Micro-blogging: knowledge in the cloud

What makes some of us spend an inordinate amount of time checking and re-checking Twitter updates, composing tweets, mounting searches for hashtagged acronyms or keywords, or exploring long lists of @-symbol preceded usernames? Why do we carefully watch our follower to followee ratio and look disdainfully upon those who do not follow us back (might even consider to remove them swiftly.) Why do we proudly acknowledge if one of our brainy tweets got RT’d or better yet, retweeted multiple times by multiple followers? What motivates us? Motivation is associated with some kind of reward. This reward could be monetary but for the average tweep that is not it. Is it somehow connected to our ego? Hm, very possible.

Recognition, even mere acknowledgement of our existence in the twittverse, social standing as validated by @Replies and retweets motivate us to keep micro-blogging. But there must be s.th. else. There must be another value we feel we get out of this high investment of time. The answer might be information or even knowledge. Knowledge that others possess, explicitly and tacitly. Knowledge that we now have access to via our tweet feed, the search functionality, our followers’ followers and the tweeps that they follow.

A giant repository of unstructured data, information, and knowledge coded in 140-character long bursts of self important wisdom.  Wisdom speckled with links providing free-fall elevator shafts into the black hole of more of the same, not seldomly the tweeter’s own musings on whatever he or she feels qualified to talk about. But hold it – there is more to this than the mere display of exhibitionistic ego manifestation coupled with voyeuristic exploitation of others’ coveted follower lists.

I truly believe in the immense value of tappable, filterable, searchable, minable, collective knowledge. The wisdom of the crowd in palpable chunks and never before available proximity and immediacy offering itself to me in all of its glory. Who am I to deny? Well, I am not! I take this offering with open arms and worry not about the potentiality of time wasted.

Personally, I (@Konstanze) connect with ppl, follow promising links, find specific information about an upcoming conference in a distant city, raid s.o.’s followers list, dispense droplets of my life, pour pinches of my quirks, reveal small doses of me, pose questions in the hope to get at least one answer, and I look for information I simply cannot find elsewhere.  The result? Unpredictably satisfying. But, more than anything right now, this incredible phenomenon offers itself to me for rhetorical study.

What is it for you? Why do you tweet?


44 thoughts on “Micro-blogging: knowledge in the cloud”

  1. Why do I tweet? That’s a good question with many answers: I tweet out to keep up with family: What time is dinner? Who’s bringing what? What are absent brothers missing? I tweet back to family, too: remind the nieces and nephew that I love ’em, answer questions, whatever they need.

    Outside of family, I have recently been tweeting urls of interesting news stories. This replaces commentary, which generated a comment from a family member (a smart one, at that) that Twitter isn’t for big words. So much for just being myself, and I fall back to roles.

    Previously, I tweeted to let the world (or my small part of it, anyway) know that I was okay when I was travelling and otherwise had a difficult time getting word out.

    Oh ya–I occasionally use Twitter to bitch or send out a private joke. Also, 140 characters is just enough to reveal something about my personal life–titillating without being revelatory.

    Important (to me, anyway) is that I don’t use Twitter for work–no followers or -ees from my college.

  2. This is a great post. I tweet for work as @statesman, but before I started there, I tweeted on my own account (@robquig). I wasn’t expecting to use Twitter for work. I use my personal account much like I did when I first started: to learn … and to share. I personally get more use out of Twitter from the people I follow than from anything I can say. I follow a great range of people, from my wife, to close friends to people I only know through their little avatar. I of course follow several media professions (from whom I learn a great deal), but I also follow programmers, professional sports figures, musicians, artists, accountants and scientists. And I find more interesting people to follow nearly every day. I never really caught on to Facebook. It just asks too much, IMO – upload pics, play games, join causes, support causes, etc. etc. Twitter just lets me peek into interesting people’s lives. It’s a little voyeuristic, but they let me in, so I guess it’s OK.

    What makes Twitter truly great, though, is the interaction. I’ve met a lot of people through Twitter. Several of whom I can call friends now. It has expanded my circle outside of the newsroom (which is sometimes hard to do). Also, I can ask these interesting people just about anything and get a lot of thoughtful responses.

    That’s why I tweet.

