Saturday, January 5, 2008

Observations on the Twitter Experience

I've been using Twitter for almost a month now. I finally took the plunge to join after Jeremiah Owyang published an article about his Twitter experiences.

Taking the plunge sounds so dramatic. What was I waiting for? I was kind of intimidated. I really didn't know what I'd have to say and I didn't know anyone who used it. But Jeremiah said he'd follow me (well, anyone that added him) if I (we) followed him. So, I was guaranteed one "friend," and I joined.

It's been a very strange experience. It took a while to understand the time line. And I felt a little more comfortable once I read Caroline Middlebrooke's Twitter Guide. I follow more people (26) than follow me (13), which is fine since I still really don't know anyone anyway. My rationale is the more people I follow the better feel I'll have for the Twitter experience.

Most people I follow or who are following me I "know" in the sense that I've seen them on other blogs or social networks. But some I haven't a clue how we got hooked up. Besides people, I also follow w00t and Hoosgot.

Initially, it seemed like everyone was just sending out random updates into the cosmos. Some tweets are self-promotional ("Check out my latest blog post"), some are slice of life ("Feeling sorry the redskins lost"), some are personal ("Happy Birthday, Tumar"), some are more professional chit chat ("By using Anchor Free to get around Hulu, the up speed improves as well"). Conversations are really all over the board.

Strangely enough, is still feels like a close community despite the fact that it's not immediately apparent who is following who or who is talking to or answering who (did you follow that?!). And in my case, though I rarely directly respond to anyone or have anyone respond to me, I don't feel like an outsider.

And, no, I'm not a lurker. While I have used Twitter to get the scoop on some stories to Mixx, I still post what's on my mind or what I'm doing. But it has taken a while to get comfortable enough to do so. Twitter really blurs personal and professional. And it's a surprising difficult hurdle for me to leap.

In my one month's experience with Twitter, I've come to the conclusion that one would have to be incredibly organized, attentive, and selective if they were going to go either strictly the personal or professional route. But they would be all about what web 2.0 is NOT -- closed, exclusionary and in complete control.

Twitter is about engaging and participating, and its about letting go and learning from others. You don't have to divulge the most intimate parts of your life, but you also don't need to be super professional, precise, or perfect. It's okay to tell your followers that you're taking your son to baseball practice, or give them advice where they can buy a good sump pump (yes, this has happened), because you'll just as soon give point them to free keyword sites, recommend a great business book, or request some feedback for a new blog article. All in 140 characters or less!

I still look at it as more of a Learning About Twitter exercise than an engagement tool. But I hope that will flip flop. I think there are a lot of people like me who see a great potential in Twitter, but haven't figured out what that is yet.