When my kids were very young, we used the term “twitterpated” to describe a person who is particularly taken with something or somebody else or are falling for something or somebody, and are in that state of infatuation or excitement that comes from discovering something special.
According to the Urban Dictionary, twitterpated is “1. The happy jumpy feeling you get that causes you to smile uncontrollably, and 2. The way birds and other animals act during mating season (as seen in the Disney movie Bambi).”
So I immediately thought this was the perfect word to describe a phenomenon that I’ve been observing for almost a year now. It seems like the whole blogosphere and tech world is all “a-twitter” about Twitter, the latest communication utility.
This new form of communication is something most everyone I know seems to be using (myself included). If you haven’t tried it yet, I recommend that you do. Today I’d like to share some of my experiences with Twitter, and some of what I’ve learned from talking with others who have used it.
What is Twitter, Really?
Twitter is actually quite a challenge to explain. The facts about it are pretty easy really, but understanding how, when, and where to use it is the harder part. You’ll find LOTS of very good and varying descriptions about Twitter online. Twitter gives you the ability to send out short text messages called “tweets” that you type on your mobile phone, PDA, or personal computer, and then they are broadcast to anyone who would like to read them. Tweets are limited to 140 characters so they are quite short indeed. For those accustomed to using SMS or “texting” to send messages from their mobile phones, Twitter is essentially the same thing, but with some significant twists along the way.
People who want receive these messages sign up to “follow” you. You can decide to allow anyone to receive your messages or you can control who receives them by approving only those you want to follow you. And you don’t need to follow all those who follow you, so you can find the balance that works for you.
To use Twitter, you assign yourself a username so people can know where to send their “tweets” to you. The username is used much the same as an email address or phone number. However be advised that because the username is the first text in EVERY tweet you send, your name counts as part of the 140 character limit so keep your user name short (My thanks to Marcia Conner for this thoughtful advice!) The messages themselves are simple text strings—no @ symbols or other special syntax is required)—and you will quickly start to acquire the skill of finding a way to say something meaningful in a very few words.
- Some of Twitter’s other features include the ability to:
- Add links (the URL can’t exceed the tweet’s limit of 140 characters)
- Feed tweets to a blog.
- Tag tweets, such as those that are all associated with a particular event.
- "Re-tweet" a tweet you’ve received to all those following you, which leads to a networking effect where information is spread and people get connected.
As I said earlier in this post, the hard part about Twitter is figuring out how, where, and when to use it. Frankly, I know of no other way to do this than by experiencing it yourself. It’s another great example of something we’ve talked about a lot here on OCOT: experiential learning.
Twitter is a great additional form of communication and a great awareness-raising tool. I’m particularly intrigued by this new “bulletin board” model of communication. You’re not talking to anyone in particular. Basically, if you choose not to control your broadcasts, you’re leaving a note that anyone who might be interested can look at. This is another form of indirect communication which is similar to Facebook and MySpace, where people can put up thoughts, ideas, and notes about themselves, and then leave it up to others to choose to read it or not.
I’m also finding that it’s a New Age version of a diary or more accurately a logbook, which is one of the ways I’ve been using Twitter. Because it is so quick and fast to send out a tweet, and because you can do it from either your mobile phone or computer, you are more likely to capture a thought in real time, just as it occurs to you, and share it with others. You do it with no expectations about who is going to read it, nor that anyone will read it, nor are you expecting a response. I guess you might hope that you get a response, but that’s not really built into the Twitter model. The model is simply one where you send information out and receive information in kind from those you are following.
Twitter is an intriguing mix of the personal and the professional, at least it is with most of the people I am following. People share what’s going on in their lives. While this capability can be abused or misused by those who seem to feel it is important to let everyone know what they are eating or every little thing they are doing, this ease of sending out a quick thought has is very valuable as not only a record of your thoughts, but also it increases the likelihood you will get around to capturing and sharing them with others. As more and more people do so, you can see how the network effect becomes exponentially powerful.
As you start using Twitter PLEASE consider whether what you are about to tweet is really of interest and value to others. Clearly there is a lot of inconsequential stuff being broadcast and I’m sure some of the hype and negative press about Twitter is based on this type of misuse. Because it is annoying, you might simply stop following people who only send out these types of tweets.
But at the same time, Twitter can be used in a more “serious fun” way, as my friend Erik Duval would say, and a professional way. I follow people who are sharing their great ideas, links, questions, suggestions, and “pithy comments”. Some of this is very professional, job related, etc., but much of it is also about something significant going on in their lives, and this connection provides me with an awareness of how things are going for them.
This sharing of ideas, thoughts and insights into each other’s lives has the net effect of helping me to get to know people quite well, not necessarily in any kind of profound way, but I’m seeing them in a different light or dimension, filling in blanks, and gaining a fuller understanding of who they are.
Trying to describe the effect and effectiveness of Twitter is even more challenging, and that’s why you’ve just got to experience it to really find out. I like to say that you simply let all of these messages wash over you. It doesn’t take that long to read them, and you don’t have to respond to them, and over time you develop a peripheral awareness of others and what they are doing. Twitter may even be replacing something we didn’t realize we had lost.
When we were typically more physically present with others in our offices and homes, I’m not sure we were aware of the information we gathered almost subconsciously about others. You might have noticed that Sally was on the phone a lot today, or Bob was looking kind of worried, or Sally, Fred, and Mohammed were having a meeting today at 10:30. It’s this kind of information that you get as these tweets wash over you.
Is Twitter-ing Just a Waste of Time?
Despite popular opinion that Twitter is a waste of time (and it certainly can be), my experience is that it’s proving to be a significant productivity and performance tool. It’s saving me time and is enabling me to do things that I probably would not have done and are of great value.
I’m certain that one of the biggest benefits of all this “twittering” is how it is significantly adding to our collective knowledge. Simply the capturing of all the ideas, thoughts, and observations (many which ordinarily would not have been captured or shared with others) is enhancing the record of what’s going on, not for use as an audited record per say, but as a way to tap into all of this collective intelligence. For example:
- When you’re reading something in a book, magazine, or on the web, you can immediately let others know about it and also record your reflections, observations, and neat ideas about it.
- As you’re going about your day and you have an experience, or make an observation, as something puzzles or intrigues you, you can share it with others who have similar interests.
- You can use it:
- As a log of your activities and your life as you go along. As a kind of mini-blog at a conference so others can gain from those immediate observations from the event.
- To display tweets from the audience on a screen. Done well, it can help to tap into the pulse of the audience at a conference event, class, or other venue.
- To ask a question or solve a problem you have. I usually get some very good suggestions and answers back very quickly.
I’m sure if you try it that you will find your own unique ways of using it. There are certainly many more examples than what I’ve discussed here.
One of the most effective ways that I use Twitter is as a kind of research tool. When I’m writing an article or I have something I’m pondering, for example, the ability to throw out a quick question and get responses from others out there is becoming extremely valuable for me.
I also use it to update others about what’s going on with me professionally and personally. On the professional side, I share things I’m pondering about OCOT and the Snowflake Effect. And personally, as many of you know, I’m off on a grand world tour on my sailboat, so particularly when I’m under way, others find it intriguing to find out where I’m at, what have I observed, and what’s going on.
A kind of interconnection starts to occur among all these “twitterati”. Even though you don’t necessarily know who’s following you (but you can if you like) and then who’s following them, still there’s a loose connection between all of us. And over time I’ve notice an indirect feedback loop where something I’ve talked about earlier shows up somewhere else along the chain of tweets and re-tweets.
I’ve also noticed that my use of Twitter is different depending on the device I’m using to receive or send tweets. For example, I like to use Twitter from my laptop when I want to:
- View a link that is attached to a tweet.
- Send out a tweet related to something I’m reading on the laptop.
- Review a lot of tweets with one of the many Twitter readers who are available.
But it is most extraordinarily effective for me when I use it as a mobile application on my cell phone or PDA. For example, I can be so much more impromptu about sending or reading a tweet, and do it when it is just right for me. And yet, Twitter also makes me be more conscious and conscientious about sharing my thoughts and ideas with others, since it’s so convenient and I can more easily choose when to send out a tweet or read those coming in to me.
And perhaps, its real power is in the brevity it imposes with its 140 character limit. My good friend Marcia Conner wrote recently in her article “Can Twittering Create An Economy of Words”, “… if you’re still stuck on the actual be brief part because you’re a member of my friend and colleague Wayne Hodgins’ ad-hoc club, ‘Why use a sentence when a paragraph will do’”,
What’s Next for Twitter?
What I’m really hoping is that the Twitter folks won’t mess it up by adding more options or making it more complex. The beauty and effectiveness of Twitter comes from its simplicity. You type out a message and it’s done. No pictures, no options to extend. It’s just the essence of good ideas and thoughts.
Twitter is another great tool to add to our growing communications quiver and another example of how many of us are privileged to be living in an age of abundance. Having additional ways to communicate better is a great thing. The trick is to figure out how and where and when to use this tool in the right way at the right time. In this age of abundance, I believe that one of the most critical skills we can acquire is that of making smart fast decisions and choices from the plethora of options we have. Deciding when a tweet is the best choice or a phone call or an email or an in person chat is something we’ll all need to get much better at doing. It’s another great example of the Snowflake Effect because it can be used very differently by each of us. The goal is to use just the right tool at just the right time in just the right way for just the right person.
So go to Twitter and sign up for a free account. If you’d like to follow me, my Twitter username is wwwayne. Once you’re signed on, you can search your address book for others you might know and want to follow.
I hope that you too are about to be “twitterpated” with Twitter and that you’ll soon be more productive, will contribute to this mass collective intelligence of ours, and that just in general it will help you and the rest of us communicate a little bit better as a result.