  3. Quite honestly, I don’t use Twitter. While some people seem to enjoy it, I find it to be just one more thing to think about. As a person who teaches online, I already find myself overwhelmed at times. I do use Yahoo IM a lot, and have forged some good friendships there. I hope I am getting at what you want. As you know, there is a lot online, and I use what seems easy to access (and I got Yahoo first, so that is what works for me).

  4. Strangely, Twitter has become such a common part of my day, I no longer think much about it. It’s like smoking (for a smoker); I do not question it… I just do it. I feel the need for it every few hours, it feels good, and after a few minute I am satiated and I go back to work.

    So, why do I really tweet? There are different reasons. One of the most prominent, albeit less meaningful, is that I am interested to see what my actual friends (as opposed to new buddies known only on Twitter, although the latter can later become the former) have to say about their own lives, observations, whatever. There are some people I follow that I might be less interested in their personal lives and am HOPING for some real insight/knowledge. Other followings are purely about events.

    But it is difficult to give a single reason for why I tweet. It is like asking why you associate with “this” person. In the physical realm (:-) Non-Twitter), I associate with different people frequently. Not everyone on twitter is really a “friend,” although he/she could become one. Some are acquaintances; some people you do not know at all. The relationships vary, but can likely be grouped into a few categories of purposes

    I too am a lover of knowledge, an input junkie. However, I think you’re putting more faith in why people tweet and what content they put out there than really exists. This is to say that I certainly acknowledge the exhibitionist/voyeur aspect to it, as well as the ego and the need to achieve some type of status and acknowledgment. However, I’d say tht little of what I gain through twitter would I deem “knowledge.”

    The fact that this morning I did not know that there was a football game on or that the Cardinals and the Eagles were playing, and because of Twitter and those I follow I now do have this information, I do not consider to be gaining “knowledge.” Perhaps we are debating semantics and the use of “knowledge,” as opposed to “information” or something else. However, the knowledge gained from that example is that my tweet buddies are really into football. This is “information” I did not have before and data that means something to me and that I can do something with … it is something that has some effect on me. I just read a tweet that the Cardinals are going to the Superbowl. That is only “knowledge” in the fact that I know it now. However, it holds no bearing on my life, I have no emotions over the matter, and I do not feel a better or changed person for knowing that. In this way, I feel it is more “information” than it is meaningful knowledge

    Here is something else you might want to consider. Why DID you tweet originally, and why do you do it now? This of course requires the question of what is different about both how and why you use it. I think the collection of followers/followees suggest a certain status. However, at a certain point that number becomes cumbersome, unwieldy, and one cannot possibly manage all the tweets. This situation is annoying. So, one begins using tweet-management tools, dropping people, ignoring tweets, and all of the above. It is at this point that we come back to Why we tweet. The reasons are different for different people, and which ever followers you allow to remain on your list or that you filter through to you likely are tied to the main reason you use Twitter.

  5. Hi Konnie. I have not used Twitter–I intend to–just haven’t made time. If I Twitter and blog, it will be for a specific goal, that is, to support my teaching or my research. I feel as if all the technologies that support online dialog soak up too much of my time, so I use them when I have a specific purpose for doing so. I use email, im (yahoo and mslive), skype, AET Zone (Appalachian’s virtual world), and (occasionally) facebook. It’s easy to get started on communication through these technologies and realize half my day has passed if I’m not careful.

  6. Howdy, Konnie!

    Nice post. I like that it’s long–very non-tweetish–but most of the sentences are quite short–very tweetish. Whether you intended it or not, you’ve composed a text which has physical traits raising the same the questions you yourself have raised. Or maybe ALL texts are both long and short: the symbols make up the words which make up the sentences which make up the paragraphs which make up chapters. . .the fact that Twitter uses only the first two parts of this chain d’etre (if I may be so bold) may be its only unique trait, physically speaking.

    But I don’t tweet, so I’m not sure I get it. That may be the heart of your question: who tweets and who doesn’t, and is there a way of quantifying that difference? I do IM, but only with a handful of people I know from f2f visits. Email, though–I exchange email with loads of people I’ve never seen and likely will never see. So am I old-fashioned (only forming writing relationships with those I’ve met in person) or am I slow to adopt new writing technologies (doesn’t seem likely–but maybe I don’t know myself) or what? What’s my deal?

