Twitter is a phenomenon, that's for sure – an internet networking site where one has just 140 characters or less to connect with other people.
Most "Tweets", or comments, occur at the chit-chat level of encounter (individuals sharing thoughts, experiences, enthusiasms, music, jokes, hobbies, breaking news) or involve people's giving their immediate reactions to any of these. They happen in real time, and are recorded along a time line. But you can pick up tweets others have directed at or about you by looking back at the the time line you're written previously or at the ones where you've been mentioned.
The majority of tweets do not involve real intimacy. People on the site look for what catches their immediate attention. Every comment is flagged with the twitterer's chosen avatar-identity, so you can see who's making comments of interest to you and choose to "follow" that person on a continual basis – have their thoughts added to your time-line. And of course, people can follow you.
It's fun to mine the various streams for interest, because the audience is so broad that tweets cover a huge variety of topics. You can take you pick. And there's a measure of safety built into the system – you can opt out of seeing someone's comments if you want to, and even block them altogether if you wish.
You can block those who spam you, cut them out of your timeline. But input (mine included) varies quite a bit. Someone whose tweets seem dull may surprise over time. And most people like to see like their number of followers / followings rise – many are building a following of some kind, much like a band does in order to get that precious record-deal.
Like most people, my interest has mounted as my number of followers has increased. So far I've vetted my followers one by one, checking out their profiles individually. Just now an email arrives in my ordinary email inbox telling me someone is following me. But I can see a time coming when managing the stream like this would be inconvenient and too time consuming. At that point I will probably look into finding a "bot" or add-on script that will do it for me … but not yet.
All this takes time. Just as in "real life", building trust does not happen overnight. You need learn the rules of the game, such as they are.
- Show people you're not just out there to take their money but will share a little of yourself and what you think is important.
- Unless you're a 'sleb, great wit or a guru, you need to do more than give your Deathless Thoughts about Life – show interest in and curiosity about others' Tweets / lives. American comedians and Stephen Fry still tweet according to the rules; less so rap and movie stars
- Pass on to those in your timeline – you, your followers and those you have followed – anything that's caught your attention. That's called "re-tweeting" RT for short, but it could be called "showing generosity."
- Say what you mean but be considerate – just as in email, it's surprisingly easy to hurt or be hurt
Some Twitterers have been tweeting for years, but I've only been doing it for three months. I found the learning curve frustrating and bewildering for about the first six weeks. But as my skill has increased, so has my sense of satisfaction. My encounters have been growing steadily in terms of reach and interest.
This week I graduated – made what I'd call "first contact." Not just the normal light chit chat, but a real conversation, where I was put onto my heels and had to listen and respond with all my wit. It left me excited / confused / anxious – not for nothing is "first contact" the theme of so many apocryphal science fiction films.
Stimulating though it was, I fought the impulse to flee before this encounter was really over – especially when it became clear that the person on the other end of the conversation was at least as clever as I am, and also very different from my previous " chit chat "fantasies about him. I'd misjudged his gender – which I understand is a classic Twitter mistake; many choose animal or other avatars which are gender-neutral or different from their own.
In short – it was a very real, very interesting encounter, but in my wish to explore the connection I probably jumped over my need to go slowly. My Twitter contact was more a veteran than I and was very gracious about this – but he did confront me about expressing myself sloppily.
Quite right, too.
So, Twitter IS, potentially, personal. It's NOT controlled by the Mob or big business, not yet: the money men who put forth the venture capital are having a hard time figuring out how they're going to profit from it.
Well, I'm certainly not going to tell them – for me, the value of Twitter is that there are lots of real people on this network, sharing their interests and passions. I'm learning about their lives, their humour, their taste, a little bit at a time. The size of the morsel makes this process safer than most online encounters and far more manageable; and for once it's not dominated by pre-teens.
I can handle the come-ons from the money-makers without getting my pocket picked. So I expect I'll be Twittering for some time to come. Are you interested? Great. Perhaps I'll see you online.
(C) Alexandra Brunel 2009. All rights reserved.