Is Twitter Serious?

That was the topic of a lengthy conversation on the ASAE & The Center Executive Management listserver this past week. It revealed the usual concerns: it's a waste of time, I don't want to know what you had for lunch, I'm overloaded with communication as it is. But I was also pleased that so many people posted positively about it. That wouldn't have happened just a few months ago, it seems. But I wanted to weigh in at the beginning, particularly about the whole "lunch" thing, so I wrote:

I think others have made the basic points about twitter–particularly the "try it before you judge it" message. I too thought it would be stupid when I first started using it (I felt the same way about blogs, but I couldn't live without reading or writing blogs now). And thanks to Elizabeth for the props on the cable TV analogy.

But I do feel compelled to respond to the people who are somehow upset that their time is "wasted" by reading tweets about what people have for lunch, dinner, etc.

I work in an office. When people walk by my office carrying a Wendy's bag, I know what they are having for lunch. I didn't need to know that information. It's not something I'll particularly discuss with them. But I know it. I didn't even want to know it. Knowing it is simply a tiny part of my relationship with them. But it does set them apart (in a tiny way) from the zillions of other people that I don't know. It was a distraction for me to notice it, and that's okay. Relationships are distracting, and they also make the world go around.

We've been distracted by the same stuff we see on Twitter as we have in real life, but suddenly when it's on Twitter it becomes upsetting.

You certainly have to make choices about who you follow. Someone who tweets 49 times per hour about food might be more distracting than you need. But do expect the people in your network to be human, be they in person or online.

Then the conversation continued, and another common argument came up: that Twitter (perhaps social media in general) could just be a fad…wait and see where it is in a year. So I was compelled to respond again:

Hmmm. Fads are about popularity ups and downs. Maybe the TRS-80 was a fad for a while (I had one!), but the underlying trend was personal computing in the home, which has been quite transformational to our society.

Personally, I don't care much about the debate over which tool will have staying power. And even though I do think social media has transformational potential in our society, I'm not sure I care about debating THAT either. That is, I don't want to debate it, I just want to do it.

I don't think we'll know ahead of time if this is going to change the world, so I am just going to go ahead and try. I really like Steve Lawson's blog post in defense of Twitter because he talks about it (and Social Media) as a "practitioner space." It lives in the practice.

I only figured out how to get value out of social media after I started using it. And even if I were to tell you exactly what I did to get value out of it, I'm not sure that advice will work for you, because when you get into it, the "it" will be different than what I was in.

The idea of doing something before you know it will work seems scary, but I wonder if the days when we had such luxury are now past us, at least in some areas.

I think I overstated my lack of desire to debate the transformational potential of social media by the way. That's an important conversation too. I just wanted to emphasize the value of practice here. But I do think Twitter (and social media) is opening my eyes to perhaps a new paradigm here, and I'm not even sure yet how to frame that conversation.


  1. 20.03.2009 at 2:37 pm

    I love your point about the “wait and see” people. I just read the book “tribes” by Seth Godin and he brings up a good point about the wait and see method of doing things. It is just an excuse to avoid making change. That and by the time you have waited, most likely the opportunity has passed you by.
    You need to take some risk if you want to be rewarded, and I would argue the risk of trying social media is much smaller than most decisions.