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Twitter as a message board in a lonely hearts club


I originally likened Twitter to a kind of rotating, multi-sided message board in a virtual office peopled with hand-picked, like-minded "colleagues" - perfect for someone like me who had recently shut down a lively office and found himself working from home in the countryside, alone, isolated (work-wise) and recession-hit. But I now think other motives are dominating Twitter and people's message boards have become so over-filled that they are being ignored, failing in their potential & purpose, and have been transplanted to a virtual lonely-hearts drop-in centre packed to the gills but dominated by an in-crowd, t-list celebrities getting their kicks on karaoke-like machines.

Life online seems more and more to be about people desperately seeking (as a marketplace for some, an audience for others) more followers by ingratiating themselves with "key" people, following/befriending strategically only to entice a follow-back, RTing strategically for friends or would-be friends, or engaging only with in-crowd people. Vying for attention & popularity by being the most up-to-date, controversial, early-adopting. It's all terribly unhealthy in terms of relationships, and terribly fragmented in terms of utility.

I'm concerned that this is turning social media in general & Twitter in particular into mostly a don't-think tank, full of inane "notes to self" and diary-like observations at worst, to, at best: messages never read, links to articles never seen, insights forgone, appreciation never expressed, minimal understanding of things that actually need careful consideration & debate or that warrant taking on board and doing something about. Like the web in general, it is fragmenting the world (of communication & action) into ever-thinning groups (in some cases just one person) who believe they are doing something positive, but who are in fact isolating themselves in a fantasy world far from where they are really needed (in their community, in their family, in their marketplace, in their society).

An increasing proportion of the work I do involves sifting through the mass/mess of information available out there in automated or user-generated forms to pick out the bits that will be useful to a very precise group with clearly defined needs, who either don't have the time or the know-how to do it for themselves because they are too real-world-based in their work or upbringing. It reminds of a story I once envisioned writing about a book shop that didn't sell books newly published unless they had something totally original to say; and that didn't have stock on display but rather had a counter at which you discussed your needs with the owner (a prolific reader) until he had identified the perfect book, always old & perhaps long forgotten, for you and fetched it.

I think it is possible that the same thing is going to happen in Twitterland. "Editors" who you will provide a synopsis of issues discussed online, who you then follow exclusively because you know they will pick up on the stuff useful to you & pass it on without the other nonsense & repetition getting in your way.

Suggestions for improving your Twitter life (Tantric Twitter, perhaps!):

Follow a maximum number of accounts - the number depending on how much time you spend on Twitter. (100 to 200 seems about the limit for fitting in quality communication via Twitter to an average working day.) How? ...
  • Only follow people you know or admire, and/or
  • Only follow people already well-established/ recognisable as experts in a particular field, and/or
  • Only follow people who offer mostly a particular type of information/communication, and/or
  • Follow mostly organisations of interest to you
  • Don't follow celebrities unless they have something worthwhile to say (their lives are generally "designed" around the idea of making everyone else envy them)
Don't expect to be followed back

Read all the tweets in your stream & reply when approriate
Check the items referred to in tweets & read them or act on them when relevant
Thank the person/organisation if they have provided something useful to you
Consider favouriting the really good stuff rather than RT'ing constantly

Don't tweet vacuous drivel ... too often!
Don't blog on something unless you're an expert & can't find the information/thinking elsewhere
Don't publish anything unless you feel you absolutely have to
Provide a particular type of information/communication (even if it's one-liner jokes, to tech tips, to recruitment advice)
Don't RT as a favour or because you think you owe it to the person

Don't let Twitter substitute for communicating with your real friends by phone or face to face

Finally, do expect to be followed back, RTed or replied to when you tweet something important or original; and if you are not repeat the above steps until you are!

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