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/ log / 6th Oct, 2008 /

Twitter :focus

Tiled background using the letters of 'twitter' to make up different words.

The preceeding image contains words formed from some of the letters in, ‘Twitter’. They’re not anagrams because not all the letters are used in every word, but it was fun. It’s a seamless tile. If you have a use for it, please feel free under the usual licence. Just out of interest, the typeface seems to be a bespoke variant of Chickens by David Buck (SparkyType).

I like Twitter because…

It reminds me is that human beings are still tribal. As an example, if you check your own address book, or think about your family and friends, they probably number no more than two hundred people. We may have more in the book, but it’s rare for our intimates to be greater than two hundred people. Our networks are geographically dispersed these days. Even if your network is mostly in one location, people are so busy living that it can be difficult to stay in touch. Twitter is a facsimile of living and working in proximity for me, and provides something unique, too:

It may often be prosaic, but I like reading about the daily lives of people I know. The small details of peoples’ lives are often the most poignant. The ambient intimacy is priceless. Working alone in my office, mild doses of cabin fever are inevitable. I miss being around people. I miss being around people I like even more. Twitter brings them to me. If we like people for their good qualities, but love them for their frailties, Twitter helps us do both. Everyday it adds texture to the picture I have of my friends.
It also introduces people to me I would not have met, and enriches relationships with people I’ve only met briefly. This can’t be understated in developing relationships with people. In many ways, it’s even better than geographic intimacy because I can turn it on and off. Rather than subjecting my followers to every detail of my day which would be painful if we were in the same room, I can moderate what I share. The same is true in reverse. If used judiciously, Twitter is priceless for getting to know people without being intrusive.
Information comes my way that I’d otherwise miss. The things that are fascinating or important to people I care about or respect are delivered in short bursts. I can’t count how many interesting snippets have come my way through the fingers of those I’m following or followers’ direct replies. It’s akin to hearing people think out loud. There’s a freedom I think we all feel using Twitter that enables us to throw random thoughts and links out to the world. The fact they don’t impose unless the recipient wants them to might be something to do with it. It’s unobtrusive soap-boxing at its best.
If people have taken the time to follow a person or organisation, the chances are they are interested in what they have to say. However, the intent behind the content is important: There’s a fine balance between self-promotion and self-aggrandisement. One is the personal delight we take in sharing what we’ve done, the other is giving it the ‘big Billy Graham’ to encourage obeisance or be commercially manipulative. I appreciate it when people make announcements or share links that are relevant to me, or a delight to them. The same goes for organisations. But, if it feels like they wish to use me as a witness to their greatness, I always shy away.

I’d like it more if it had…

  1. UK inbound SMS, again. The recent loss of SMS notifications was a blow. Like many people, I only used inbound SMS for direct message notifications. In the UK, the sender pays for SMS delivery, not the sender and the recipient like in the USA. Twitter had to bear the brunt of all charges; UK companies were too short-sighted to give a decent deal to a service that was extending SMS usage. Hey, it’s not like SMS is their most profitable service, or anything. Consider the amount of data in a single text message and how much they charge for it. For the same cost you probably get about a minute of call time transferring much more data. See what I mean? SMS equals huge profits.
  2. Friend filters. I’d like to be able to add many more people to my list of friends if I could. The truth is, when I’m head down with work, I struggle to keep up with those I follow right now. Allowing me to asign friends to groups and filter groups would enable me to track colleagues and close friends when I’m swamped but also dip into the lives of acquaintances better when I have a spare moment. Another filter in a similar vein is one all Twitter users miss: followers filters to be able to organise follows alphabetically, or chronologically, if nothing else.
  3. Hashtag filters. Hashtags are supremely useful in tracking topics — automatic linking would be good — but they could also be useful in ignoring them, too. Especially around conference time when the chatter can get overwhelming as people organise social stuff and live-tweet the talks. This is not rudeness, just signal versus noise filtering when I’m tethered to my desk.
  4. Link filters. I admit it, sometimes I’m only interested in the links people share. That would make me the hyperlink version of a gold digger, or you could say I love some people for their brain, more than their breakfast.
  5. Full archiving: I use Twitter like a narrowcast journal. The events and moments are worth remembering. Recently the archive got extended to 820 tweets, or 41 pages, but I’m pretty certain the rest are in the database; we just need a way of getting at them.
  6. (Last but not least:) Better use of :focus. Currently, the improved interface has no styles on :focus, and much more seriously, the reply, favourite and delete icons for each tweet are not available at all via the keyboard.

Today and everyday

I get more from Twitter than any other social web service. Take today for instance: I found out that Chris broke his toe playing football, Tim got clotted-cream fudge from a colleague, Paulo posted about his transsiberian journey, and Paul and John were spammed. ‘Eureka!’ moments they are not, and I’ve only met two of those folks in the flesh, but that’s exactly why the tweets are so valuable. I feel like I already know a little about people I’ve never met because of Twitter. Everyday life happens all the time, not just in the momentous or unique moments you remember to blog about. Perhaps that’s what Twitter is: the everyday social network.

With a lot of help from Jon Gibbins my tweets also appear in the asides.

I use it to watch friends’ lives unfold, and share the events of the day with colleagues. I guess I should say I’m jontangerine on Twitter. Feel free to follow, but I can’t promise to always give you the perfect signal. That’s the beautiful imperfection of Twitter posts though. If nothing else, they’re very honest, and everyone has a different voice. If you haven’t already, you should try it! If you’ve come across it already, how do you find it?


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  1. 1. By David Pennington on 7th Oct ’08 at 08:51am

    Twitter is like a pipe line of your personal life that can be maintained without any effort. People like to talk about themselves, but often find maintaining a blog to difficult. Twitter provides an easy answer to this problem.

    Plus, as shown by your post, you can learn things that you might miss by keeping up with these little "tweets".

  2. 2. By Josh on 7th Oct ’08 at 10:23am

    An excellent post that has compelled me to hit the "subscribe" button with vigour.

    By the way, your "Chris broke his toe playing football" link seems to point to a tweet about something else… unless Chris was talking in code, or something.

  3. Jon 陳’s profile 3. By Jon 陳 on 7th Oct ’08 at 12:50pm

    Hi David. How people self-moderate can be interesting, and the disposable nature of the service makes it easy to write. However, some tweets seem so esoteric to me I wonder if they even make sense to the author.

    Thanks for the catch, Josh! Now corrected.

  4. 4. By Richard Rutter on 13th Nov ’08 at 03:10am

    I’d like it more if it had… Friend filters

    I’ll second that. It’s one of the things I like about Pownce – you can use 'sets’ as filters for sending and receiving messages. For filtering my incoming Twitter stream, I use the group functionality of Tweetdeck which enables me to group together tweets from my colleagues, local friends and others.

  5. 5. By Genie on 9th Dec ’08 at 10:00am

    I would LOVE to be able to get the full archive — I know it’s back there, just haven’t been able to pull it all. But yes — it’s got all kinds of stuff I’d like to be able to keep in a journal somewhere.

  6. 6. By Sam on 3rd May ’11 at 14:05pm

    I’ve yet to be able to “get into" twitter. I’ve tried it about 4 or 5 times now, and give up after about 3 days every time. I do enjoy occasionally following celebrities (usually footballers), but I just can’t bring myself to “tweet" regularly.

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