Saturday, February 06, 2010

What He Said: David Carr on Twitter plus a few extra thoughts of my own

I've been meaning to link to this great column by the NYT's David Carr for quite some time: Why Twitter Will Endure.

He expresses a lot of what I try to explain to people about the appeal of Twitter. He also expresses my response to the most common doubts and complaints I hear expressed about Twitter.

1. David Carr recognizes that your experience with Twitter, and the value you see in it depends entirely on who you follow
I often tell people: "If you don't care what someone is tweeting, don't follow them. Surely, the web is the most customizable media experience you can have. You choose who to friend, who to follow, who to subscribe to. You choose how to consume their output...via apps, RSS readers, by visiting sites or not visiting sites. If someone or something bugs" There, that simple. No, really. I know you don't believe me. I know you think you are being assaulted by what-I-ate tweets, or ads, or too many promotional messages, or an over-reliance on flash graphics. You are not. Take control of your online experience, you'll be glad you did.

2. Even if he's following only smart, savvy people, David Carr doesn't try to absorb everything those people say all the time.
In fact, Carr uses a metaphor very close to the one I use all the time.

He says, "At first, Twitter can be overwhelming, but think of it as a river of data rushing past that I dip a cup into every once in a while."

I say: "I don't stand in the flood of information and ideas...I dip my toe in when I can and get a sense of what's rushing by and what I should pay attention to."

3. David Carr finds the tool endlessly interesting and eminently practical and useful
Ask a question, get it answered. It's kind of that simple. From people you know. Or people who know the people you know. When I go to Yahoo! Answers on another such answer engine on the web I find myself wondering how to filter and sift through the various answers much research do I need to do to confirm the research? On Twitter, most of the time, I get something quick and useful and usually accurate.

Has Twitter ever led me astray? On one or two occasions, definitely. I wouldn't recommend retweeting without even clicking on a link. But generally speaking I follow people I trust, and I trust them because they've established they are on the ball.

Now, Carr doesn't capture everything I love about Twitter. Although I signed up in 2006, even before the infamous Twitter explosion at SXSW '07, I wasn't a real convert until much later. But I soon saw the value of Twitter, and it's not just in information and advice and referrals to interesting links.

If social media is all about the social...if the reason we use social media is to connect to other humans, to create a different kind of relationship with our community than can be created using any other form of media channel, then what could do more to forge those human connections than something where people express not only smart, well-formed, substantive thoughts (like those I try to blog) but also the most ephemeral, the most fleeting, the most impromptu thoughts and feelings that don't seem worth a blog post, but express something in my unique voice, nonetheless.

The tweets I publish that get the most replies? Tweets about music, food, things that strike my heart, not just my brain. These may not be the tweets that get *retweeted* the, that's the informational and educational and promotional stuff. But I get the most response, and forge relationships, based on being a real-live human who loves to hear "Bizarre Love Triangle" on the way to work, or is excited when a restaurant offers vegan dessert, or has a chance encounter with a sobbing woman in an airport.

Twitter is where the Internet is most like my family...having heated debates around the dinner table one minute, sharing my day the next, and laughing over something stupid only we understand the next after that.

Why do you love, hate, or have a love-hate relationship with Twitter?

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Because it's brains to brains, hearts to hearts, and who you are is what you have to say. Like listening in on (and hearing back from) the soul pool. And you can tune into the best and leave the rest.
OK, so maybe I didn't need to write this big long post. I should have just asked Jenna :)
I've had a couple of different versions of this conversation lately, mostly with coworkers who don't get the Internet at all. And yes, there are smart, committed, activist-type people out there who have never blogged, nor been interested in reading a blog.

The thing I tell them is that Twitter (which of course, they've only heard about from reading stories about how someone else read about a third party's lunch and decided Twitter was ridiculous) is a game-changer because of the hashtag.

The hashtag that allows me to follow, for example, what people are live-tweeting about my boss's remarks at a conference we were both attending. That one flipped some people over, to be sure.
Oh, definitely, the ability to know what people are saying and thinking in real time is incredibly useful form a practical point of view. Although I think that's exactly what some people don't like. It's overwhelming, and they really don't feel comforted when you say: "That conversation is happening whether you read it or participate in it or not..." :)
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