Some of the below should come as no surprise to regular Twitterers. Some won’t even surprise newbies, but I’d like to register or confirm concepts for the record. I’d also like this to be legible to a general audience.
Reflections out of order:
Over the past near-decade (!) Twitter has become a significant channel for my professional life. The people I follow present good, often fresh information, news, and resources concerning education, technology, and the future. Sustained curation determines that crowd , currently rendered by a combination of Twitter lists and Tweetdeck columns. In turn most of my tweets are about professional topics. I share news, thoughts, wild guesses in order to elicit feedback and very valuable reality checking. A good chunk of this plays into the monthly Future Trends in Technology and Education report. In short, Twitter informs me and sharpens my thinking.
It’s a quick, distributed seminar space, or ad hoc think tank.
Some personal life connections happen on Twitter, but not so much as the professional ones. I share some observations about family, health, homesteading, reading not connected to my research, moods, winter, etc., but these tweets rarely garner much attention. Instead I find most of my online personal networking lives on Facebook.
That said, I feel increasingly close to my professional contacts on Twitter, which helps blur the personal/pro boundaries. I feel an emotional tug to these Twitter friends (tweeps) .
Twitter is also a major channel for my other online activities. It’s a gateway to news, resources, and other Web content. To an extent it supplants my RSS readers, as those curated sources inform me of new things, but only in a comparatively small way. In fact, the reverse is actually true, in that I use Twitter to share and elicit responses to content discovered in my daily RSS trawl.
In addition, some of my other online presences are connected to Twitter. Activities elsewhere, such as blogging here or talking in a podcast or making a new Cowbird story, get flagged on Twitter, which is good outreach and a prompt for comments. Overall, Twitter discussions about my work are a good metric for how people perceive my various media outputs.
But hang on – everything I’ve said so far exists in the classic internet, a space without physical connections. These are tweets from and to anywhere. Yet another major Twitter use I’ve grown to rely upon is live-tweeting physically grounded, face-to-face events. When I participate in a conference, public meeting, storytelling session, etc., I am ready to fire off tweets about it: reporting, reflecting, criticizing, seeking assistance. I connect with other participants via Twitter, and link in nonparticipants. I help create a public and live record of the event. As a presenter I love pulling up the Twitter conversation on a big screen. On the flipside, I’m quite accustomed to following the Twitter record of a live event I cannot physically attend. Either way the Twitter backchannel is an increasingly useful function.
Networks are the result of all of this twittery. Some people I tweet with/at/around are folks I’ve known for years, including friends, colleagues, heroes, and students: Howard Rheingold, Ed Webb. Others I meet and interact with via Twitter, like Jenny Colvin, and it’s entertaining to eventually meet someone in person after knowing them only by tweets.
It’s a mistake to think of Twitter as tweets in isolation, because we use many of them to build up relationships. That fact shapes my mental approach to writing tweets – sometimes I turn to the Tweetdeck tab to broadcast an item to my networks at large, while otherwise I have in mind one personal or a handful.
Limitations: I run into the length problem, as do many people, for many purposes. Which is fine, since the world of social media provides a host of other venues for longer writing, such as this blog. It’s best to consider Twitter as one tool of many.
A bigger problem is memory. It remains hard to search one’s Twitter feed without using a third-party tool. So I shunt anything I want to be searchable later on to other, more organized venues, such as social bookmarking (Diigo, Delicious, Pinboard) and this blog.
A local problem concerns the poor state of American data infrastructure. We have, to put it gently, uneven mobile phone connections, and not universally available (or speedy) internet. So I have not been able to take full advantage of mobile tweeting, especially in my retrograde state of Vermont. All too often for living in the internet’s natal country, I find myself frustrated by thinking up a tweet and being unable to fire it off.
A bigger problem is corporate dependency. Twitter looks healthy today, and we can copy our tweets off of it, but we users remain hostage to the firm’s operational strategy and financial health.
Quick summary: simply put, Twitter’s an important part of my life. It’s an intellectual and personal boon. I’m delighted it’s there, and hope to continue tweeting in the Twitterverse for a while longer.
How about you?