Saturday, February 21, 2009

Keep tweeting it up

I’ve been musing lately about Twitter. Particularly going home on the train. Twittering or reading tweets is a good diversion on public transport, way better than the MX (free afternoon newspaper). I also wrote a blog post in my head going home on the train, but didn’t actually write it down, so I’m trying to reconstruct it here.

I was talking to some of my work colleagues recently and showing them Twitter. I showed them some tweets and described how I use it to stay in touch with people, information and up-to-the-minute thinking. While showing them the Twitter screen on my mobile phone, I used the now-familiar (to me) terms like '@ handles', ‘followers’, ‘following', ‘retweeting’; or ‘RT’, and didn’t think much about it. Then one person turned to the other bemused, saying "it’s a whole other language, isn’t it".

I have friends who aren’t yet on Facebook, so when I talk about Twitter, I can get eyes going momentarily blank – as I see them trying to comprehend what I’ve said…I’ve gone too far into the language of the tool (think about the meaning of ‘I wrote on their wall’, ‘poked him’ or ‘status update’ if you’ve never seen Facebook).

At work with my team, we’ve noted that in a time period of 10 minutes we could communicate any number of ways: face-to-face, Yammer, email and Twitter. This may seem absurd to the uninitiated, but it happens so frequently that often I don’t even think about it. For us, these things have become regular work tools.

So it’s interesting to me that when I discuss these new communication/collaboration/learning tools, some people express in wonder where do I find the time, or have an immediate negative reaction to the concept, or are even offended. Yet I’ve also seen this change when they try it out and see what works for them, i.e. they find their own meaning and context (and their network of people online).

I’m not a particularly early adopter; it’s just that I find it fascinating how people communicate and collaborate – what they say and do, what works, what doesn’t. And how we work it out together. And how often these networks, in particular Twitter, operate on ‘the kindness of strangers’.

In my case, I’ve grown to know people through Twitter. There are some I’ve met briefly face-to-face and then follow. When I do see them in person again, conversation is easy, there is more personal context because we’ve been seeing our conversations online. I’ve met people through Twitter and then later on face-to-face, and with some I don’t remember how I met them first. There’s a blurring between the virtual and the F2F. I’ve had Twitter exchanges with people on the other side of the world, who I probably never will meet.

And since I’ve had web access on my mobile I’ve understood more and more the power of these social networking tools and their potential to connect people – anytime, anywhere – you don’t need to go to a desktop and take the time to log in.

Several recent examples show the real and practical use of Twitter on web-enabled mobile devices. I’m thinking about the bushfire crisis in Victoria, where both ABC Radio 774 and cfa_updates posted (and continue to post) alerts and information via Twitter that can help people keep informed.

Twitter seems fast approaching mainstream. In my local newspaper The Age, there have been many recent articles about it (including a good one explaining the ‘how to’ and why to’).

This article also talks about celebrity twitterers, and quotes Stephen Fry’s thoughts on Twitter in his blog, which I like so much I’m going to RT it here: “I love how Twitter confirms my all too often assaulted belief that most humans are kind, curious, knowledgeable, tolerant and funny. The absurd constraints of the 140 character tweet seem oddly to bring out the best in wit, insight and observation.”

Thanks Stephen, I agree. :-)

(and BTW, I'm @helmitch on Twitter)