Well, gosh. Far more insightful people have commented on Twitter at this point. But I need a break from a night of marathon administrative work, and I thought I’d take it that break in my blog by chiming in.
Several years ago, when I began experimenting with the open-source tools available to us through our Bluehost accounts in DTLT, one of my goals was to find a tool that would allow us to foster a sense of community in our division. At that time, we were all working in geographically separated places across (and between) campus(es). Every week, we would get together for one or two meetings, but it was never quite *enough*. It seemed that an awful lot of tacit knowledge and water-cooler conversation (which, make no mistake, I consider a vital part of the office community) was getting lost or simply never happening. We needed to be a team, but we didn’t have the mechanism to come together.
So, I set out to find a chat tool that we could all log into together and maintain a kind of presence in. I hoped that the tool would foster connections, the connections would foster community, and the team spirit would just follow. I settled on a Flash based chat tool that had lots of problems (but only cost $5). A few of us regularly hung out in the space, and once an amazing conversation ensued, but for the most part the room was empty and the conversation was quiet.
At the time, there were several “Shoutbox” plugins for the content management systems I was experimenting with. I installed these and considered using them but ultimately shied away from them. They just didn’t seem immediate enough. I didn’t think they would capture the dynamic give-and-take of conversation the way I imagined a chatroom would.
Now, after spending a few weeks living in Twitter I realize I was completely wrong! Twitter is essentially a shoutbox on steroids. It doesn’t try to be a synchronous chat tool. Rather, it provides you with a small space to easily post “status” information — some of the best kind of information according to some. You’re not meant to have chats (or even conversations — at least not in the sense that we typically conceive of conversation) using Twitter. There isn’t that sense of overlaid speech; it doesn’t seem to get as easily convoluted or fragmented. Heck, it limits the number of characters you can type. Talk about controlling the conversation. . .
It’s an extended version of the Facebook “poke.” (No jokes, please.) It’s a way of saying “I’m here.” It’s also a way of quickly sharing a link, a thought. . .hmmm, perhaps even a piece of tacit knowledge?
Okay, occasionally, the tweeters get a little out-of-control and start doing the “chat thing.” But that always seem to die down to background noise.
I know, I know. It’s ephemeral. It’s fleeting. It’s got the disposition of a nasty cat. It eats into our blogging activity (Sorry, I don’t buy that. I’m blogging more since I started using Twitter, and I’m convinced they’re related).
Look, all I know is there is something about this tool that makes it easy for me to foster connections that otherwise seem hard. I don’t Skype my Twitter friends; I wouldn’t necessarily login to a chat room with them regularly (I would wonder why they would want me to.) But I’ll tweet with them all day long. And I hope they keep tweeting me.