Adventures in Social Media*, Part I:
Where Everybody Knows Your Name
When Twitter was launched a couple of years ago, I was not an early adopter. Announcing on the internet what you were doing at any given moment? In 140 characters or less, devoid of narrative context? I was and remain a passionate defender of blogging against that linty old charge of narcissism (as if no one before the twenty first century ever thought to write out of their own experience), but twitter had even me feeling crotchety. I thought it was the very definition of banal. That baby could stay in the basket on the doorstep.
Then I went to my first Blogher conference in Chicago, and everyone was Twittering. My roommate Alana, whose Twitter haikus, Momku, had just been featured on Twitter's home page, teased me when she caught me peeking over her shoulder at her update stream. There were tweets from people I knew. It was like watching a note being passed around the classroom that never comes to you.
I couldn't stand it. When I got back from the conference, I signed on, but with a private account. That meant only people I approved could view my updates. It was a revelation. It's hard to describe Twitter to people who don't tweet. Like religion, you can't make sense of it from the outside. It was my virtual office water-cooler, where I could talk shop with fellow bloggers. It was my favorite stool at the end of a neighborhood bar. Snappy witticisms, opinions and idle small talk all filled my stream, and sometimes, amid the banter and racousness, there would be an exchange that was real and profound. Just as in an offline social network, I ratified connections, made new friends and even got some work out of it. I got news from Twitter before it made CNN. Tweeps in Southern California tweeted earthquakes as they hit. I read updates from Houston tweeps as they deliberated evacuation ahead of a hurricane. When I was hunkered down in a closet last April, with no lights, radio or tv to tell me where the next tornado was headed, I relied on Twitter updates on my Blackberry from people with access to live radar.
The privacy afforded me the freedom to tweet pretty much anything on my mind. I could rant there, swear there, open up there in a way that I don't to a broader audience. My stream felt very close-knit, intimate and immediate.
I tried to keep my follow list limited to people I had some kind of real relationship with. Sometimes I added someone who was good friends with a friend, or just someone I'd heard of, and wanted to know better. The queue of requests to follow my updates grew longer, and I began to feel angstier about it. The exercise of approving some and denying others didn't feel great. At one point, I just deleted my account and started over under a new one, but the follow requests found me anyway.
Then I read this article and became curious about what it would be like to Twitter openly. I decided to give it a test run.
With the cat several months out of the bag, I can tell you it's a wholly different animal. I've had to alter my twitter content to take into consideration, as I must here, that total strangers are tuned in. But I've also been able to call ally-ally-in to the request queue (spammers and obvious weirdos aside), which feels good.
It's not that cozy corner of the bar for me anymore, and I miss that. But it's still a place for me to be a little more off-the-cuff than I am on Notes. Call it a release valve, tangential to the main distillery. If you like, you can follow my updates here.** If you don't care to, you aren't missing anything but fizz.
Coming up: Facebook, my personal Night of the Living Dead.
*Fuzzy on what this means? Check out this excellent public radio program on the social media revolution.
**Disclaimer: my attention span doesn't have the capacity to follow a lot of people back on Twitter. It's not that I don't want to reciprocate, or that I don't care what's going on with everyone else, it's simply that I can't keep up past a very low threshold.
Labels: streaking the quad