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The Twitter experiment…

(Originally published on IBM.com by George Parapadakis on 20 August 2009)

I have been using Twitter for a couple of months now, trying to assess its value as a business tool (I’m not too good with broadcasting what I had for breakfast or where I go for a walk in the evening, I’m afraid…). So I’m trying several things out and in a pseudo-scientific fashion trying to analyze the outcome. So here is my first batch of observations, from my experiments so far:

1. Twitter is time consuming. Whether you are a regular contributor or a lurker, it is IMPOSSIBLE to keep up with everything that interests you in Twitter. Even with dashboards like TwitterDeck and Seesmic, it takes a great effort to keep up once you go beyond 30-50 people that you follow. Add to that regular searches on specific topics and you are swamped! So from that perspective it’s interesting, but unreliable as a definitive source of information.2. While there is no definitive protocol that distinguishes personal from business use on Twitter, the signal-to-noise ratio is very high on the noise side. I can see that over time either there will be a Twitter for business and Twitter for personal, or some sort of classification system where you can tag a tweet as personal, business, local interest, hobby, etc. People will get eventually get tired of trying to spot the useful needle in the drivel haystack. In the meantime, I set myself up as three different accounts and have three different communities of following/followers: Work, Hobbies, Other

3. Pay attention to what people are tweeting and re-tweeting. You will soon spot the ones that add value! People who retweet everything – OUT; people who only write marketing /advertising/self promoting tweets – OUT; people who selectively re-tweet and tag things relevant to you, great filters – IN; people who provide insight and genuine thoughtful tweets – IN. I just wish there was a way of grouping the people I follow by stars out of 5, based on how interested I am in what they have to say!

4. Twitter is a pyramid networking system! Unless you are a celebrity comedian, you will only ever have a limited number of followers. But your followers’ followers are your real network. They people that follow you and pay attention, will retweet your posts to their followers. And they to theirs, because they trust the source. Here’s an example: I recently posted a humorous blog on: “10 questions to spot an ECM expert”. I have less than 100 followers on Twitter, and only a handful of them actually pay attention to anything I post. Six (6) people retweeted my tweet. From their followers, I got another 9 retweets. From these 16 tweets in all (and thanks to using relevant hashtags of course) , my blog ranked up to 550 hits within 24 hours. Similar blogs before twitter would have had 5 to 6 hits over a couple of weeks. Very powerful!

5. Don’t believe everything you read. There is a lot of scope in Twitter for distorting (deliberately or accidentally) information, because people implicitly trust the sources they signed up to. A re-tweet does not necessarily come from whoever it says it comes from, nor did it have the same text necessarily, when it started its journey!

So here is my conclusion so far, and I would love to hear your views on it: In the next 6 months Twitter will either collapse under its own weight (people getting tired of trying to find the relevant amongst the irrelevant) or it will transform radically into a set of different and more refined tools. Marketers who already abuse the system will be marginalized, while marketers that understand (and respect!) how powerful this tool can be, will use it to disseminate valuable information, faster than ever was possible before. Personal tweeting will either be segmented out, or it will move back to other networks like facebook, linkedin, etc.

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Put that down! You don’t know where it’s been…

(Originally posted on InformationZen by George Parapadakis on June 29, 2009)

Sometimes, we take too much for granted. Twitter is a wonderful and dangerous thing! Recently I had three twitter experiences which made me sit back and think again:

1) I saw Michael Jackson’s death twittered, before there was an article about it on the BBC News page. The immediacy of twitter as a medium is phenomenal. But “caveat emptor”. This time the news checked out when verified – it was true. It could have just as well been completely false, which would have equally driven crowds into mild panic and depression. So while I appreciate hearing about it first, I prefer the slightly more reserved “verify your sources first” approach of the news. Especially now that the conspiracy theorists are having a field day.

2) Re-twitting is what drives twitter and spreads information around faster than wildfire. Brilliantly simple concept and it really gives me a buzz to see people that I’ve never heard of, re-twitting my comments or my links. Just prefix with RT and the name of the original twitter and off you go. The other day however, someone RT’d one of my comments (thanks) but decided to slightly change half of it. The quip was funny, I appreciated his point and there was no malice intended. But it made me realise how easy it is for someone to put words into my mouth, by allegedly re-twitting something I’ve never said. People inherently trust information if they trust the source. There is no control in twitter-land for verifying that what someone says I said, is actually true! Combine that with the speed that information spreads on Twitter and you have a potential recipe for disaster!

3) Spare me the drivel! I think a lot of you will recognise this symptom: I am being very selective on twitter. I have a personal account and a work account. With my work account I follow people that relate to my work or have information that may be relevant to me. Including people from my own company. Recently I also joined a couple of twitter “communities” (twibes or Comtweets) from work, which changed my Twitter experience dramatically – I want to know what’s going on in my company. I don’t want to know the football results or what someone in Venezuela had for breakfast! The signal-to-noise ratio on some of these communities is very low. There is so much irrelevant noise that I am forced to un-follow them. I’m sure I will miss some important information from there. But it’s a small price to pay for not losing all the value of the other people I carefully decided to follow, who have something relevant to say and are now lost in the alphabet soup I receive.

I’m sure that over time, some form of informal “etiquette” will develop on twitter that will allow me to filter out the noise, verify re-tweets and validate news gossip. But until then I have to protect myself by treating everything with a little bit more caution than I have done so far.

Have you had any similar experiences that made you think twice about the value of social networking tools? I’d love to hear them and compile some sort of “Beware” list…

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