Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The Unbearable Politeness of Tweeting

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Another decent turnout for the Social Media Cafe (#smc_mcr) at the The Northern last night and a tip'o'the hat to those involved in organising the event.

It's encouraging that such events can actually be arranged so quickly and, in that sense, social media is working very nicely thank-you.

Since the first #smc_mcr, the group's wiki has a more lived-in feel with plenty of people putting their names forward to both speak and attend the events (although, oddly, not last night's speaker). The group has even spawned it's own sub-group on last.fm which takes the concept of the 'silent disco' one step further in that you don't even have to turn up. You can observe what other smc_mcr's are listening to from the comfort of your own garrett. Encouragingly, Boards of Canada are at the thick end of the group's dinky Long Tail after just one week, proving that those that have signed up on last.fm are a right-thinking bunch.

Anyway, at the inaugural #smc_mcr last month I tweeted, during the proceedings, that it might be a good idea to have a screen or a ticker showing what people were tweeting about during the presentations. Within minutes that idea took shape and well done to Julian at Littlestar for organising two big screens for last nights event. However, and I shall be the first to admit this, the idea was fundamentally flawed. In putting Twitter on the 'big screen' we inadvertently turned the back-channel into a highly visible front-channel. Frozen in the glare of the throbbing plasma, the great and good lost all control of their critical faculties and struggled to muster any decent comment/challenge re the 'speaker' of the evening.

I say 'speaker', because that generally creates an impression in the reader that someone with presentation skills is being described. Sadly that wasn't the case last night. Heather Corcoran from FACT, lovely lady though I'm sure she is, turned up with an online connection to some pleasant enough non-controversial arty bobbins obviously thinking, 'that'll do'. It wasn't enough really as she mumbled through link after link of fractionally-diverting, grant-attracting shenanigans. However, to her credit and with Paul Dirac-like aplomb, Heather inadvertantly created Anti-Twitter, as the assembled crowd, reserved and British to the last, refused to comment or acknowledge this faux-pas ridden 'elephant in the room' on the back-channel.

Itchy fingers hovered tentatively over iPhone touchscreens as the North West Twitterati tried to psyche themselves up to saying what they really felt. Those who did tweet, favoured safer topics such as 'are geek's sexy?' and 'will these links be on the wiki?', the rest stayed stock still formulating their next drinks order or putting off that nagging visit to the loo. One person at the back held on so long, they needed to be held over a grid.

Never mind. Lots learnt and we move on. It was a great opportunity, before and after, to put faces to avatars and I wasn't the only one enjoying some interesting and fun conversation. I'm looking forward to the next #smc_mcr as it continues to evolve and must remphasise the point made by those who organised the first two events, that we're all part of this thing and can play a part in shaping and organising these events. Any criticism in this post should be taken in this spirit as I'm as keen as everyone else for #smc_mcr to go from strength to strength and to guard against it becoming 'the scene that celebrates itself'. I'm happy to play a part.

Monday, 1 December 2008

The Mysteries of Twitsburg

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After a while you kind of get pulled under by Twitter and before long there's a form of acceptance about what you experience. However, when you take a step back, there remain a number of oddities and unanswered questions about the Twitterverse and what goes on in there.

Whilst there are number of over-riding similarities in Twitter behaviour, there are just as many, if not more, huge differences.

Why We Tweet?

  • Some Twitterers seem to be set almost exclusively on Output mode. 'It's all about ME!!' I guess they see this as an opportunity to sell themselves without opening up any meaningful dialogue with an audience. Replies seem to go unread. They are certainly unacknowledged. Odd. (I suppose for some of the really popular Twitterers, a self-imposed 'no-reply' policy might be the only way to handle volume, but if @stephenfry can manage the odd reply...)

  • Others are obviously set to Input and whilst they seem to follow others, sometimes many others, they rarely tweet themselves. It's hard to tell whether they are lurking, or whether thay have simply left the building.

  • Then there's The Conversationalist with Nothing to Say'. These Twitterers only tend to communicate in reply to someone else. Every single tweet is usually prefixed with an @twitterer and they are happy to offer views or add value to someone else's tweet without ever kicking off a conversation themselves.

  • Then there are those textbook Twitterers who will ask sensible questions, often in the form of 'Pointed statement or question. Discuss!' in order to invite replies or attract people to their blogs. Quite often though, these Twitterers don't acknowledge their Twitter replies or the comments received on their blogs, so it all breaks down.
A Certain Ratio

Some Twitterers seem to be an a race to gain as many followers as they can and do this by following as many others as possible in the hope that most of them will follow back, which they often do. This can lead to a quantity over quality problem, however, as these Twitterers may never hit a point where thay have more Followers than people they are Following.

On the other hand, some Twitterers seem to have vast numbers of followers whilst they themselves seem to follow very few. This seems unfathomable at first, as the Tweet content of these ostensibly popular Twitterers is often patchy and banal. Then it dawns on you that, these ratios can also be because you are:
  1. famous,
  2. pretending to be famous.
  3. a very pretty lady* with your picture on your avatar, or
  4. someone pretending to be a very pretty lady with a picture of a very pretty lady on your avatar.
So that seems to be the key to successful Twittering. If you've nothing much to say, get a picture of a sexy lady or Stephen Fry on your avatar and you'll never be short of friends.

[*Sorry guys, not being sexist here, but, @stephenfry aside, blokes looking straight into the camera for their avatar picture don't look sexy. They look like serial killers.]