Twitter, purpose and community

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A while back Twitter was having some real problems with stability and scalability and it dawned on me that they, like many innovators,  had not realised what kind of invention they had made.  They talked about it as a ‘microblogging‘ platform, that is, as a very short message publishing service.  This is a very web 1.0 view of what this type of platform enabled.

Instead, what Twitter (and it’s competitors) enabled was conversations.  And conversations enable community. So, without realising it,  what they had actually created was a community building platform.

One place that this is really evident is in Australia, especially in Sydney.  About four years ago I recall complaining that there was no real tech community in Sydney even though there were lots of web development and hi-tech companies in town.  At the end of 2007, coincident with the beta of Twitter, a number of people got together and decided to do something about it.  This gave rise, or new life, to various groups.

All of this could have happened using email lists and online user groups, just as it had in the past.  But I’ve found that those groups are hard to maintain momentum with if you are only meeting once a week, month or similar.  What you need to build real community is a village.

This is because villages provide ambient contact on a regular basis that reinforces relationships and creates personal knowledge of each other as members of the community.  Luckily for us Twitter came along at just the right time to provide that kind of ambient community building contact.

One of the first shoots of this community in Sydney was the formation of the  Sydney Twitter Underground Brigade (a.k.a. @STUB & the guys at Happener deserve kudos for their support of @STUB over the years).

This was an important step in creation of a sense of community in the tech world in Sydney as it brought us together in real life on a regular basis.  And that real life contact was reinforced by ongoing conversations on Twitter. Now we know what each other look like in real life and maintain contact with each other, though geographically dispersed, via Twitter.  These days, if I walk into a web or tech conference in Sydney, there’s a lot of familiar faces.  And all this is due to the community building that Twitter has enabled.

Sure, while Twitter serves to keep us in contact regularly, the community is also supported by various blogs, wikis, Google Groups, and web pages.  But it is Twitter that we use to organise and publicise  a conference, or a picnic, or drinks at the pub (check out Silicon Beach drinks each Friday in Sydney).

Here’s some pictures from a recent family tweetup/picnic that was enabled by (a) the community built via Twitter (most of us met first on Twitter & then in real life); (b) the ability to send both broadcast and point-to-point messages via Twitter for logistics & planning; and (c) to remind me it was on – even though I had completely forgotten to diarise it.

Note re language
For some reason I don’t know, tweetups in Australia became focused around TUBs (or Twitter Underground Brigades) and most big cities have a ‘TUB’ (Perth PTUB; Melbourne MTUB; Brisbane BTUB; Canberra CTUB – if I’ve missed any please let me know).  The term ‘TUB’ has now become vernacular for tweetup around these part – hence there’s a fairly regular @girlTUB and a recent #familyTUB (see pics below).

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