Twitter: Tribal “Presence”
Back from SXSW and while it’s fresh in my head I’ll just shamelessly add to the deafening babble about Twitter, the many-to-many messaging service that asks users to answer the question "What are you doing?" in 140 characters or less.
Twitter is a nearly perfect virtual watercooler around which you can gather with friends, family, or even famous people. Initially it will remind you of chat rooms, but it gives you a lot more power over when, how, and who with you participate. You can use twitter in a web browser (where it has many features of an online social network), in an instant messaging program, or on your phone via SMS. Twitter’s mechanics vanish behind the curtain very quickly; it’s a supremely usable and well-designed application (it’s so easy to use in all three of its channels; it allows seamless shift from a sit-down web-browsing experience to a mobile experience; it neatly resolves the conflict between user control of privacy and user desire to be able to find others.)
People are using twitter in all sorts of ways — to find each other while they’re on the go; to network; as a moleskine for notes on experience; to instantly share news/urls; and of course for inane drivel. Chris Brogan has written several thoughtful posts about Twitter’s possible uses, and Beth Kanter sums up a bunch of conversation and asks some good questions to consider about Twitter’s utility for nonprofits.
Two of the posts she links to resonate loudly for me:
- Liz Lawley says "presence" matters — and twitter really does give me that watercooler-conversation vibe. A great bit from Liz’s post:
… one of the aspects of Twitter that I find most fascinating [is] exploring clusters of loosely related people by looking at the updates from their friends. There are stories told in between updates. Who’s at a conference, and do they know each other? Who’s on the road, and who’s at home. Narratives that wind around and between the updates and the people, that show connections. Updates that echo each other, or even directly respond to another Twitter post.
- Chris Brogan writes that Twitter lets you ‘jump the gate‘ and join communities that might otherwise be inaccessible — certainly that’s been true for me, and after a short and earnest trial it’s definitely helping me build some new relationships with people I really admire.
To all that these worthies have to say about Twitter, I have only this to add: Before we all get lost in tactical thinking about how/whether this tool could help teams of people achieve a goal, we might linger a little on the visceral experience of using this thing. I think it slakes some primitive thirst for tribal identity. The technology gets out of the way in a flash, and then you are into an experience of real-time group presence. And we like that, we humans; we like to feel part of a community. Each individual member of a twitter tribe — which could be family, fellow SXSW geeks, a political campaign, a hivelike community around a nonprofit brand, or high-school seniors keeping up with each other — can go about their business and feel as continuously plugged in as he/she wants to be. And I’ll testify that for me at least, it was a kick-ass experience to feel so plugged in at SXSW.
I’m waiting until Twitter introduces a serious groups function before I start telling clients to jump on this bus. (Right now, you can fake your way into what more or less behaves like a group, but it’s not adequate for non-tinkerers who just want a fairly straightforward, turnkey opportunity to put up a branded group and try to nurture it to life.) Once that happens (and I’d be surprised if it didn’t), a branded Twitter group could be tremendously powerful for advocacy groups or political campaigns, giving constituents an opportunity to feel plugged in to both headquarters and to each other.