In my post “Tweeting Libraries” among other things I described my Personal Twitter experience as opposed to Institutional Twitter use. Since then I have discovered some new developments in my own Twitter behaviour and some trends in Twitter at large: individual versus social.
There have been some discussions on the web about the pros and cons and the benefits and dangers of social networking tools like Twitter, focusing on “noise” (uninteresting trivial announcements) versus “signal” (meaningful content), but also on the risk of web 2.0 being about digital feudalism, and being a possible vehicle for fascism (as argumented by Andrew Keen).
My kids say: “Twitter is for old people who think they’re cool“. According to them it’s nothing more than : “Just woke up; SEND”, “Having breakfast; SEND”; “Drinking coffee; SEND”; “Writing tweet; SEND”. For them Twitter is only about broadcasting trivialities, narcissistic exhibitionism, “noise”.
For their own web communications they use chat (MSN/Messenger), SMS (mobile phone text messages), communities (Hyves, the Dutch counterpart of MySpace) and email. Basically I think young kids communicate online only within their groups of friends, with people they know.
Just to get an overview: a tweet, or Twitter message, can basically be of three different types:
- just plain messages, announcements
- replies: reactions to tweets from others, characterised by the “@<twittername>” string
- retweets: forwarding tweets from others, characterised by the letters “RT“
Although a lot of people use Twitter in the “exhibitionist” way, I don’t do that myself at all. If I look at my Twitter behaviour of the past weeks, I almost only see “retweets” and “replies”.
Both “replies” and “retweets” obviously were not features of the original Twitter concept, they came into being because Twitter users needed conversation.
A reply is becoming more and more a replacement for short emails or mobile phone text messages, at least for me. These Twitter replies are not “monologues”, but “dialogues”. If you don’t want everybody to read these, you can use a “Direct message” or “DM“.
Retweets are used to forward interesting messages to the people who are following you, your “community” so to speak. No monologue, no dialogue, but sharing information with specific groups.
The “@<twittername>” mechanism is also used to refer to another Twitter user in a tweet. In official Twitter terminology “replies” have been replaced by “mentions“.
Retweets and replies are the building blocks of Twitter communities. My primary community consists of people and organisations related to libraries. Just a small number of these people I actually know in person. Most of them I have never met. The advantage of Twitter here is obvious: I get to know more people who are active in my professional area, I stay informed and up to date, I can discuss topics. This is all about “signal”. If issues are too big for twitter (more than 140 characters) we can use our blogs.
But it’s not only retweets and replies that make Twitter communities work. Trivialities (“noise”) are equally important. They make you get to know people and in this way help create relationships built on trust.
Another compelling example of a very positive social use of Twitter I experienced last week, when there were a number of very interesting Library 2.0 conferences, none of which I could attend in person because of our ILS project:
- ELAG 2009 (European Library Automation Group) in Bratislava, April 22-24
- Dutch Conference Social Networks 2009 in Rotterdam, April 22
- Ugame Ulearn 2009 in Delft, April 23
All of these conferences were covered on Twitter by attendees using the hashtags #elag09, #csnr09 and #ugul09 . This phenomenon makes it possible for non-participants to follow all events and discussions at these conferences and even join in the discussions. Twitter at its best!
Twitter is just a tool, a means to communicate in many different ways. It can be used for good and for bad, and of course what is “good” and what is “bad” is up to the individual to decide.