Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Value of Twitter, Part 1: The Personal

The Value of Twitter Series:
Part 1: The Personal
Part 2: The Professional
Part 3: The Informational
Part 4: Join the Conversation
Part 5: An Annotated Conversation

Several people have asked me what value I find in Twitter. They all signed up for the service, and after a few desultory posts pretty much gave up on it.

Well, as I recently wrote, Twitter is what you make it. And it works pretty much like a cocktail party. If you're a wallflower and don't talk to anyone, you're not going to get much out of it. Personally, I find three areas where Twitter's valuable to me; the personal, the professional, and the informational.

Let's talk about the personal.

If you're not familiar with Twitter, you might ask how is it different than Facebook or any other social media site?

Part of it has to do with the length of the posts, and the nature of the service. With only 140 characters, you have to be brief. Facebook, et al, allows for more lengthy conversations, along with embedded pictures, videos, etc. With Twitter, it’s all text. You can provide a link to further illustrate your point, but even that URL must remain within the 140-character limit.

People often dismiss Twitter as a time-waster. And if you're perception of the service is an endless series of tweets about what one had for breakfast, or when they went to the bathroom, then that would be true. But it’s not.

Go back to the cocktail party analogy for a moment. Plenty of people just make small talk in social gatherings. "How's the weather?" "How about them [favorite sports team]?" There's not much value in those conversations. And I think few of us would be interested in talking with someone who could only make small talk.

But suppose you were a fan of said sports team. That opening question might get you to respond with your opinion of the star quarterback. Which could lead to a discussion of the current season, and then favorite plays from past games, and so on. Now you and the other person are conversing in depth about a topic of mutual interest.

That's how I use Twitter for the personal. I sometimes throw out informational tidbits about what I'm doing, to give folks a better idea of who I am. But they’re also designed to be conversation starters, too, if anyone’s interested. Here are some real tweets I’ve done:

One thing I like about fall. When it's chilly, the morning sky is clear and I can really see the stars (even the Milky Way this morning).

"Food will not bring us close to God." (1Cor.8:8) Hmmm. So I guess I better put down that Lil' Debbie snack cake.

Bird feeder's knocked out of the window, and there’s feathers on the windowsill. I think we've inadvertently fed the hawk again.

Sometimes it works. In the following real-life example, I happen to know a goodly number of my followers are interested in classical music. So when I talk about what I listen to, I expect to get a comment or two -- like this:
Me: Listening to Bruckner's Missa Solemnis in B flat. (thanks, iTunes DJ) This choral work seems to flow better than his symphonies. IMHO

Tom: Bruckner's Symphonies flow majestically if the conductor knows what the f*ck he's doing (i.e. Furtwangler).

Me: Not saying I don't like Bruckner symphonies. I do. Now Furtwangler's symphonies are another story entirely...

Tom: Furtwangler's symphonies are awful. He did write a decent Te Deum, though. It's not as good as Bruckner's however.

Me: I actually have all 3 symphonies, his piano concerto, and violin sonata on CD. So I think I've given Furtwangler a fair shot!
Not earthshaking, but a pleasant conversation, nonetheless. And I learned a little in the process, too (now I have to track down that Furtwangler Te Deum).

Just as I would at a cocktail party, I only disclose so much on Twitter. I seldom talk specifics about work (boring), and politics (too polarizing). Since other family members aren't on Twitter, I don't talk about them to respect their privacy.

But still, I find the personal content of my Twitter feed to be an engaging read when I check it. If you pay attention, you can get to know a person better just chatting with them informally. And I've found that to be true, even through a 140-character filter.

Are my followers BFFs? No. But, just like a good cocktail party, it’s an interesting mix of personalities. And one that I brought together by taking part in the conversation and not being a wallflower.

- Ralph

Day 182 of the WJMA Podwatch.


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