When I first started to use Twitter there was a small and fairly tight knit group that I followed and who followed me back. It really felt like a community and there was a sense of intimacy. The feeling of intimacy was supported by meeting with a lot of these folks in real life.
But over time the follower count grew. I don’t check the numbers like many seem to, but it must be over 1,000 mostly mutual follows by now.
Sometimes I am asked how it is possible to follow so many people,especially in the light of ideas like the Dunbar number of about 150 people.
It has made me think about how I see Twitter and how it works for me.
TWITTER IS LIKE A RIVER
Twitter is like a river that is always flowing, whether I am there to see it flowing or not. From time to time I come to the river and watch it flow past. While I’m there interesting conversations and tweets catch my eye and I respond. New people say interesting things and I follow them. Then I go away again, and still the river of Twitter continues to flow. It is important to maintain a zen like calm when I cannot see the river flowing past.
TWITTER IS LIKE A COCKTAIL PARTY
Twitter is also a bit like being at a cocktail party [HT: @mediamum]. When you arrive the party is under way and conversations are happening. But unlike a cocktail party in real life, it is a lot easier to chime in on the conversations in Twitter. Also because you are not physically present it is easier to interact with people you don’t know. In this environment it is easy to build up relationships that involve weak social ties, but which are really quite powerful in different ways.
It can be hard, with so many contacts, to stay in touch with particular individuals. I always read @ replies and DMs (direct messages) and respond where it makes sense. This is where tools come in handy so that none of these personally directed messages are missed.
TOOLS TO MAINTAIN PERSONAL CONTACT
The other side of Twitter is that you actually get to know people. This might seem a strange idea. But it is possible to meet and get to know people online, and to become friends. There are some folks whom I count as friends – we met initially via Twitter only to meet later in real life and continue building the relationship.
But the challenge with an increased number of contacts is how to manage the conversations. I’ve found Tweetdeck to be an immensely useful tool, it enables creation of groups. Also Twitter searches, which can be saved to an RSS reader. Mr Tweet is also very useful if you want to work out who else to follow. And Tweet Later is a really handy service.
What an amazing, diverse and interesting bunch of people I have access to nowadays with Twitter. In the past it would have been impossible for me to make contact with so many people in such diverse locations and professions. I’ve made some good friends, had some interesting debates, and learned a lot. Thank-you to everyone who’s participated. Look forward to tweeting more in future.