Sunday, 18 May 2008

How I Found My Tribe on Twitter

I've been using Twitter since 11:04 PM October 25, 2007. I quickly found it to be useful and entertaining, like a group IM client or IRC. But Twitter is different than previous "group chat" tools. I've been struggling with what exactly is different, and I think I've finally put my finger on it.

The people I interact with on Twitter are my tribe. I like the word "tribe" because it connotes a shared identity. My Twitter Tribe are a "we" and an "us". I suppose this is how sports fans feel about their fellow fans, but I've never had this experience before, or at least not to this degree.

It was Rands who introduced the idea of tribes in Twitter to me. He does an excellent job of explaining some of the game-changing social networking hacks that Twitter provides, but he misses something that I've been trying to come to grips with. Twitter has provided a new sense of belonging in my life.

Because Twitter is an "opt-in" social network, it self selects for like interests. I don't follow people because they are "famous", but because I'm interested in what they have to say. What was unexpected at the start was that I became engaged with the people themselves, and not just their insights and wit. For instance, when I got into Joe O'Brien's minivan this weekend, I immediately realized it was the same vehicle that had been stolen and recovered. I only knew this piece of Joe's personal history because he had twittered it. I remember the feeling of relief I felt when he announced, on Twitter, that the police had recovered his family's primary vehicle.

Beyond all the productivity, entertainment and publicity benefits of Twitter lies this fact: I love the people in my Twitter Tribe. If you're uncomfortable with the "L Word", then please accept that I feel emotionally connected to them, even if I've never met them. When I do meet people after following them on Twitter, I have an urge to hug them like a reunited friend.

Twice now I've had the opportunity to meet up with members of my tribe that I hadn't met previously, and the experience was seamless. I didn't "think" I knew these people. We knew each other. We were already an "us"; a tribe. At the Indianapolis Code Camp last month I met around ten people I knew through Twitter and it reinforced my feeling about the power of Twitter.

This past weekend at the Cleveland Day of .NET I met easily twenty people that I knew through Twitter and followed that many more new people I was introduced to. This was a very emotional experience for me. You see, I am part of a small demographic of social or extroverted computer nerds. There aren't that many people like me who are geographically close. Not enough to call a tribe, anyway.

Through Twitter I can connect with this demographic of people all over the world, and maintain constant contact. Twitter bridges the gaps between conferences etc. where people in my niche gather socially. Because of Twitter, I am in touch with "my people" all the time. The sense of belonging and acceptance is unprecedented in my experience.

There are many ways to use Twitter. There is no "right" way to use this simple service. I have stumbled into one particular habit of use. I am not resorting to hyperbole when I say that the effect has been life changing. Your mileage may vary, but from conversations I've had, I know I'm not the only one experiencing these effects.

I always demo Twitter at the start of my presentations these days as a way to encourage audience members to continue the conversation and learning outside the session. Perhaps I should include a warning "This service could lead to serious emotional attachment and meaningful relationships resulting in a fulfilling sense of belonging. Proceed with caution."



Sunday, 18 May 2008 23:02:41 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Thanks for the awesome post! I agree that twitter is an awesome communication method. It's sustained people in disasters and brought groups together. Hopefully they'll get their problems worked out so it's a little more dependable!
Sunday, 18 May 2008 23:20:19 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Great post and awesome insight about the real life social value of Twitter. I find that when my local group of Twitter friends have a Tweetup and I can't go, I feel like I missed out on something. Thanks!
Monday, 19 May 2008 00:37:24 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Twitter is interesting, but I haven't quite hit the point where I can't live without it. Since I'm behind a web filter at work and am very paranoid about it, I can't/don't really check Twitter much during the day. For that reason, I sort of feel like the kid who can't sit with all the cool kids at lunch because the table's full.

I'm also not really the target market for most social networking stuff. I don't post unless I have something to say, and if I do then I'm verbose. I'm not very social so I don't actually use it to build a network, and it would be overwhelming to filter that much information if I did. In the end, I'd feel like I wasn't really following along. For those reasons, Twitter can be frustrating for me at times. However, having spent a lot of time using IRC/forums, I can appreciate the feeling of community you're talking about.
Monday, 19 May 2008 00:39:00 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Great blog post, very thoughtful indeed.

I've done consulting my whole career thus far. When you get placed at a client and work side by side with folks on a daily basis, you get to know them pretty well. More so when you work in pretty close proximity, like a team room for example. You get to know people through those big things that happen, but you get to know people on a different level in the little things that happen. Little discussions. Shared observations. "FYI"s and "Hey check this out"s. It's fun to get to know your work friends in this way, it helps you form bonds and work better together.

What I've observed, and what makes me a little sad whenever rolling out of a client to go start at a new client, is I know it's the end of those little conversations. And you lose touch with a lot of the people you've shared office space and little pieces of life with. You don't mean for it to happen, you don't want it to, but it just does. Why? Because it's too hard to constantly email all the folks you'd really like to keep that up with over time. It's too much.

I think Twitter has taken care of that to some extent. It has made that keeping in touch and knowing the little things in people's lives a whole lot easier. Not just people you once worked with, but people all over the place. And you get to know people you've never met in that way too, making it that much cooler when you meet them in person.

As I approach the end of a project at work and several of the people are moving on, I hope Twitter will provide keeping in touch with those guys a little easier as we part ways.

That's what twitter is to me.
Monday, 19 May 2008 09:52:49 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Great point, Dylan. To make Twitter work, you have to get your point across succinctly. Very succinctly. Some like it, some don't and if you don't want to make that commitment, it may not work for you. Although, it is fun to follow along and watch people. I am not all that great at 140 characters, but I am getting better... Maybe...

Have a great day!
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