Thanks so much for all the comments and feedback about the first Managing Information Streams post. Some GREAT stuff in the comments there.
I want to follow that up with what is fast becoming my favourite web-filter, and will hopefully become my primary interface with my network – Twitter.
The tech media has been full of articles about Twitter for the last couple of months, ranging from declaring it to be the saviour of the web to it being the scourge if humanity. Both are exaggerations, and as usual, ignore the range of ways to interact with a particular technology.
So first up, a ‘what is twitter?’ answer, StevieStyle – Twitter is a combination of microblog, status-update, public IM, SMS client, link-blog, mini-email, brain-storm-tool, twitterpedia and for me (I’ve not seen anyone else doing this yet, but I’m sure I’m not the first) a responsive public to-do list.
All of that in an IM-window style interface, portable to my cellphone, followable on the web and scannable at a glance.
So what’s great about it? Let’s undo everything I said it was at first –
Firstly, it’s not email – I’m getting increasingly sick of email, particularly email that isn’t addressed to me. It’s just not a quick enough or malleable enough way to get information, to difficult to filter for quality and the group stuff just makes it harder to deal with the stuff that is to me. So I’ve been unsubbing from groups and mailing lists like crazy, trying to reduce the volume of non-direct email. A lot of the things I might have used email or email lists for, I now do on Twitter. How does that help? Well, I know the answer is going to be either a) very short or b) very short with a link to a properly written explanation. If you have to post the longer answer on a public blog, you’re more likely to think about it, than if you just write bollocks to a mailing list.
Secondly It’s not IM – IM sucks my time. IM is a very demanding thing to have running. It can be very useful and a great way to get quick responses, and also to deal with more personal things, but for the most part the big problem with IM is that you sit WAITING FOR A REPLY, and the other person is doing the same. So you don’t get on with your stuff, you ‘do IM’ for whole chunks of time. I NEVER do that with Twitter. Even if I post 5 or 6 posts in a couple of minutes, in between I’m working, I’m blogging, I’m searching, I’m answering the good emails, I’m deleting the crap ones, I’m cooking, brushing my teeth, on the bus… whatever, it’s all going on, and Twitter can fit to that. I never get tweets that say ‘are you still there? hello? where’ve you gone, you bastard??’ like on IM.
It also means that there’s a public record of a process if you’re planning something. This is what happened when Jeff Schmidt and I planned our podcast. I think Jeff sent me one direct message on twitter about it, and the rest was public. Perhaps as a result, the podcast had the highest first day or two’s downloads of ANYTHING Jeff has podcasted. And he’s done some great podcasts (search in iTunes for his name, for more – really good stuff.)
Thirdly it’s not facebook – if I go into facebook and check people’s status updates, there are a million other distractions – photos, scrabblez, groups, event invites, etc. I set up Facebook as a separate app using FluidApp just so I can open it, do it, and go. Twitter is the status update with the option to reply, and without the distractions. That’s a good thing. Facebook can be so addictive.
Fourthly it’s not this blog – blogging here takes a lot of time and effort. It’s also very much an interactive archive of my public writing. Twitter is immediate, and then gone. Sure you can find or favourite tweets, but it’s largely about NOW. I try to keep my blog archive manageable by not posting quick ‘check this out’ blogs – that’s what twitter does REALLY well. I can also, crucially, start rumours on there about what I’m up to, talk about things that might happen but might not, in a way that would come back and bite me on the arse if I did it on here…
Fifthly it’s not Google – if I use twitter for a question, I’m not searching the internet for prewritten answers, I’m asking the minds of my fellow twittists. I’m asking people who know me, or at least know about me, and I can follow up. And all of it in 140 characters. I’m not demanding much from peoples, but I can get top quality info. And it’s filtered by who I CHOOSE to interact with. No spammers, no trolls… The traffic isn’t public enough to attract disgruntled losers shouting at windmills.
Sixthly, it’s not a to-do list – to-do lists are currently the bane of my life. I never know where to write things down to remember them. Twitter means that my to-dos can become discussion, friends can remind me, hassle me, and I feel a compulsion to update, and therefor a drive to get something done so as not to embarrass myself by saying ‘did fuck-all today’… So I post a list, I post options and court responses, and on some things, I can collaborate. I can even ask my flatmate to pick up milk or washing-up liquid on the way home. Last night, my landlord used twitter to find out if anyone was home in order to access a document in the flat – THAT is the magique of the Twittosphere!
Seventhly, and this is a small but significant one it’s not regular SMS – how? a) it’s free to send, and b) I can type it, not key it in on my phone. HURRAH!!!! That should be enough to get everyone in the world signed up…
So what’s unique about it, that isn’t so negatively defined? OK, there’s the asynchronous nature of ‘following’ – if someone clicks to follow me, I can choose to follow them or not. I can also follow people who don’t follow me. I can follow people for the conversation, or the inspiration, I can post in the same way – conversation or open ended thoughts. And people can choose to read or ignore. No-one is wasting time they don’t want to waste just to see if the info is good or not. Glance, engage, revert. It’s easy.
Two, it provides interactive news. On the scene ‘buzz’ about events. Right now, SXSW is going on in Austin. Last week was TED – the precis of ideas on twitter is a GREAT way to find out what’s hot and what’s not, what are the salient parts of an hour-long talk, what’s going to be rocking the tech-world in a few months time. Choose a different set of people to follow and you’ll get the same from glastonbury or the protest movement, or parliament, or probably even the countryside alliance *shudder*… you choose, you filter, you edit, you follow/unfollow, and form a group of twittettes who entertain and inform, interact and educate.
Thus far the signal to noise ratio on my group of feeds is extremely positive, and the stuff that’s come out of it is amazing. Lately, that’s been all about Seesmic, the video-blog site. But that deserves a post of it’s own, because it’s f’ing amazing.
So maybe now you can see why I’m hoping to make my twitter account my main web interaction. Sign up for twitter at twitter.com, add me, and if you’re a bass-head, add Jeff, Trip and search around for some others. Consider this my TwitterFesto :o) .
I’ll post some more stuff about it soon, but suffice to say, if you want to get in touch with me quick, twitter beats anything besides just calling me up on the phone (we need to get back into phones – our modernist technolust has relegated phones to a last resort. that’s got to change…) Email is great for longer more involved information, IM is good if your life is falling apart and you want my help or support, Facebook is good if you’ve got silly photos from your stag night, and Google is good if you want a URL to send to someone. Otherwise, TwitMe!
(addendum – I’ve tagged this as ‘future of music’, because twitter is something that bands and artists HAVE to get a handle on. It’s where so much web communication is heading. So read this, and I’ll post more about music specific application in the very near future)by