I just passed a strange digital milestone. This morning I reached 40,000 tweets.
That’s a lot of Twitter. It’s a prodigious amount of writing. Let’s say that’s roughly a little over four million letters. Some of those are retweets, hashtags, and URLs. So my actual writing is maybe 200,000 words, or several books. That also represents a lot of reading in the form of other people’s tweets, and interacting with them.
So let me pause in the midst of tweet-torrenting to reflect on what this means, based on my experience. I’m thinking of readers who aren’t Twitter users, as well as Twitter mavens. You know who you are.
How do I do this?
My main Twitter use occurs through Tweetdeck. This is a web app that lets users corral and shape their Twitter experience. I use it to carve out distinct sub-feeds or domains, organized into columns. That’s fifteen columns now, each for a separate purpose, set up either by a list of people, or by a search term. One is for educators. Another contains futurists. One searches for #FTTE, covering both my monthly report and also Future Trends Forum discussions. One is for whichever event I’m currently involved in (see below).
Mostly this is through a laptop computer. I don’t use a desktop any longer. Since I live in Vermont, cell phone coverage is awful – none within 30 minutes of our house, for instance – so I don’t tweet much from my Samsung except when traveling. Even then I prefer having the full Tweetdeck dashboard.
I don’t schedule tweeting. It can occur at any time of the day, as part of my workflow.
Why do I do this?
A major reason is researching. I learn a great deal from bright folks on Twitter. In my immediate domain, the future of higher education, I track education scholars, journalists, college presidents, professors, librarians, instructional designers, investors, and other knowledgeable and interesting people.
Because this is social media, I contribute to the flow. I share my research every day. This can mean putting out a URL or idea and asking for feedback, for example. Sometimes I use Twitter to point to my research hosted elsewhere: my blog, an article, an interview, or a book. My goal is to elicit feedback, so I can improve my intelligence and knowledge on these topics. Put another way, this is professional development.
Since one of my topics is educational use of social media, there’s the extra benefit of studying one social media platform through active immersion in it. This becomes useful in presentations and consultations, as I can explain Twitter not just through studies, but from my own experience.
There are limitations here, of course. Most online people aren’t on Twitter. Tweetdeck lacks the organizational chops of most RSS readers.
There are also Twitter developments to track. One of my tabs is for “entertainment”, and that includes humor accounts, from the very great Florida Man to WernerTwertzog, Medieval Death Bot, and a most powerful corrective to Internet of Things hype.
I follow a number of clients on Twitter. This is only a slight window into their activities, as I’m usually hired by senior administrators from universities, governments, or nonprofits, and they don’t tend to tweet much. But some do, as do more of their staff, so I can keep up with organizations I’ve helped.
I also use Twitter to expand events. Sometimes I track developments at a meeting or conference I can’t physically attend. More often I add Twitter to events I’m participating in. As with research, I can share my observations about the event. This lets me connect with fellow participants whom I might otherwise not interact with, as well as opening up the event to the world. Similarly, I can learn about other parts of an event, or even the one I’m partaking in, by reading fellow attendees’ comments.
Each Future Trends Forum session has a Twitter stream. I Storify them afterwards.
Bubble bursting: for years I’ve used Twitter to read across divides. My politics column, for example, contains people from the left and right. In that narrow space jostle centrist Democrats, Marxists, libertarians, cultural conservatives, and climate change activists, not to mention some senators, representatives, and national leaders. My educators column includes people who cordially despite each other. And because for years I wasn’t following Latino issues closely (partly because I live in a region light on that population), I added a #latism tag to give me one small window into that world.
Beyond these uses, I also tweet on non-professional topics. I’ve been slowly increasing the number of political posts, hoping to trigger conversations (not much luck yet, as opposed to on Facebook). I started sharing my photos, which people tend to respond well to.
Along those lines, I follow my family on Twitter. That might sound weird, since I live in the same house with them. But Owain, my son, is heading off to college in a couple of months. And both he and my wife tweet about topics they don’t always talk about with me. Mostly politics – the same topics we discuss in person, but sometimes other sources or stories. So I get to hear more from my family.
What doesn’t work out on Twitter? What am I missing?
I don’t share many personal details via tweet. They tend not to win much attention when I do. I’m not sure if this is the nature of my profile – i.e., I look I’m doing research, and that’s why people follow me – or if I don’t do enough.
Political discussions rarely occur in my stream. I sometimes join others.
I haven’t been abused. No death threats, no hostile Photoshops. Not even much criticism. When people do slam me, they use other venues. Partly this is due to my identity, as I don’t present in any marginalized domains (race, gender, sexual orientation, religion). It may also be because I don’t usually post on topics that tend to elicit troll wrath.
Although I’m a lifelong and serious genre fiction fan (science fiction and horror), I’ve largely missed those communities’ Twitter affairs. It might be a question of time and priorities. Or I would just need to carve out time and engage.
Many anti-Twitter folks complain about people self-promoting too much through tweets. Honestly, I have yet to encounter this as a significant deal. I see more of it in people’s bios, unsurprisingly, than appear in actual tweets.
Since I abhor celebrity culture, I don’t pay attention to that aspect of Twitter.
I’ll keep on. The benefits are just solid at this point.
I’m not sure if I’ll have the time to expand my use to include following other topics or participating in new communities. I’m happy with what I’m doing now.
The variety of Twitter analytics and visualization tools have fallen off my radar, so I should probably dig back into them.
I hope Twitter survives. Its investors are pressuring it, sometimes badly. A user-owned co-op would be better. If Twitter goes away, there aren’t many alternatives. I used Ello for a while, but it never took off. Mastodon appeals, but the user base is still too small. Facebook has some similar affordances, and a much bigger audience, but has so many other problems that it’s not a viable alternative.
I’ll have to check back with this post at the next milestone.