Managing Information Streams Pt 2 – Twitter!

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, 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)

(addendum #2 – massive credit must be given to Hugh MacLeod for his thinking on twitter, much of this was informed by his twitterings and bloggings. Follow him at

15 Replies to “Managing Information Streams Pt 2 – Twitter!”

  1. But staggering into the midst of a twit-fest between you Trip and Jeff and / or you and Lobelia is sometimes like listening in to a private conversation… If you sub to just one of the parties, do you only get a “one-sided conversation”?

  2. Very good point, Mike – I’m going to do a ‘how to use twitter post’ very soon, and a fair bit of it will be looking at my own mis-use… :o)

  3. But what is it FOR?

    That’s a much more interesting question…

    It seems to me that a lot of the discussion around twitter/and/or seesmic or whatever it may be is about the how and why (How do you tweet? What do you use? What does it do for you?)

    A much more interesting question is “Why do you Tweet?”

    Is it because we like having lots of friends? Is it to further our careers? Is it because we’re all a bit geeky and enjoy how it works? Is it addiction?

    Yes, and I can hear you all answering: d) All of the above.

    But I’ll be honest. I’m a bit new to all this, and I’m still trying to figure out why I do it. But a strong motivator was seeing people generate a certain amount of success in their field by web-based means, and wondering if it would help me make of go it too as a professional artist.

    There’s a part of me that would like twitter to be a way of playing with words as a poet, or doing visual arty things with letters, being creative that way. But ultimately that’s quite indulgent and boring for others to look at (bad experience with a Chatterbot. Won’t be doing that again).

    I think, exciting and interesting as all these things are, to some extent you do these things too because they generate a level of interest in what you are doing as a solo bass player

    Ultimately, I think for me, twitter may be just a tool – to do stuff with. If I can get into conversation with another artist about something that fires both our imaginations, then that is more important to me than the triumph of high stats, or the satisfaction of mastery of new technology, or whatever it is.

    I’m probably making myself sound more sociopathic than I actually am, but I suppose I question the level of altruism sometimes.

    I may be wrong. What IS all this for?

  4. Hi Mike, thanks for asking the question – I often assume way too much when I write. I guess because I wrote this in the context of a managing information post, the why in this instance was to manage info. The desire to proliferate information, and more importantly proliferate ACCESS and provide context to what I do as a musician is key to just about everything I do in life. I’ve tried to do the ‘marketing me as a brand’ thing, and I’m crap at it. What I’m good at is allowing them music to be an extension of me, thus when I talk and write, there’s a link with when I play, both conceptually and culturally. So all web presence is about furthering that, clarifying that, and making the first step of investigation simpler and more appealing.

    But there’s something else key to all of this, that links with what we do as artists – it’s all about play. About the frivolous, the joyful, the enthusiastic engagement. I dunno if you know much about the ennegram, but I’m a pretty classic 7 on the scale – enthusiast and novelty seeker – I love new paradigms, spaces, forums and environments in which to play, to experiment with my presentation of self (x-ref Erving Goffman’s ‘Presentations Of Self in Every Day Life’)…

    So maybe the answer to ‘why’ is ‘why not’ and the next step is ‘what now?’


  5. This quote:

    “What I’m good at is allowing them music to be an extension of me, thus when I talk and write, there’s a link with when I play, both conceptually and culturally.”

    Talk to me more about that. What does this mean? I’m interested in that. Maybe this is another blogpost entirely. Or a seesmic.

    Ah! you see now – I’d rather have this conversation by Seesmic. Is The Blog dead?!?

  6. Personally I don’t want to use Twitter as a conversation. It doesn’t work for me. Because you don’t see all that may be involved. It works better with Seesmic to have a real (or near real) conversation.

    Blogs can also start interesting conversations.

  7. Mike, I will definitely Seesmic about this, but in short, I’ve always described my music as ‘the soundtrack to the inside of my head’. I, like most musicians, am terrible at trying to second guess a market. I can’t make music designed by committee or strategy. I just soundtrack the world as I see it. The proof that this works is my oft-mentioned line that my audience are almost always the kind of people I want to go out for dinner with and talk to. On some quasi-mystical level, my music connects with ‘my kind of people’ :o)

    I’m sure it could be expounded on in a venn diagram sense by looking at what broad areas my audience are interested in… the fact that it’s instrumental filters out anyone who only listens to vocal music right away, for example, but it works!

  8. Otir, absolutely, and that for me is the beauty of twitter – it’s non-dictatorial in terms of how you engage. The design (and the API) are wide open in terms of how we choose to connect.

    I’m definitely loving the ‘face to pre-recorded face’ aspect of Seesmic. It’s so lovely to put a voice and an expression to the post. I’m REALLY sorry about my last one being muffled and difficult to understand. I mumble a bit at the best of times, but in a noisy coffeeshop were I’m trying not to let people overhear, it’s tough to be clear! I’ll post again later, I promise.

  9. There was a nice post from Bill Thomson on his blog (and on the BBC news website) yesterday:

    @bbccouk Finished my column and going to make coffee…

    It resonated with me in terms of the ‘why twitter?’ question that Mike R poses above.

    Bill talks about carrying your online network with you and seeing the world through the lens of a shared experience. A nice take on it.

  10. Great post Steve, excellent analysis of why Twitter rocks.
    I always like to see how others are using Twitter, it truly is an amazing phenomenon and has proven very useful to me many times. In fact I too prefer conversations via Twitter as opposed to email/IM, wherever possible.

    I like your blog writing too, darn, another ‘Twit’ to follow and another RSS to add 😉


  11. Very Interesting!
    I was DMing a twitterbud the other day and he made another interesting point about what Twitter isn’t that took a while to sink in… but made perfect sense once it did:
    Twitter is NOT a community either… although many want to make it that.

  12. No I guess not – Twitter isn’t a community in the same way that ’email’ isn’t a community… it’s a utility that facilitates communication with a group, and receiving information from an asychronous group…thanks!

  13. I’ve been attempting to manage my information streams better for the past two days, and now I have a headache.


  14. Interesting point Mike. Twitter can often be like walking through a party – you catch bits of conversations which sometimes don’t have meaning for you, other times something catches your attention. Twitter is very random like that, which makes it so hard to judge.

  15. I’m with Otir in being a bit uneasy about using twitter for conversation. It’s great for quick questions but when that becomes more full-on conversation it can be hard to follow, especially when some people hide their updates. In IM or email you’re certainly left waiting for a response but that’s what conversation is. Twitter is far more about broadcast than it is about conversation. It’s a trigger for conversations more than a forum for them.

    The best phrase I’ve heard used to describe twitter is “ambient intimacy.” For those of us who work in small offices or from home but have a large online social network, it can be a great way to get quick updates on what people are doing and to feel connected through the day. Maybe it’ll make you laugh or turn you on to some news, piece of music, or whatever that you’d otherwise have missed. But the important part of that is the ambience. Twitterific can quickly become more distracting than email or IM if it’s popping up every couple of seconds, and it loses its purpose if you can’t quickly scan it and get updates from a range of people.

    Email tools are pretty sophisticated and I think we lose out if we dismiss them too quickly. Cutting down on mailing lists and newsletters, using good spam filtering, and being ruthless about deleting/filing/archiving messages are all important tasks, but often it’s good to have the record that email provides, to have a more asynchronous medium, and to not offload too much on a group of people who might want to just briefly hear how you are every now and again.

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