I’m a bit of an “old soul”. In fact, I’m a lot younger today than I was at 17. Social networking has been an interesting experiment for me in that while I am a very open person, and generally a geek, I am not an early-adopter type. I understand that this makes me a conundrum, I can’t help you there, all the above are true.
I’ve been planning to write about my own personal “Twitter experiment” for awhile, but every time I start to think about it, my story changes. Here is my attempt to put into words what Twitter has become to me and how that happened.
Step one: Peer Pressure
I learned something new about myself and that is I am not as strong as I thought I was. Turns out, if I am asked to join something several hundred times over a three month period, eventually I’ll cave. You want me to sell your Amway products or join your cult, I guess the answer is to be persistent (helps if I like you). I was dragged into Twitter from my friends Mark, Jake and Gretchen with their subtle and not-so-subtle mentions, blog posts, emails, etc.
Of course, I had the typical response of being already overloaded by my Google Reader and my email Inbox and “isn’t that just a waste of time?“. My biggest objection was first time and second “why?”. I was actually more open minded about the why (part of a bigger attempt to try new things) but the time thing was a big challenge for me.
Step two: I’m in
Of course, when I did cave into pressure, I was going to be in all the way. If I was going to waste time with Twitter, it would be quality time. So I jumped right in, found some people to follow and began sending out random status updates and links that I hoped would be at least slightly amusing, if not actually helpful. Unlike those who tend to blog about Twitter, I found the getting started phase a bit challenging. My first observations were as follows:
- Wow, this is just like starting a new school, you can pretty quickly identify the “cool crowd” but it’s not clear how to get involved yourself.
- Asking questions via Twitter is only really useful if you have a good following (i.e., not well suited for the newbie and isn’t that the benefit you were promised when you agreed to join?).
- Some people who dragged you into Twitter, might not actually post status of their own anyway. In otherwords, there are a lot of people who follow and don’t contribute
To be honest, I found the whole thing a bit puzzling but I am not a quitter, so I kept on.
And then something changed
Each day I’d watch the tweets of others and see who they were talking to. I then started added to the list of people I followed, attempting to broaden the range and type of discussions I could observe. This helped a lot. I am now following more then 170 people and the conversations somehow make more sense. I have also learned that the intention is not to read every tweet but to participate when you are there. What works for me is setting aside a few points in the day to “check in” with Twitter to see what’s going on. I now jump in, contribute and then jump out again. Here are the changes that I have found since hitting my twitter stride
- I really do feel a connection with people I don’t actually know. Yes, this can be “chat room scary” but somehow it isn’t. Probably due to the fact that I choose who I am following. So if someone starts to creep me out, I can quit following them or block them if necessary. This allows me to fine tune the noise in a very helpful way. Also, due to the asynchronous nature, it’s easier to ignore people if that becomes necessary.
- I am now aware of some things in a way I wouldn’t be otherwise. A great example is in sports. I don’t watch sports or read about them in the papers but somehow I know when there are major sporting events going on from people that care. This is cool. I like the enthusiasm of sports and it’s nice to get that from others.
- I no longer miss major world events because I’m too lazy to read the news while at work. Big events are somehow covered, in a very real way. I now know when food banks are in trouble due to recent natural disasters — this is something I wouldn’t find in the news. At least not as quickly. The list of examples in this category is endless.
- I find out great things about conferences, in fact conferences (and conventions) are places where Twitter really shines. I don’t have to attend a conference to get a sense of what happened, and since I know the person giving the comments, I get a more well rounded sense of the feedback. A bit like reading a movie review in a newspaper vs. getting one from a friend. The review from the friend is so much richer since you know more about the person giving it.
- and here is the most strange transformation of all, I now note events that happen to me with an intent to share them. I actually have thoughts about “oh, I need to twitter that” during my day. I just observed (or did) something funny, interesting, insightful or dumb, this might benefit someone else.
So in a very real way Twitter has changed me. I now “get it”. I don’t know when that change happened and I wouldn’t have expected it but I now consider Twitter one of the best parts of life’s banquet. It is certainly not for everyone, but if you think it might be for you, I recommend you give it the time it deserves to start to make sense. The transformation does take time but for me, it was worth it.
PS I was intending to talk about OraTweetas well, but I think that is deserving of another post so stay tuned.