The hashtagged live tweet feed reporting on the ‘08 attacks on 2 luxury hotels in Mumbai, India, marked an extraordinary development [140 characters]
… in knowledge and information capturing, sharing, filtering, archiving, in the evolution of many-to-many communication, in the phenomenon of knowledge brokering, and in micro-journalism. Generated by thousands of ordinary citizens, on location in Mumbai and all over the world, and viewed and proliferated by millions, this micro-blogging feed outpaced CNN by 20-30 minutes in reporting the latest developments on the scene. Images and videos, mostly taken with ordinary cell phones, were uploaded in real time and viewed instantaneously. Hospitals’ calls for blood donations, down to the specific blood type and the phone number to call, cascaded in an ever faster growing waterfall down my computer screen. Tweeted and exponentially retweeted, this massive quantity of droplets of information began to form a new type of flowing narrative made up of unfiltered, uncensored, unedited, microscopic-details in eye-piercing focus. Micro-blogging, erstwhile a trickle, had become mainstream. Twitter, the micro-blogging tool, that made the #mumbai live feed possible, experienced a 758% user growth in 2008.
What lies behind this phenomenal growth rate? What motivates users to share not only information and knowledge but also intimate details about themselves so freely and, in many cases, so frequently? Motivational theory links knowledge sharing with the expectation of some type of reward. Social capital theory frames connections among people, individually and collectively, in terms of resulting advantages not present without these connections. This article hopes to explore some of the motivations along with expected rewards that compel users to engage in micro-blogging. Social capital theory will provide the reference framework. Over the past two to three years, the online social media phenomenon has literally exploded. Millions of people worldwide are connecting and networking via software tools that allow for free and easy creation and sharing of user-generated textual and media content. This seemingly growing virtual community, really is made up of myriads of virtual sub-communities, one for each participant. Communities overlap but are hardly ever identical between users. Each community relies on its social capital, the advantageous ties between the members. Along with social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, other forms of social media, such as Flikr, for online photo sharing, social bookmarking sites such as del.icio.us or Diigo, geo tagging site BriteKite, and the micro-blogging tools Twitter, Yammer, or open source Laconica, have experienced exponential growth spurts in terms of active users, worldwide. Usage models are evolving continuously and, increasingly, the various participatory media are interconnected to form a huge, content-rich network that users can contribute to and search for pieces of collective knowledge.
Twitter is a micro-blogging software tool that allows account holders to post 140 character long micro updates, called tweets. Once a user has created an account with a user name, he or she can begin creating short posts or status updates in response to the question: “What are you doing?” Tweets are textual and can contain hyperlinks to media files. A tweet, or post, can be tagged as in the #mumbai example above. A tweet feed is created by displaying all tweets that contain this particular tag. Twitter along with its more character-generous organizational counterpart Yammer appear to provide a fitting response (Bitzer, 1968) to a number of communicative exigences, often representing individual rather than collective needs or preferences. That is power and provides motivation.
It is interesting to observe that the emergence and adoption of the micro-blog, and other social media tools, follows hard on the heels of the societal trend to focus on the individual rather than the group needs, the ‘i’ trend . Businesses understand that they have to listen to customer needs, that customers want individualized products, and that user-interfaces need to be customizable. The focus is on the individual and his or her preferences. The ‘i’ trend stands in stark opposition to uniformization, epitomized during the Industrial Revolution.
Social media connect us based on our individual choices and preferences, uniting us in loosely defined communities that we can join and leave as we please. For the individual, the micro-blog might be the ultimate tool for quick and easy self-expression and, congruently, matches our desire to do this undisturbed by others who might hamper our efforts, yet, preserving the illusion of community belonging without the pressures associated with face-to-face communities. We invite or follow those that we deem interesting or admire, we block those that annoy, offend, or bore us. Avatars, chosen representations of self, accompany us as long as we feel that they match the image we want to project.
This paper will examine specific motivational aspects behind this phenomenon of extreme knowledge sharing in a huge virtual community where often communal standing is measured by the number of a Twitterers’ followers and rules of social capital apply just as in f2f communities.
[Lit Rev, Methods, Results to follow…]