    If there’s a “deal” to be identified, then maybe you’ll be the next ruler of the world.

    I do use Facebook, but honestly, I only really do it for professional reasons. I do keep in contact with a few friends that way, but most of my FB contacts are people who share my own professional interests; in other words, about 90 percent of my FB friends can be found on professional email lists to which I subscribe.

    In terms of socially-constructed knowledge, Twitter may be the latest and most recognizable incarnation of that urge to believe as the group believes. Love it, dude.

  7. I tweet, therefore I am!

    No, seriously. Good question. I tweet because it feels good to connect with other people, some of whom I am friends with or know a little bit already as well as many I don’t know well or at all. Twitter makes me feel like I’m part of a community, of sorts, and I have also tried to build little Twitter tools to help bring people together, like @AusTwits. I follow folks from whom I think I can learn something valuable, and eveyr day I’m rewarded with a plethora of wisdom. Every day I try to find some little bit of wisdom of my own to share on Twitter. That is why I Twitter. Thanks for asking!

  8. Hey Konnie,

    I still don’t user Twitter yet. However, I do find value in the similar status update feature of Facebook. For me, my FB “friends” are almost exclusively non-work related relationships. I just check up on my friends occasionally. I get tremendous personal value from quick visibility to what everyone is up to in my network — information that would have taken me a long time to know otherwise.

    Likewise, I do status updates, because I feel that my friends would appreciate hearing what is going on in my life, when convenient for them to look, without the need for email or phone calls.


  9. I HATE Twitter. Most of the messages are hipster philosophizing or just inane status updates. It is intrusive to my day, and I think it has spawned a certain rudeness or lack of public etiquette in terms of people getting Twitter messages (and checking them) throughout meals. Ugh.

  10. I tweet because I want to be informed. Knowing what my friends are doing makes me feel closer to them, especially my bff peeps in other countries that I haven’t seen in years. It also just makes me feel good to know what people are doing, thinking, and feeling.

  11. The only time I’ve really used Twitter was on election night, but I am planning to use it in my classes as an exercise to eliminate wordy constructions.

  12. Why do I tweet? Well I’ve given this a lot of thought. I tweet because of the immense need I have to connect with others. I thrive on the knowledge and perspective I acquire from people I follow. In addition, I fulfill my need to connect and be heard or understood. The dynamic of give and take enriches my life in more ways than I ever thought possible when I first began exploring Twitter. I’ve expanded my professional network as well as my personal network. I’ve cemented already-existing relationships. I’ve grown my own personal brand. I’ve learned many new things – both in the professional realm as well as the personal development realm. I’ve broadened my perceptions of other cultures and points of view. I’ve grown to feel part of a community, which is a natural human drive. It’s been so much more than IM or a blog for me – it’s become a collective conscious – one of which I feel honored to be a part.

  13. Great post Konstanze!

    First and foremost, Twitter is a socializing tool that I use to keep abreast with all the local happenings and meet ups. For me, it’s easier to have Twitterific or TweetDeck running in the background than to log on to Facebook or chat to see what someone is up to.

    Second, I use it in conjunction with Google Reader and Facebook to share any interesting links I’ve come across, and see what other interesting links Tweeps are tweeting about. 🙂

    Last but not least, it’s a networking tool that I like to keep in my back pocket if the need ever arises to get in contact with someone, or have someone get in contact with me. The day will come when I actually use Twitter assist in my freelancing endeavors, but that’s something I’m not rushing.

    Honestly, I wasn’t sold on Twitter at first and I really think your experience is what you make of it. I only had a few people I followed at first and still do so to a certain extent, but it’s been a learning process and there have been times when I have really hated Twitter and other times (like now) that I have really enjoy using it. 🙂

  14. Why do I tweet? Well I hate to use the standard answer, but it is really about being part of a community. The community of people that I share thoughts with on twitter is one that tends to be smart, tech-oriented, forward-thinking, and open to new people and ideas. Those are exactly the people that I want to share my ideas with, and those are the people whose ideas I want to reflect on.

  15. Chad’s post resulted in my first longer DM interchange, almost resembling SMS or IM. Gotta love the possibilities. Thanks Chad!

  16. In my case, Twitter is just another platform for the kinds of online conversations I’ve been having for twenty years now. But I’m hanging out within a new diversity of conversations as more and more people – more and more KINDS of people – find their way online. And that’s getting interesting.

