Tech Life All the social

Yard Sale

In the past two weeks, I’ve seen a second flood of friend requests on Twitter. Included in this second wave were several Twitter haters who apparently believe that they’ve made their point and now it’s ok to join Twitter.


I wasn’t the first person to jump on the Twitter bandwagon. In fact, my original plan back in February was to give it a two-week trial to see what was what, and it’s now July and I think I’ve finally figured out the what.

Casual Information

I’ve identified two specific and unique uses for Twitter, and this why an application like Twitterific has now become a part of a very short list of must-have applications that I fire up whenever I sit down at a computer.

First, a definition. Twitter and the many Twitter clones are the kings of casual information. This is information that is non-essential, meaning that if this information was never discovered by anyone — no big deal. More on this in a moment.

The reason Twitter owns casual information is based entirely on the spartan feature set they’ve chosen to provide to their users. You can add friends, but the total lack of presence information about the people in your network means you’ve no clue whether or not they’re actually going to read a thing that you type, so you filter yourself. You can’t depend on the information getting to anyone, so you don’t send essential information.

Twitter detractors see this as the biggest nuisance with the service. They claim the casual information relayed via Twitter is non-essential, egotistical, and dull. Oddly, they claim this on their very own weblogs which I find… interesting. What I find more interesting is that you never know when casual information might become essential.

Twitter is an informational yard sale. You simply never know when that off-the-cuff comment you toss will alter a person’s day. I’ll explain via my two favorite use cases:

Use case number one for Twitter is when lots of Twitterees are congregating in the same place. My most recent example of this was at WWDC where my average twits per hour went through the roof. Anyone at the conference with a Twitter account was doing the same thing and it was a brilliant way to sniff around the social undercurrents of the conference. It was also handy for ad-hoc event coordination. The best example of this was a message I sent the last day of conference which read, “Drinks @ the W — 4pm. I’m buying”.

Three hours, thirteen attendees, and several hundred dollars later, I knew two things. First, who doesn’t like free booze. Second, the definition of casual information varies wildly by who reads it. I would’ve happily drunk my margarita on the rocks solo at the W, which is why I threw my invite into Twitter, but it turns out twelve folks took my casual request and made it essential.

My second Twitter use case involves keeping track of distant friends. A few years ago, I interviewed Brent Simmons, who is the creator of, among other things, NetNewsWire. I like Brent. (Hi Brent!) My gut instinct tells me that if Brent and I worked at the same company, we’d do lunch… a lot. Still, Brent is in Washington and I’m in Los Gatos and that means the extent of our relationship is that each WWDC we end up at some bar for 15 frenetic minutes doing a year of catch up.

When Brent showed up on Twitter, I immediately started following him because I care what Brent thinks. Yeah, he’s had a weblog forever, but the casual information relayed via Twitter is far more real. The act of creating casual information is a real-time slice of your life of the moment. I read messages in Twitter and think that people are giving themselves a headline or a title of a chapter of their lives. Here are the last three on my screen right now:

  • Absorbing Jared’s Hometown
  • A Bit Early for the Cure
  • The Wife’s Margarita Recipe

Twitter gives me a glimpse into the lives of an interesting collection of people across the planet. It’s casual information, but it’s also a bit of poetry and it’s all better than radio silence. I’d prefer to be drinking with y’all, but I’ll take what I can get.

Social without the Network

In the vast sea of social networking tools, Twitter stands apart because of what it chooses not to do. I like Facebook. It’s friendly, it’s authentic, and it gives me interesting slices of data about the lives of the people in my network. I like Ning, too. I like their focus on easy network building, I like how they actively care, and I think they could’ve gotten more than $44 million.

Still, both Ning and Facebook throw a tremendous amount of crap between myself and my network. Ok, so it’s not crap. It’s a pile of choices, and whether it’s an ad or a video or whatever content the network wants to throw at me, a choice is a decision and I have very little time for more decisions in my day. All I want is to know what these bright people in my network are up to. That’s it.

Twitter is all the social with very little network.

5 Responses

  1. Twitter is an informational yard sale. You simply never know when that off-the-cuff comment you toss will alter a person’s day.

    Thank you for summing this up so succinctly. I’ve spent many written and spoken words trying to explain why I think Twitter is valuable. Now I can cut to the chase.

  2. twitter indirectly yet very effectively alters the language landscape by enforcing a new layer of distillation and economy into group communication and private thought.

    honestly i can’t think of recent tool, custom, or cult that more successfully encourages people to think about what they mean and how to say it.

    to think clearly, to be heard, and to master the art of the one-liner, one does well to twitter.

  3. Facebook *used* to be more social and less network, and then they added their developer platform, and a lot of noise got added to the system. I’m sure that will die down, though. I too like how it presents the most important information — what my important people are up to — right there on one page.

    Thanks for explaining why you like Twitter; I’d kind of been ignoring it to this point because I was already overwhelmed with info, but your post got me interested again.

  4. “Facebook *used* to be more social and less network, and then they added their developer platform, and a lot of noise got added to the system.”

    Totally agree, there’s a lot of random crappy application in there at the moment. Preferred it when it was simpler and cleaner.

    One thing you can’t do with twitter is randomly poke people. Thanks for the poke back rands!

  5. Feeling too similar to a luddite, I recently took the twitter plunge. It hasn’t worked out so well, for one key reason: I have no followers, and no one to follow.

    Twitter presupposes a social network, and further assumes at least a portion of that pre-existing network is also on twitter. I have neither, and so go twittering in the forest, with no one to hear.