My dislike of Twitter is well documented. I had checked Twitter before I opened an account in July 2008, and I must admit that I did not like it at all. Perhaps it was the fact that I could not find any interesting people to follow, or that those feeds I subscribed to were filled with dross. I also felt that Twitter was simply replicating an existing medium, that of the Facebook status change. After a short try I concluded that Twitter was the last refuge of the criminally inane and the chronically self-obsessed, and stopped using it for a while.
Since then I have fallen out of love with all things Facebook (I was never a big fan to begin with), and I have stopped using status updates. Really, does the world need to know that I have just had coffee, what I had for dinner, or that I am in the process of writing another article? The only useful function of FB status updates for me was to let people know in which country of the world I was at the moment (PanGloss jokingly referred to my status updates as “Where in the World is Technollama?”)
Some weeks ago I decided to give Twitter another try, and started purposefully looking for relevant people to follow. The reason for this is that I felt that there was a tipping point in the making (or a Twitting Point as some have called it). According to some, Stephen Fry has single-handedly been responsible for this explosion, but I believe that it also has to do with a large number of celebrities joining Twitter, although I don’t get the point of following the likes of Demi Moore and Britney Spears, whose streams are probably not even written by them. What is true is that due to this explosion of users, there are enough feeds out there to be able to pick and choose who to follow.
As with other social media, I think that the key is to find exactly what it is for. At first I was using it much as I would Facebook status updates, but have since decided that the world is not interested in whether I am sitting in a bar having an exotic cocktail, or that I am deprived of caffeine. Therefore, I have made a vow of not following vapid self-absorbed feeds that tell me whether someone wants to go to the toilet, or is involved in complex mind-games with fellow commuters. Life is short.
What has changed my mind about Twitter then? I have discovered real uses for the technology! Mostly, it is a great place to exchange links, and to direct people to interesting events, blog posts, articles, research, and conferences. I have also found a number of truly informative feeds, and it also helps that fellow geek friends have joined the Twitterverse: klang67, nicsuzor, lilianedwards, macsithigh, machine_envy, jordanhatcher, jwlockhart, thornet, just to name a few. There are also a number of news feeds from organisations that make joining worthwhile, such as guardiantech, creativecommons, and EFF. And there is the funny stuff, such as darthvader.
The”gotcha” moment for me however came last week when I started using hash tags for the first time. These are flags that allow people to search and follow similar interests or events. Last week I attended the COMMUNIA workshop in London, and was surprised by the possibilities presented by those annotating the presentations with useful links and comments. This week for the SCRIPTed conference we ran a similar experiment, and I personally found it very useful. Thankfully, Becky Hogge attended sessions I did not, and I was able to find out about papers that interested me, and prompted me to follow-up on them.
So I have to admit that my initial misgivings about Twitter were wrong, and that there are potentials with this social media. Is it filled with useless data as well? Yes, but isn’t that the same with any other medium?
I’m now off to advertise this post on Twitter.
Update: John Lockhart had mentioned this, and I finally found it: