A Year of Twitter

As we celebrate the 1st anniversary of the ETS Learning Design Summer Camp, I remember that I have another anniversary to celebrate – a year of Twitter. It was at a dinner last year that Robin2Go finally convinced me to give Twitter a spin.

One year later, I still have my account, but what do I think of it? I have to disappoint some people and admit that I still don’t LOVE it, but I have come to appreciate it. As with many media (including, I suspect, the phone), the initial user base managed to put up the the silliest of messages, and we all know Twitter was no exception. Quite frankly, with a restriction of 140 characters, I didn’t think it could ever evolve beyond the trivial.

But an amazingly short year proved me wrong. First it was a way for people to track the movement of tornadoes, then it became a way for a people to get out news of a government crackdown despite the shutdown of other media channels. Here in ETS it’s a great way for people to quickly pass on interesting articles and traffic alerts, and yes a little gossip.

So why don’t I love it? For the same reason I still don’t love the phone or mail – signal to noise ratio. There are ways to manage the ratio in other media, but I haven’t quite managed it yet here.

There’s another issue which I haven’t been sure if I should bring up, but maybe I will today. I think one reason people find Twitter and other forms “chatting” silly or annoying is that they may be observing a set of conversations that are “forced” upon them, yet cannot really participate in.

Consider something I think we all find annoying – overhearing someone on the cell phone. You may be forced to listen to intimate details of grocery lists, plans for the evening, or a review of last nights game you didn’t watch. Not only is it banal, but it disrupts whatever internal thought process you may prefer instead (reading, meditation, blogging…).

Twitter shouldn’t be the same, but what if it feels “mandatory”? Sure there are messages on Twitter that are relevant to me, but there are a lot of messages that aren’t so relevant about what people are planning, games they watched or places they are going to. Maybe people do feel a genuine sense of community, but it reminds me that … well I really am a dedicated introvert.

Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoy conversations over coffee and in the hall. But they only take up a small fraction of my day and generally with a much smaller pool of people. I actually am able to absorb what I hear and appreciate it so much more.

Am I saying you shouldn’t love Twitter? Not really. I think I’m saying that I wish I could filter out business Twitter from personal Twitter (like we can filter out personal e-mail from work e-mail). At that point I may really LOVE both sides of Twitter.

Postscript: Alternate Views (Jul 23)

Apparently I wasn’t the only one reflecting on the user of Twitter at this event. Here are some interesting posts from Jeff Swain (who likes the community aspect of Twitter) and TK Lee who reflects on his Twitter note taking in a blog. TK comments that “communication has its cost” – we need communication to learn more information, yet paradoxically it’s often a distraction to both produce and consume. I guess that’s why “poor communication” remains a perennial in many work environments.

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1 Response to A Year of Twitter

  1. I’m still working to find the right pattern with Twitter. A lot of what hits my personal twitter stream is generated by my blog or flickr space. I go in spurts where I have lots to say … but then drift off to a mere post every few days. I’m starting to wonder if we are cheating ourselves of more thoughtful reactions to events — lots of tweets, but few posts from ldsc09 … that is a real change from a few years ago. I wrote about it today at http://www.colecamplese.com/2009/07/ldsc09-reflections/ … really trying to figure this out.

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