    I’m just inherently drawn to information environments that mediate many conversations – I had a vision for something like this all the way back in the early 70s, when I was in the Communications Dept at UT-Austin and studying Marshall McLuhan’s concept of a media matrix. Even then people were thinking beyond broadcast, we just didn’t have the technology to support it.

    I just love watching knowledge flow and leap, watching all those minds rubbing together, producing sparks. Twitter works well for distributed bursts of communication and learning. Today, wanting something more intimate and coherent for the experience of the inauguration, I created an IRC chat room instead, and posted the info on Twitter. We had a good crowd, and many of us were bouncing between that chat room and our Twitter feeds.

    There’s nothing else quite like it. In my consulting I have to think about strategy and ROI, and that’s cool, but I often just want to tell a client to jump in and start swimming. Twitter’s a pretty good pool, the water’s always inviting.

  17. I blogged a lot before I started working on my PhD. Now I mostly just blog FOR my PhD work. I do twitter almost every day — mostly to stay in touch with friends and family (as it also feeds into my FaceBook account). It is fast and friendly. I admit reading the tweets of others almost always makes me smile. It is a nice little pickmeup. I guess for me — tweeting and fb is about staying connected but often blogging is one way I gather my thoughts and think out loud. I don’t know to myself (well not often) but often my only intended “blog” audience is myself — and I guess any other poor deluded soul who might be interested in my naval gazing. I’m not certain who that would be, my mother perhaps?

    My blog: http://careandfeedingofaphd.blogspot.com/

  18. I like to tweet because it is fast and fun. Like reading one of those Chicken Soup for the Soul books, it is consise and sweet. You can pick what you read or who produces the kind of stuff you like to read. I like inspirational stuff and quotes but an overdose of it is too much. Some stuff is too techy for me, too business for me, and too radical for me so I spend my time building my followers # and looking for interesting and funny stuff. I am a regular person and don’t know about computers and business so I do it for fun and to learn and laugh mostly.

  19. Why do I Tweet? I started using Twitter as a way to advertise my website (atxscene.com), but soon it became just plain fun to be talking to other Austinites about almost any subject. I am quite the chatterbox, and having an outlet to go to where I could respond to anyone’s comment about almost anything opened up doors for me where I could network with others who live in my vicinity. There is just something more enjoyable about talking to people around you, and that’s why I like Twitter; it’s easy to talk to many people around you at any given time.

  20. Much like Time Barrow, Twitter has become so ingrained in my everyday life that it’s hard to say why I really do it anymore. I do know that my RSS feed readers are all abandoned – Twitter supplies more than enough interesting and useful links than I can ever keep up with. It’s brought many new people into my life that I count as great friends – some I’ve met in real life and some I have not, but the relationships are all strong. It is my water cooler while sitting at work in my isolating cube. It’s my trend spotter, my weather man, my continuing education, my fun diversion, my window to the world outside of my own. That didn’t happen all at once when I first started using Twitter almost two years ago, and so I anticipate that my reasons for using Twitter will continue to evolve as we all go forward.

  21. I use Twitter because:

    1) I want to keep an online microjournal of significant moments in my life. I occasionally take several tweets from the recent past and create a blog entry.

    2) I want to become more quickly aware of news, activities, and events that might be of interest to me. And I want to see what others are saying about these situations.

    3) I want to find people with interests (primarily based on their tweets, which is why I regularly use Twitter Search) similar to mine and to easily follow and/or communicate with them.

    4) I want people with interests similar to mine to be able to easily follow and/or communicate with me.


  22. I started using Twitter as a way to stay in contact with some of my PhD colleagues who I only see once a year. We were experimenting with the service, and I found that it did give me a sense of connection with these individuals that I “follow.”

    I have tried to explain Twitter to several friends and they, like Craig above, visit a twitter feed and think it is inane. I argue that most relationships are built on the minutiae of daily life and not the grand experiences which many people come to romantically expect. I don’t mind reading about the “little things” or the fleeting thoughts about people I care about and/or respect.

    I have Twitter and Facebook feeding into a Netvibes homepage which also includes email, news, and rss feed widgets. It has become part of the background noise, similar to the hallway conversations that happen while I’m in my office. I can come out of the office and participate in the conversation, I can just listen, or I can shut the door.

