones into third world countries has effectively expanded this reach to the entire world, on two conditions: 1) As long as the person you’re trying to contact is connected to the network, and 2) As long as you know the phone number or email address of the person or place you are trying to contact.
What’s great about Twitter is that all of this conversation takes place in the public cloud, so the exchange of information is extended beyond the people you know how to contact intentionally, and it now potentially includes anyone in the network who happens to be talking about what you are interested in.
Managing Your Very Own Tragedy of the Commons
Last Thursday (2/5/2009) was the second Global Strategies Social Media Brunch with guest speaker Brian Carter. There was a great discussion about Twitter and our social lives. One attendee made the comment that he felt like Twitter wasn’t useful to him as anything but entertainment because he couldn’t cut through the noise enough to make it an effective tool. He likened it to the tragedy of the commons.
Yeah, I get it, but it’s not analogous, and the point I made at the GSIsmb was that you get to design the borders of your commons and literally be your own gatekeeper. In reference to a village commons, or the commons as a metaphor for a discrete resource, it is just that – discrete, and measurable and definable. However, in Twitter the resource is dynamic. You control the flow of information into your commons by intelligently choosing who you want to Follow on Twitter, and you control the flow of information out of the commons to the Twitterverse at large by intelligently deciding what is worth messaging.
It all goes back to GIGO. And this is no different from the rest of your life. If you seed the clouds of your interpersonal relationships with crap, you’re going to end up walking through a sh!tst@rm. If your output into your community is positive, people will return more valuable results back to you.
The management of your commons relies on Following only those individuals who are sending out messages that (for the most part) are of interest to you, but it also relies on sending out messages that encourage people who might be valuable to you to join in your conversations. Posting that “you’re bored” is not interesting. It is boring.
However, if you do manage to attract a group of followers that 1) read your tweets, 2) are willing to respond to them, and 3) have interesting and valuable things to say in response, then this network has become another social resource to you – just like your book club, just like your coworkers, just like your friends, just like your networking meetups, just like your newspapers, and just like a Google search through the internet itself. But your Twitter community and your personal commons must be tended to, just like all of these other social groups.
If someone you Follow begins to annoy you, then Remove them from your Follow list. If you are not satisfied with the value of resources of the people that are following you, then either:
1) Attract more valuable followers by presenting more value of your own through your messaging
2) Get your friends whom you already trust and use as resources onto Twitter so that you can access them through this medium as well
3) Stop using Twitter. Maybe it isn’t for you afterall… though eventually, when a certain threshold of your friends have started Tweeting, or you figure out how to manage your commons, you might change your mind.
Real Time Capable Interactive Social Search
Of course if you’re looking for in-depth help or information about complex issues you will not receive 140 character tweets that contain complete dissertations or conclusions about the topics you are interested in, but if you are interested in finding out about a subject, then the Tweets can serve as trailheads. They often link to more substantial articles or point you in a direction to make your research much more efficient, like an interactive social search engine that can cover real time Q&A without the limitations of brand new information needing to be indexed by the search engines before it can be returned to the searcher. In breaking news situations – local or international in scale – the value of this feature cannot be overstated.
And this is valuable no matter who you are:
- Mother of two interested in organic and local products in your area
- Professional web developer looking for a community to quickly ask questions to
- Anyone interested in keeping on top of trends or news feeds on almost any topic (tech, econ, politics, news, recipes…)
So… the conversation to have, in my opinion, isn’t “Why should I use Twitter, and how would using Twitter help me,” it’s simply, “Can you be bothered enough to put some good stuff in so that you can get some good stuff out?”
How to do that… well… that’s a whole ‘nother ball of kittens.