Twitter may be stressed, but don’t ignore it

Twitter has been mentioned a few times in SmallBizPod a few times during the past year. It’s a web service that allows you to post short messages about what you’re doing …

27th May 2008 at 12:02 am

Twitter has been mentioned a few times in SmallBizPod a few times during the past year. It’s a web service that allows you to post short messages about what you’re doing at any moment. These can be picked up on computers and mobile phones. In itself, Tweeting sounds totally insane. As I’ve said before, “Who cares?” But, oddly, the answer is often quite a few people. Like many web services, it has issues but I’ll come to them later.

Some people I know have thousands of ‘followers’. I have a mere 237. But then again my posts are sparse and, to my mind, fairly uninteresting. But, I hang in there. As do lots of people I know. I’m dead fussy about who I follow, but I do dip into the lives of 54 other people. We stay ‘tuned in’ to each other without making a big deal of it.

The Twitter service is a bit like a school playground – you see a lot of people you know and you notice who they hang out with and what they get up to. It’s not that you’re particularly focused on them. You’d be busy doing your own thing. But there’s a sense of community awareness and, if something happens – a fight breaks out, someone does something good or starts an interesting game – you might attack, defend, praise or join in the game.

It’s about relationships. You’re there for the people you care about and you hope they’re there for you. Other people you don’t know, also watch (assuming you’ve given permission – default is ‘yes’) and if they’re interested in your life, they might make contact.

It’s a totally un-businesslike process, yet it creates channels of help, support and communication. If you regularly rummage your ‘followers’ list, you may find people with the same interests as you. If you stick up a plea for help, there’s a good chance someone will chip in. If you share something useful with others – a good YouTube movie or blog post, perhaps – they will quietly recognise you as a goodsource. Relationships form inductively. And these often translate into real life encounters when a mutual benefit is sensed.

At 140 letters per ‘post’, you’re forced to keep things terse. And, depending how many people you follow, you probably can’t catch everything that’s said. Nor would you want to. Think of it as a river of stuff and you watch it flow by from time to time and occasionally take a dip.

So what’s the downside? Well, recently, the service has taken two major hits on its performance. Both were caused by technical problems – one caused a traffic overload and, no sooner had that been fixed than one of the databases collapsed. With a free service, complaining isn’t really an option. You hope it will recover and you vow not to depend on it too much.

Thus far, people I know who’ve suffered these disruptions have looked on more in sorrow than in anger, which is very fortunate for the (small) Twitter team. Rumours abound that it has received $15M of series B funding which, if true, will hopefully help it find a way out of its technical difficulties.

If you have an internet connection then I think it would be a good idea to sign up and find a few interesting people to follow. And just watch what’s going on. They will mention others in their network, so click on them too. Soon, you will find out who interests you and who doesn’t – unfollow people you regard as timewasters. You might find yourself getting involved. Or not. Just don’t give up too quickly (as I did a long time ago, but rejoined) or feel that you have to read everything (as I did, which was a prime reason for giving up.)

It doesn’t matter whether you like Twitter or not. And it doesn’t matter whether Twitter survives or not. Just participating will give you an insight to how millions of people per month are networking with each other. And, just like the other new ways of communicating – instant messaging, blogging, forums and Second Life – these are the invisible networks which subvert official hierarchies and communication channels.

Dealing with them by ignoring them really isn’t a smart option.


David Tebbutt is an award-winning columnist and feature writer who specialises on the subject of using software and technology to increase business productivity. He's an analyst with Freeform Dynamics but, in previous lives, wrote for Director magazine, Real Business and was also editor of Personal Computer World.

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  1. John Peden says:

    I’m amazed that so many people have bought into Twitter. A social network is only as good as the people that use it and Twitter has absolutely exploded, I too keep up intermittently but am still not convinced. I think you have to put an awful lot of time into Twitter monitoring tweets and tweeting yourself to yield any benefits.

  2. I guess it depends what ‘benefits’ you seek. If it’s belonging, knowing what sort of things are going on, what your trusted contacts are up to, it’s not bad.

    I’ve found the trick is to keep the number of people you follow to those you really care about.

  3. David Burden says:

    Quite apart from the social networking side, we also see Twitter as a great form of digital plumbing. For instance we route messages from several sensor type devices and CRON monitoring programmes to private Twitter feeds so that we can keep an eye on some of the systems that run our business. The ability to have all “ambient” information routed into one place is a great way to reduce email traffic.

  4. … and your Twitter ID is???

    I read this, and thought “I’ll follow him”, then couldn’t work out how to.

    I am MarkHarrisonUK on Twitter 🙂

  5. […] and @smallbiztweets) since 2007 and we’ve written about the business and business benefits of twitter on several […]

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