    I like that the social media I choose to use is confined to the one homepage so that the information comes to me only when I want it.

    To answer “why do I tweet” I can analyze the types or groups of people that I follow.

    I follow several people who provide new Technology product updates and discussions on social media. Those provide information that may be useful to my research work or to my teaching.

    I also follow several individuals who teach at the college level whose daily tweets mirror the type of experiences I am having throughout the semester. Several though provide a different perspective of individuals who focus their academic careers on other activities besides teaching.

    I “follow” people not only on Twitter but also on Facebook. A large group of Facebook “friends” are people that I have had past relationships with and am just re-establishing contact with using the social media tools like Facebook. I may not have intimate contact with them but their updates keep me conscious that the world is much larger than my surrounding community.

    I also follow several women who have very particular worldviews; they provide perspectives on issues that I would not think about and not discuss in may daily interactions.

    With this list, it seems to me that, at the moment, I follow people who may write updates that are interesting to me. Whether I decide to spend 5 minutes on their post, following a link or an idea and learn something new or I spend 1 second scanning the post “catching up.” I don’t follow people just to increase my numbers.

    When I write an update, I usually think of a particular person or a particular group of people who may find my post interesting or useful. Oddly enough, some of those people aren’t online yet so won’t read the update. At times, I tweet information that I think someone in particular else might find useful, like a link related to their research. I tweet the information directly at a certain person by using the @reply even though I’m not replying, and I choose not to use the direct message because someone else may find the post useful.

    I have started to use Twitter in my online classes as a way to get students to interact with each other. I remind them of things which they need to know, point out interesting links, and provide comments on their updates. I ask them to write updates about their progress on a project or their thoughts on a reading. This semester I have set up Twitter as a method of “participation” which I hope helps the students to not feel so isolated.

    In the last couple of months, I have gained several followers who seem to randomly add people to their follow list. They use their Twitter feed to advertise their book or business. I don’t follow them back. I have un”followed” several people who were writing updates in which I was not interested.

    There definitely is a lot of noise in the Twitterverse, and I like that I can control when and how much of it I listen to.

  23. I haven’t used Twitter, Tweet, or Jammer. I’m not even sure what type of technology is being discussed. I don’t blog, but I’ve recently gotten a facebook account in order to view some family photos of a friend.

    I suddenly feel so out of it. I have become curious and will find out what the buzz is about.


  24. Great post. After meeting you I’m not surprised by how well you write. I’ve read many good reasons to twitter and agree with most of them. I was hesitant to twitter because of what I thought would be a shallow means of communication. But I’ve come to find out that twitter is a great combination of email, albeit brief messages; text messaging; and, blogging. Because it is like a blog, it’s search engine friendly. Google Mike Chapman and you’ll see what I mean. And I’m competing with a rock star, a wrestler, and a published professor.

    The key, I don’t stress or worry about twitter. I just do it when I want to. Over time and without manipulation, it comes in very handy.

  25. Received DM from @RichardatDELL:

    “I tweet to listen learn and engage with people interested in dell plus personally believe the human face matters.

  26. I don’t tweet much, but it’s a great source for breaking news. Short messages delivered nearly realtime. Last fall, it was the first place I saw the US FCC decision on TV “White Spaces.” (Interestingly, it was a Google search that turned it up.) And, I’ve read that it was the primary source within India for breaking news during the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

  27. Interesting discussion, Konnie. Above all else, I participate in the Twitter phenomenon out of curiosity. If I don’t show up I’ll never know what’s going on or what I’m missing. I find it to have an effect similar to gambling — there’s a whole lot of drone and then I get a real nugget of information or connection that keeps me digging for more. There is also an element of pseudo-self-importance: I have the power to broadcast anything I want, with no editing and no lead time and imagine that the world is listening (and maybe even cares). And does more followers = greater importance and relevancy in the world? “What’s your IQ and how many people follow you on Twitter?”

  28. I am still learning the capabilities of tweets, and Twitter is not a major part of my day. At this point, I use it mainly for news updates and for updates from a handful of friends. The immediacy of the information as an event unfolds brings a new power to our communication and this is what I enjoy the most. I will continue to experiment with Twitter and I am very interested to see how Yammer influences workplace communication.

