Taming the Firehose

I spent the New Year’s weekend at my Dad’s house, which these days is nostalgic in more ways than ever. Dad is a luddite and his house is a technology-free zone—no computer, no Internet access, no online connection beyond the “dumb” phone I brought with me. He does have a television (which I don’t) and a microwave because his culinary skills are limited. It’s a different experience. Lots of football, a little hockey, and no Twitter. If we want a weather forecast, I can’t check the National Weather Service website; we watch the Weather Channel. If our timing is off, it’s ten minutes until the next local report. Where has my patience gone? Ten minutes isn’t that long.

When I got online after three days away, the world had gone on without me. There’s a bunch of e-mail, a new connection accepted on LinkedIn, and I cracked the 500 mark in Twitter followers. Well, it’s not like I expected everyone to stop interacting because I’d spent some time away, but I’m wondering how to keep up.

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Rubber Walls, Infinite Chairs

Think of a really good presentation you attended recently. What made it good?

For me, the top criteria are an interesting speaker (or panel) and lots of relevant audience participation. There are lots of other things that can enhance the event, but if the featured speaker(s) aren’t knowledgeable and engaging or the audience looks like they’re dozing off, not much is going to help.

Let me introduce you to Twitter chats. The idea of holding an online presentation on Twitter is so ridiculously simple that I participated in my first only two days after signing up for a Twitter account. And it was huge! It introduced me to people I wanted to follow on Twitter and a bunch more who followed me. I even discovered a former real-life colleague in the stream! It made me think that Twitter chats might be the best thing about Twitter; almost four months and more than 2,000 tweets later, I’m convinced.

Here’s what happened: Immediately after joining Twitter I heard that the American National Red Cross would be holding a conference in Washington, DC, with live video stream and a Twitter chat. (It was officially called the Emergency Social Data Summit, but is usually referred to by its hashtag, #crisisdata.) Being new to Twitter, I thought the chat might be interesting, but expected the video would be most useful. Ha!

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Slinging #Hashtags at the Virtual Diner

“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.)

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“One Who Computes” or Googles or Tweets

About the same time I started this blog, I signed up for a Twitter account. I’d been resisting for a while, wondering what useful information can be conveyed by a medium that limits itself to 140 characters. (Hint: Disregard Twitter’s own “What’s happening?” and tweet about what you’re reading, thinking and sharing. I learned that from Bonnie McEwan in a presentation at the Foundation Center.) When I finally did take the plunge it became my new favorite addition.

But along with learning what to tweet, who to follow, and what a Tweet Chat is, I discovered that Twitter has more insider jargon than most virtual communities I’ve seen. The site itself is called Twitter, and each 140-character or less message is a tweet. “Tweet” can also be used as a verb, as in “I tweeted about that conference.” Your friends and followers on Twitter are “tweeple” or simply “tweeps.” The community as a whole is the “Twitterverse” or, to some, the “Tworld.” It goes on from there, but you get the idea.

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