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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Understanding Twitter behaviors

Twitter is an Internet phenomenon. Perhaps it's nothing more than another branch of the Web's ongoing evolution but there are many of us whose lives are being changed in small ways by it. In one compact interface, it's possible to accomplish things that normally requires several other technologies. That is a disruptive change.

Over the course of my upcoming blog posts, I'll examine what motivates users to interact in this way, what can be accomplished in Twitter as an alternative to existing technologies and what new capabilities are made possible that didn't exist prior to Twitter. I'll also share some thoughts about what Twitter could become with the addition of a few feature enhancements.

For this first segment, let's look at the ever-present question Twitter asks of us:

What are you doing?

A couple of years ago, when Twitter was first demo-ed for me, I laughed out loud. Why on earth would anyone go out of their way to write something that no one would ever read? (Kind of like this blog post.) And if anyone did happen to read it, they surely wouldn't care. (I'm pretty sure I felt the same way about blogs when I first heard of them as well so I don't exactly have a great track record for seeing the possibilities when a technology first comes onto the scene.) Once value can be demonstrated, I'm generally a quick study.

Answering the question "what are you doing" and posting it for the world to see, or even just the group of people who follow me, didn't exactly rise to the level of demonstrable value for me. Consider the things I might have written on any given day:
  • I'm showering
  • I'm doing my morning walk
  • I'm getting coffee at Starbuck's
  • I'm driving to work
  • I'm at my desk
  • I'm dreading the project I have to begin
  • I'm going to get lunch
  • I'm back at my desk
  • I'm wishing some people in my office wouldn't laugh so loud
  • I'm looking forward to the end of the work day
  • I'm leaving work
  • I'm going to pick up my daughter from soccer practice
  • I'm meeting a friend for dinner and a drink
  • I'm writing in my blog

Folks, that was my day. Pretty routine and uneventful stuff if you ask me. Very meaningful to me, but I don't expect others to give a damn. Fourteen completely mundane statements of absolutely no consequence to anyone but me. And there you have what I'll refer to as the first Twitter archetype.

Twitter archetype #1 -- "status"
Posting a comment with no intended recipient and no expectation of a response.

I don't know about you, but where I grew up, we called this talking to yourself. Just picture yourself out for a stroll on a busy street, or in a shopping mall or perhaps in a restaurant. Anywhere that you're surrounded by people. And then suddenly, you speak out loud so everyone can hear you: "I have to go do my laundy." That may sound funny to you (it does to me) but that is exactly what is happening over and over again on Twitter.

The real value that comes from posting your status is very much like writing in a journal or a daily planner. What you write there is primarily intended for your own personal use. Once it gets written, it becomes real and it lives on beyond the moment you wrote it. Type #1 tweets are reminders, instructions to yourself, opportunities to vent and express your thoughts, feelings and opinions. Typically the writer doesn't care who is listening -- the post isn't meant for anyone. It just feels good to write it, and sometimes it feels better to write it publicly.

Often though, someone is listening. And sometimes they respond. I'll call this Twitter archetype #2 -- "copy that." It is a simple gesture that lets the writer know they were heard. I'll pick up at this point with my next post.

Wanna know what I'm doing? I'm going to sleep.

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