It’s not a secret that Twitter, the 140 characters blogging service has become mainstream. For those of you living on planet Mars, who haven’t yet heard about it, Twitter is a place where you can communicate in a very short way -Â 140 characters maximum – the answer to a very simple question: “What are you doing?”. Other people may follow you, meaning they will actually see what are you doing / writing. And you can follow other people too, meaning that you can see what they are doing. Simplicity at its best.
But out of simplicity the best things in our life came. And out of simplicity you can create some of the most interesting and challenging things in your life. In today’s post I’ll try to share my opinions on using Twitter in the last few months. I’m approaching my 1000th update on Twitter and that will be one important milestone in my Twitterer career. Joking, of course.
All About Me Versus Sharing Others
Being on Twitter and being engaged in social interactions on this media is a surprisingly interesting activity. Most of the time you’ll be inclined to respond to that fundamental question: “What are you doing?” and unveil your life and day to day activities in short, yet compelling pieces of informations.
But after a while and after reading other people’s timelines you’ll find the need to share some pieces of other people’s life. You’ll start to re-tweet (quote) other people ideas, links, quotes or findings. You’ll start to be a broadcaster for others. In fact, you’ll soon find that one of the key metrics in being a successful twitterer is the “me versus other” ratio. And by “successful twitterer” I don’t mean a popular one, but a person who extracts the best value out of this.
My first few hundreds updates were all about me. It was like an adaptation period to a new way of incorporating information, using a smaller and limited framework (140 characters) and at different times of the day. Like learning a new language. Writing on Twitter that I was on a small trip or that I was reading a book was a new and intriguing activity. But after I learned it, I started to “go out” and see what others are doing. I started to re-tweet links, quotes or just simple tweets of other people. My “me versus others” ratio changed visibly.
The first result of this was a more fulfilling experience of Twitter. More information, more interaction, more satisfaction. I found myself using Twitter far more than I used news sites or feeds, not to mention traditional media like television or newspaper (which I don’t use at all, by the way). But the second effect was a steady increase in my followers number.Â And that’s one of the most surprising effects of using this media: the more you give value to other people, the more value you get back. Quite an unexpected lesson to learn from Twitter.
Writing what’s happening to you in only 140 characters is a frustrating experience. Not only in the beginning but even after a few hundreds of tweets you’ll find it a little cumbersome. Sometimes you want to share a river flowing in your life and you ony have a few drops available to express that.
But that’s the beauty of it. It’s like the japanese poetry, in which a poet is supposed to build emotion by using only a fixed number of syllables: a hai-ku, for instance, is having only 17 syllabes. And there are thousands of hai-ku masterpieces. But not only the Japanese poetry, the classical sonnets had also very strict rules regarding the form. In fact, all types of art had a form constraint. And that was sort of helping them to become understandable, shareable and reproducible.
But beyond this form constraint – which is quite questionnable, I agree, and using art to compare it with might not appeal to all twitterers out there – the main point of having only such a small amount to write brings in another surprsing lesson: expressing only in 140 charcters forces you to live your life instead of writing it. By being forced to obey to this length limitation, you’ll have the chance and the time to actually live what you’re writing. You’ll have a life to live and only 140 characters to describe it. The math is simple: you will live your life more than write it… Of course, you can write hundreds of times per day, leaving so little room for your actual life, but that’s usually not happening. At least, it is not happening for me.
One of the most interesting aspects of this community is the way in which it creates interaction. You can start talking to people just like that, without being properly introduced. Of course, you will follow them for a while before talking to them, but most of the time you can talk to somebody out of the blue. And most of the time that somebody will find that quite normal and respond back.
In real life this is not happening. You have tons of rules – written or not – that are stating when and how you should talk to another person. Twitter creates a space in which you can discuss with virtually anyone. And about vitually anything.
The social mechanisms have been streamlined to a limit that will be difficult to cross, without seriously affecting communication. You can only go after somebody you like, and you can block a person that you don’t like. That’s all the netqiuette in Twitter. That’s all the social mechanism that is governing this world. Or, to be correct, this is the absence of a social mechanism.
And this absence of social mechanism is making the discussion area grow almost without a limit. You can have tens of conversations daily, with persons that you don’t know in physical form, yet polite, interesting and fulfilling. The lesson: interaction is much easier than we’re taught it is. Just go with the tweet.
Extremely Targeted Readership
Or should I say: extremely targeted followership. The lack of so called features has made Twitter one of the most targeted communities in the media history. The social networking in itself created the targeted friendship several years ago, with Myspace and more recently Facebook. And Twitter is a social service, after all.
But Twitter adds to this friendship / follower mechanism the principle “more is less”. Or, to be quite precise, it doesn’t add anything, but takes out all the bloatware and leaves it bare. You don’t need to share albums, music, blogs, quotes, travel impressions in a standardized form, you just need to say what you’re doing in 140 characters. You can always have links for the rest, this is why links have been invented in the first place.
That absence of anything that could stay in your way is actually allowing the person you’re interested in to grow, to become a real person, not a collection of links, videos or blogs. All of the people in twitter are more alive to me than the people in Friendfeed, Facebook or LinkedIn. They’re actually living with every tweet. The lesson: information sharing is history, here comes people sharing.
Writing Your Life As You Live It
The “live” term is redefined by Twitter. Maybe the live television in the sixties was a big milestone in the history of media, but the “live” in Twitter is even better. Every piece of writing is done in the present and that makes the timeline a living window to the outside world. Every tweet is alive.
Of course, you can have tools to automate your twitter experience, from blog plugins to notify your twitter followers about your new post, up to quite complicated applications which will heavily uses the Twitter API. But those automated tweets are quite often unseen, as much as the banner blindness phenomenon in display advertising. More spontaneity in your tweets means automatically more value to your followers.
The lesson: I don’t know if there is a lesson to the higher degree of spontaneity in Twitter, I just wanted to mention it at the end of my post. The other three lessons are surprising enough to make me use Twitter more in the next period.
So, what do you think? Do you use Twitter already? Have you had similar experiences? Or very different ones? Feel free to share your thoughts on the comments below. And, of course, you can follow me on Twitter :-).