“If you build it he will come.”
Hearing those words, the fictional Ray Kinsella (as opposed to the author of the same name) decided to build a baseball diamond in his corn field. His baseball heroes did indeed come, and Kinsella found himself losing control of the situation. Some years later, after Field of Dreams had been made into a movie, the farmer who allowed his corn field to be used for the filming was overrun with tourists and movie fans.
As we begin the holiday season it’s easy to see how communities establish traditions. Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing, cranberries… the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade… football games. Followed by Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Red kettles and bell ringers on street corners collecting donations for charity. Trees, decorated windows, menorahs, carols, Scrooge and the Grinch… Leading to “Auld Lang Syne” and popping corks at the stroke of midnight. In my family the rule was that if we did something once and people liked it, it became a “tradition.”
Apple Computer is an example of a company that has built a strong community of enthusiastic product users. To those of us who don’t own a Macintosh computer, Apple’s most loyal fans can seem a bit too evangelical. (Just ask a question in an online forum about anti-virus software and the Apple disciples will tell you to buy a Mac and not worry.)
But such loyalty can backfire. People stood in line overnight to buy the newest iPhone models, but when they learned that Apple had restricted what they could do with the devices an elaborate underground of “jailbreaks” sprung up to liberate their devices from the shackles of AT&T and Apple-approved apps. The “Think Different” crowd was thinking for themselves and circumventing Apple’s own limitations on the iPhone. Especially on the Internet the communities we launch can easily take on lives of their own and propagate, in spite of the originator’s intentions.
If you tweet it they will come
All of which brings me, in a slightly round-about way, to the story of Saturday night’s Tweet Diner chat. Tweet Diner (hashtag #tweetdiner) is a weekly Twitter chat organized by Stanford Smith and Margie Clayman. It’s loosely stated purpose is to allow Twitter users to ask questions and share tips about using Twitter and other social media. Although it only launched a few weeks ago, it has rapidly become popular. The diner metaphor is apt: Tweet Diner is a very social, slightly chaotic conversation among dozens of participants. There are lots of references to food, but also to Twitter and blogging.
On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Stanford announced that there would be no Tweet Diner during the holiday weekend. I must admit that from the moment I read that I had my doubts. A Twitter chat is, after all, nothing more than a group of people with Twitter accounts and a hashtag. It’s not a physical building that you can lock. (Hashtags were, by the way, invented by Twitter users, not by Twitter–a perfect example of the community adopting a form and adapting it to its own purposes.)
Sure enough, I checked the #tweetdiner hashtag on Saturday morning and saw some conversation. Sabine McElrath complained “You can’t just close a diner on a holiday weekend!” Others (including me) joined in. So around 9:00 pm I checked my #tweetdiner stream on HootSuite. There were stirrings and I joined in. It wasn’t a jailbreak, but the community was determined to engage in conversation, holiday weekend or no.
As the crowd dwindled and the virtual coffee pot ran low, the chatter grew more serious. Margie offered some of her ideas about what Tweet Diner ought to be: a forum for new Twitter users to learn and ask questions. As Margie said, “we wanted to create a sort of ‘chat for beginners’ that we hoped would be carried throughout the week.”
The Diner’s open 24 hours a day, Margie. You and Stanford built it that way and your loyal community simply won’t let that go–even if we have to look under the mat for a key when the managers are away.
The upshot is that some of the regulars at Tweet Diner had fun in a slightly calmer chat stream than usual. Next week I expect there will be more focused effort to solicit questions from new Twitter users. I, for one, will be making an effort to invite new people to next Saturday’s chat.
Ten years later I’ve made a few updates to the links. Everything else remains true. I learned so much!