Twittering away

I have been playing with Twitter lately. You’re welcome to follow me, although I can’t promise that it will be scintillating. I have had some fun with it, but I am still thinking about how it might be useful, especially for work.

The most fun I had was on Oscar night, when I joined in with fellow Twitterers to dish about the clothes, celebrities, jokes and awards. It felt like I was attending a gigantic Oscar party. I was able to track the relevant tweets using a special hashtag (#aa08), so that all related tweets showed up on one page, such as over at twemes.com. I also enjoyed watching the tweets about Super Tuesday pop up on a Google map, although that wasn’t as highly participatory for me.

Here are a few things I’ve learned from twittering:

  • I like to follow people I know or to whom I have some kind of personal connection. It’s OK if I only know them from online. Consequently, I don’t follow a lot of people.
  • I don’t like to follow people who tweet frequently. I only check Twitter a few times a day, and I prefer a good signal-to-noise ratio.
  • I have noticed that just by following BreakingNewsOn, I am actually seeing news first on Twitter before I see it anywhere else.

For me, Twitter is a good way to stay in touch with just a few people whom I am particularly interested in and as a news/information source, but if I follow too many people (or people who are too verbose), it rapidly loses its value. I have particularly enjoyed seeing tweets from my colleagues who are working in Rwanda right now; I feel much more in touch with them than I would have otherwise. And I have struck up one new acquaintance through Twitter, who reads my tweets and replies directly to me — that was unexpected, but very nice.

As for work, I think that Twitter will be most effective for distributed groups of people working on a project together, especially if everyone actively participates. It will be most useful for keeping up with members of the group who are traveling and helping everyone stay in the loop on what we’re working on. This doesn’t only have to apply to work projects, but volunteer projects, friend and family circles, temporary groups such as people attending a conference together and the like.

The trick is to get people in the habit of using Twitter. They will have to find value in it, just as I have — but it took me a few weeks of using it and figuring out how it worked best for me before I saw that value. It helps if there are multiple groups they can plug into beyond just the primary group. SmartMobs has a nice article, “Why I’m Hooked on Twitter,” that describes the value add and can be used to sell Twitter to friends and colleagues.

Here are some more useful resources for Twitterers:

  • Twitter Pack Project is a wiki that lets people self-identify by area of interest, location, company, etc. and connect with others to follow.
  • TwitterWho lets you batch search for names or email addresses to find people easier on Twitter.
  • TweetWhatYouEat is an interesting application that lets you set up a food diary using Twitter.