Saturday, June 20, 2009


As you'll recall, I've always had a bit of a downer on web-based social networks. I've written on the subject several times (here, for instance). Bebo and Myspace have recently been cited in cases of bullying (see here) and even suicide pacts. And we all know how Facebook was outrageously used to attack the survivors of the Dunblane massacre (see here). It was always inevitable, I guess, that these sites which encourage us to share so much - personal details, tastes and attitudes, drunken photos etc. - could be turned into something negative or just plain nasty. They also do much to attack the fundamental notion that we should all retain some privacy and secrecy about ourselves. As I discovered while taking part in the recent Twitstunt event, communication by electronic media quite often leads us to reveal more about ourselves than we ever would in face to face encounters. Maybe it's something to do with the lack of visual stimulus? It is a fact that the spoken word accounts for only a small proportion of our face to face communication after all. So maybe with wholly written communication and no access to non-verbals, intonation, accent, emphasis etc. we have to provide more detail to qualify what we say?
The one social media platform I have sung the praises of is Twitter. And with good reason. Firstly, Twitter does not demand many personal details; the bare minimum is a log-in and password. Secondly, it doesn't take up your time asking for photos and profile details or by engaging you in pointless quizzes and activities. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it is quick and efficient. All you have to play with is a single field of just 140 characters.

In this past week, I've seen some wonderful examples of why Twitter comes out on top. Firstly, there are the 'trending topics'. This is where topics are suggested for comment and conversation. Anyone who comments includes a hashtag in the body of their 140 tweet so that clicking on it takes you to an index page where all related comments are displayed. Fascinating reading at times. And good fun too as many trending topics are created solely for us all to demonstrate our dreadful punning ability. Like some online democratic version of 'I'm sorry I haven't a clue' (and aren't we all glad that's back? Sadly without Humph, but still just as funny), we get to answer trends like #animalinstruments with such silly answers as Cellocanth, Oboe Constrictor and Captain Corelli's Pangolin. Playing along with these daft games keeps my brain sharp and I love joining in on the daily commute.

Secondly, it's a great way to meet people in an anonymous non-threatening environment. I've met some extraordinary minds via Twitter and think of many as genuine friends even though I've never met them. Some Tweeters do meet of course - I met a couple recently while taking part in filming Tony Hawks' new movie - and TV foodie Greg Wallace took this to a whole new level recently by finding his girlfriend on Twitter (see story here).

Thirdly, Twitter allows for short, quick communication one-to-one or one-to-many. As such, it allows celebs to instantly refute allegations and press stories, at least to those people who follow them (and that can be a lot). Direct messaging between two people mutually following each other provides a quick and easy method of private communication; I definitely DM much more than I email or text these days. And we all vicariously experienced the extraordinary events inside Iran this past week by following various individuals (whom I won't name for their safety) who were trapped in the heart of the chaos and violence of post-election Tehran. It was like watching a quality drama with desperate cliffhangers as the terrified tweeters told us things like 'the police on motorbikes are here ... shots are being fired ... ' or 'we have to split up ... I don't know when we will be able to speak again ...' It was heart-wrenching to read some of this stuff but it was so addictive. Nothing can put you at the heart of events better than personal reportage.

Apple have been quick to mobilise the Twitter platform with various i-phone apps but even a basic web-ready phone like my Nokia E71 allows me to tweet. Twitter allows us to communicate, participate and share without revealing personal details or becoming too invasive. If other software designers take this as a starting point, Twitter points the way to a brighter future for social networks.

For a great explanation of Twitter go here.

(I'll expect a cheque in the post Mr Dorsey)


Andrew Kerr said...

I like Twitter for all the reason you state.
It can change events and encourage debate.
Twitter was mobilized to skew a web poll by Daily Mail.
I myself found out about it vie Twitter and help in the skewing.
At the moment Twitter seems like a positive place to meet others.

punk in writing said...

Twitter rocks. It's as simple as that.

Anonymous said...

Twitter is fun.
I like it for the news on my finger tips and also the opportunity to view other people's lives, obviously far more interesting than mine...
I don't understand why I keep making it through your purges though, I feel like a russian avoiding stalin's dinner invite...

Stevyn Colgan said...

Andrew - I thought you'd written a poem. Then your scansion and rhyme went all to pot. Thanks for the blank verse comment anyway!

Punky - Blimey yes.

Moley - My 'purges' on Twitter have been few and infrequent. I made the mistake of following everyone who followed me; a great way to increase my followers but it made it impossible to catch up on the conversations of people that interest me. So I stopped following lots of people ... and they stopped following me. I kept the ones I like or who talk to me regularly. Like your good self. x

Lisa said...

I like Twitter - it's fun and quick and it's a great way to chat without getting to bogged down.


Andrew Kerr said...

I may have given up on twitter if not for you.
witty and intelligent chatter,what more could a person ask.
Through you Twitter has open up far more for me.
It's not about star following or number of followers you have but Twitters making the World smaller.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Good comments all. Andrew - glad it's helped.