As an early adopter of new networked technologies, I signed up to Twitter, Facebook, Orkut, last.fm etc. a long time ago, but never really got hooked. I accepted invitations but mostly went on ignoring the tools. My earlier scepticism can be found in other blog postings here, the main criticism was that these tools do little more than turn people into collector’s items of someone’s electronic addressbook (I would still hold this true for LinkedIn and Xing).
Then, rather recently, things changed. It all started with me buying a 32GB iPod Touch and exploring the facebook and twitter apps that are available for it. The mobile device put the whole twittering into a different light. Writing long-winded brain-consuming blog posts is difficult to do on a mobile device, and micro-blogging is a nice alternative. It is also kind of entertaining to follow people on Twitter or facebook, which for the information-hungry professional or the nosy neighbour can become an addiction. There definitely is a sense of community there too, which is hard to define, but nice to feel and be part of.
As part of the recent social explosion of these networks, more and more people I knew connected to me. Twitter was reported to have a 1000% growth in users in the UK alone. I guess the growth in active connections (which I estimate at around 20% of people in my contact list) makes it a more worth-while experience to go and check out updates.
Still, I feel it would be worth while doing a text linguistic analysis of the content passed around in Twitter. My observations amount to the conclusion that the conversation level of Twitter feeds is at the age level of a 4-5 year old child. Children this age typically do not converse but talk aloud to themselves, not really expecting an answer. A thorough analysis on how many monologic utterings actually lead to a response or even to a thread of more than three responses would be a worthy and interesting task.
The other observation is that content in these social networks is mostly un-rewarding from an educational perspective. The majority of tweets or status posts fall into a limited number of categories: (1) tea drinking or pizza eating habits, (2) out-of-context @discussion fragments, and (3) link sharing. The latter is the most useful in my view, whereas the information that “Soandso is reading an interesting article” has little to no impact. For category (2) it is normally not worth one’s while to investigate and puzzle together conversations that look like “@bscott yes, you are right about that” or similar.
Connectivity between social subjects seems to come from two corners: link sharing and jokes/provocation. Curiosity about the links other people look at or find funny is a tremendous motivator for staying in and bonds people together. It’s the glue of social networks, and this is what they seem to be all about. Time could be spend in much more productive ways, but it’s good to be connected!