  29. Personalmente pienso que Twitter representa un novedoso medio electrónico de comunicación que permite el diálogo durante el monólogo.

    Como la mayoría de los servicios web éstos terminan sirviendo para fines distintos de los que fueron creados. Basta mencionar algunos casos de twitters como @MarsPhoenix (twitts desde Marte), @bomberos (twitts de los voluntarios del cuerpo de bomberos de Lima, Perú) o distintas personalidades de la política internacional como @fidelcastro y @barackobama etc.

    En la actualidad administro 3 cuentas de twitter, las tres con objetivos y personalidades distintas. La primera @yadgana la empleo para expresar distintos órdenes de significaciones y prácticas cotidianas personales. La segunda cuenta denominada @bourdieu -la cual usted conoce- la utilizo como una herramienta que pretende difundir información actual entorno a la obra del sociólogo francés Pierre Bourdieu. Finalmente la tercera @sociologiac es un canal alternativo de difusión de nuestro blog Sociología Contemporánea.

    Para terminar pienso que lo más novedoso de Twitter es que combina las dos tecnologías más importantes de nuestro tiempo: la tecnología móvil e Internet.

  30. Twitter is new for me, but I’m excited to give it a try. I am a Facebook addict so I’ll offer you my motivation to use that social networking source. Facebook has been a source of connection, event planning, entertainment, and information dispursement for me. I would like to get on Facebook daily, but time does not always permit. I get on as many evenings as possible so that I can update my status (let my friends and even my co-workers know what I’m up to), check my email, “see” my friends’ and family’s pictures or video (especially since I do not live near any family), post events or responsibilities for an upcoming class reunion, and check out others’ status (to see what they are up to). Ah, and on top of all of that “being in the know”, I can also directly chat with multiple friends and family members at once. The catch is that I can only do this (for the most part) with the younger generations. What will come next? Well, for me, Twitter will be a new experience. 🙂

  31. I tweet to…

    Listen. Learn. Ask. Answer. Inform. Share. Commune. Communicate. Connect. Respect. Cajole. Convince. Satirize. Strategize. Amuse. Entertain. Educate. Discover. Schedule. Relay. Replay. Organize. Recognize.

    And sometimes, just cause it’s fun.

  32. Great summary on motivations for using Twitter. I’ve never heard it explained so artfully. I feel the recognition is a powerful motivator for using most social media tools. We all want to be the ‘information DJ’ and get props for it.

  33. Great question. At the behest of my sister (and despite her smackdown of me above), I’ll venture forth with my thoughts….

    I’m a late-comer to Twitter. I purposely held off because I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Now, it’s one of my primary communication mechanisms, above SMS and email. I use Twitter for a number of reasons, most of which overlap to some degree. It’s fascinating to keep up with the day-to-day activities of my colleagues and friends. More importantly, that network has turned into a PLN (personal learning network) that we can rely upon for answers to pressing questions.

    When Hurricane Ike blew through our area and we were forced to evacuate to San Antonio, Twitter was our primary source of information about what was going on back home. Fortunately the newspaper and a TV station had the foresight to create twitter feeds based on the reporting they were doing. It was more timely than RSS and re-oriented how I think about Twitter.

    I’m not a blogger. I have one; actually two. But I hardly post to them. I’m full of opinions right up until I hit that Write Post button. Then it all goes away. I agree with the above comment that T forces you to be concise. I like that. I appreciate the effort people put into their tweets. Humor is hard, but sweet when found.

    I like the immediacy of Twitter. I like the feeling that I’m connected to a vibrant world community, even when I’m holed up in my cave of an office and feeling left out of the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world.

    That said, I’ll chime in with what I hate. Pointless posts “I’m ordering the shrimp. I hate seafood.” I don’t care. I hate marketing posts (sorry guy who’s selling your book). I’m becoming rapidly annoyed with endless re-tweeters. If you can’t think of something original, then get out of the way. I’ll follow who you RT and drop you. People who post their every blog entry on Twitter. If I want to know, I’ll subscribe to your RSS.

    Great question, Konstanze.

