Friday, October 19, 2007

Experimenting with Twitter

We conducted a week-long experiment with Twitter, for 12 people who were not yet familiar with the tool. In this blogpost, we'll describe the experiment, and we'll summarize the reflections and new ideas for applicability of the tool. I'll also share my own ideas about Twitter in more detail.

Twitter is: A global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: What are you doing? Basically you update your information continuously with short messages (max. 140 characters) and you can follow/be followed by others who read those messages.

Our experiment was introduced with the following instructions (here summarized):

  1. Sign up for a twitter account at (in the right upper corner) and add a photo of yourself by clicking on Your Profile and share you twitter account (eg. in the wiki and Add the other participants to your twitter to follow them.
  2. Twitter away during the week…. You can twitter by logging in to Twitter.
  3. Experiment with messages for the whole group by using @ecollaboration
  4. Type of content: Share what tools you are working with, what tasks you are busy with in your organization, and ask the (stupid) questions you never dared to bother others with.
  5. Write down your experiences in the wiki.

The experiences summarized:

Though the interface looks clear, people needed quite some time to find their way. How to find the message? Where to reply to a direct message? etc. Someone felt like she might have missed some opportunities in the tool. It doesn't take a lot of attention, but needs frequent attention, hence people felt that it is time-consuming. People differed in their opinion of seeing added value: "it's fun to know how the others spend their time, but not really helpful" someone said.

Possible applications of Twitter:

It's interesting to see that people have very different opinions ranging from "The additional value of use isn't big", via "I would focus to use it for information exchange such as questions or recommendation and not to exchange moods or any kind of actions" to "I can see the potential for project teams that need continuous communication, or organisations or people that want to communicate to their "followers" about a conference, a campaign, or general news and progress. Also for theme focused groups (like e-collaboration)".

For me it has shown again that a new tool can be very uncomfortable in the beginning, especially if you don't know how it's going to help you to do your work. It may actually take longer than a week before you get at a certain level of comfort. Personally I started to enjoy Twitter after some days, because I really got to know some people better by what they are doing. I also got some interesting links to blogposts etc. but to follow that up takes time. So it easily diverts your attention from what you were doing. A colleague in Ghana added me to twitter too, and that experience made me realize that you can be very close with a group of people anywhere through twitter, much closer than through mailing lists, online forums, or an occasional chat session. Knowing his concerns, and frustrations (eg. with uploading) reminded me of the different context in Ghana.

But as someone said: it needs discipline to exchange and have added value. And it seems that this is not for everyone. That brings me to the observation that tools like twitter can bring new linkages and communication (I learned quite a lot more about the 3-5 people who were very active!) but you have to be carefull not to create too many divisions if people who don't find a tool intuitive are left out. On the positive side, almost half of the people who twittered, were not at the face-to-face meeting, so it is a way to engage a different group of people than with a face-to-face meeting.



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