  34. With David J Neff’s (@Daveiam) permission, I am reprinting this blog post here purely for research purposes. Retrieved 1/30/2009, from http://www.preludeinteractive.com/2009/01/the-twestival-cometh-february-12th/

    The Twestival Cometh, February 12th

    I’m going to bloom into a perfect old dude someday, because even now, I only adopt new things with a fair measure of grumbling and wariness. To wit, I made fun of Twitter for months – mainly with references to ‘Twits’ instead of Tweets – before being shamed into accepting it at my first Austin Social Media Club meeting. I really didn’t see the point of a service which restricted you to 140 characters in a world already suffering from a short attention I should really cash that check that’s been sitting on my desk.

    Even now, I only kind of get it. I haven’t set up the kinds of automated searches, auto-follows, and other twaintenance tools that the pros use. I’m barely proficient at using #tags. I explain it to the still wary as “Like your Facebook wall, but public, and that’s it.” But, what I’ve seen so far reminds me of Conway’s Game of Life. From a simple set of rules, fairly complex behaviors and structures result. By swapping private profile data for an open, and seemingly backwards, method of connecting with others, Twitter has become an amazing tool and service which is only starting to get awkward attention from the mainstream press. I still don’t like the habit of adding ‘tw’ to everything twitter related (Tweeps, etc), but OK FINE, it’s actually an effective way to label concepts and services as being within the Twitter sphere.

    A lot of people in the non-profit community use it to network, exchange notes, share links, to do the kinds of informal relationship building that used to only happen with people in your office. A few adventuresome causes have made a splash by raising surprising sums in a short amount of time. It seems like the time is ripe for some big, awesome, stuff to happen.

    The Twestival

    Along comes the Twestival, complete with Austin branch, to try and deliver. There have been Tweet-Ups and Tweet-Mobs and Tweetootenannys before, but I haven’t heard of anything quite on this scale. What I like about this is that while the internet has promised to bring people together, it really hasn’t been a worthy competitor to the town diner, the church, the school, the local bar, and other community institutions where you make new friends. Even with Facebook, you usually have to meet someone first, judge them silently, and then pretend to be friends with them. Half the people I ‘know’ on Twitter I’ve never met, and may never meet. Some of them are stellar people in Austin that I never would have run across otherwise, mainly because I rarely leave my house.

    I also like that the Twestival has chosen a universal, sort of random, and completely unobjectionable cause: Water. Earth and Wind don’t really get people excited, and Fire is too controvercial. Water’s great, and I’d be kind of a jerk if I didn’t want everyone to have some.

    I fret a little bit that this will come off as a bunch of hipsters patting each other on the back, but it’s not often that the Beauty Bar manages to fund two wells in Africa in a night. Besides, it’s up to the young and fashionable to lead the @unfollowed masses into an orgiastic future, right?

    It’ll be the first few events like this that determine how mass events are run through Twitter (and similar services) in the future, or whether or not. It will determine if big organizations like the American Cancer Society and the Red Cross will need to continue to spend millions of dollars on marketing and organizing (and not research or relief), or if they can transition sooner to a cheaper, more powerful method.

    If you read this far, and live in Austin or any other city where this is happening, go get a ticket and meet me there.

  35. Great post. You make Twitter sound like art.

    I love Twitter. I use it to:

    Find out about cool blogs I wouldn’t know about otherwise.

    See what’s buzzing.

    Hear the latest.

    Connect with my blog readers and attract new ones.

    Connect with other bloggers in my niche.

    Have a good laugh.

    Chat with people I don’t know who are as crazy for social media as I am.

  36. Great post and interesting research question! I personally use twitter and other forms of social media to build a professional network and find like-minded individuals. As a psychotherapist and PhD student, I am more interested in the underlying reasons (behavioral and emotional) people use social media and how it varies from one person to another. For instance, why do some people share every detail of their personal lives online, as others are more business oriented in their tweets?

    I believe social media is changing the way we form personal connections and build community. As it plays a more important role in our society today, especially amongst the younger generation, we need more research that offers insight into the behaviors and motivations of tweeters. For more on the psychology of social media, please read http://www.depthpsychologytoday.com/2009/01/28/connection-in-140-characters-or-less/

    Thank you for sharing this article and posing such important questions.

  37. Tweet from @maczter, used with his permission:

    Twitter, like Second Life, is what you make of it. There is no one purpose or goal, so it ends up being different things to each person.

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