Thinking about capillary conversations and choice

I’ve written two posts about capillary conversations so far (linked for your convenience here and here), and they seem to have elicited a reasonable level of comment and question.

Three questions seem to repeat themselves:

How often should I tweet?
What should I tweet about?
When should I take the conversation offline?

These are not simple questions, and we will throw away a lot of value by trying to answer them prescriptively. Let me try and answer them “provisionally”, let me share where my thoughts currently are. On the question of tweet frequency, I think that it’s a subtle negotiation between each person and their followers. One tends to get some sort of feel, a sense, of what the right level is. I tend to go up every time I learn to do something within Twitter, and then, once I have learnt enough, I revert to some prior base level. At least that’s how it feels to me.

Tweet frequency by itself can become an irritant to others. I have had at least one Facebook friend, someone I’ve known for 20 years (but not particularly well, we were nodding acquaintances who met maybe a dozen times over the two decades) comment that he couldn’t handle the level of updates he was getting in his Facebook mini-feed when I started tweeting my status. So far I haven’t had to unfollow anyone; I have blocked a few auto spammers, and I have gone for turning Notifications off for many people; it was part of learning how to use the tool.

For some people, tweet frequency is inextricably linked with tweet topic; this can have positive and negative effects. So I’ve had some people tell me I was tweeting too often about what I was listening to, while others have engaged with me more often as a result of the music tweets. Some are interested in discussions about restaurants or meals, some not. Some are relaxed about sharing domestic details, some less so. What should I do?

The answer, for me, lies in the third question. When should I take the conversation offline? If I turn that question around on its head, and ask When should I share something? When should I use twitter public rather than a DM. Now I get a clearer answer. I should only share something when I think it will be of value to the group. This is even true of @person tweets…. they should be DMs unless there is some benefit for the group in seeing the @person tweet.

So far so good, but all this is theory. I spent some time looking at what I did, and what I saw other people doing, in Twitter. And I began to realise that there are maybe three legitimate uses:

1. For the benefit of the group, the followers.
2. For the benefit of the tweeter, as in a hoosgot or similar question.
3. For the benefit of both, as in when a new feature or function is being trialled.

Now all this has been stated from the perspective of the person doing the tweeting; there is a lot we can learn from the alternate view, that of the follower, the watcher, the listener. And here the only analogy that comes to mind is a mixing desk or a graphic equaliser. For each person I follow, I’m going to need one of these, so that I can “turn up the volume” for the things I am interested in, and reduce volume for the things I am not interested in.

I have seen people make the mistake of thinking this is about topics of interest and preferences, I wish it was that simple. You see, I may be interested in person A’s book taste but not his music taste, and in person B’s music taste but not her book taste. Which means that I can’t just have a topic-driven set of preferences. They have to be by topic by person.

At least that’s how I’m thinking about all this right now. The tweeter has a duty of care, a duty to his community of followers, to adjust the tone, the frequency and the topics in response to community feedback. But that’s at community level. In addition, the tweetee needs some slider controls per tweeter, set a bit like the privacy controls in Facebook, indicating what kind of information is wanted and what is not wanted.

We are going to make mistakes as we play with these tools. We are going to see a lot of value generated from these tools. But much of that value will go to the early adopters; not because there’s a secret sauce, but because the early adopters will have one advantage the rest won’t have…… they’ll be able to attract the cream of the crop of the new generation entering the marketplace. [I thought of saying the workplace, but changed my mind and went for marketplace].

In the end it’s all going to boil down to choice. Choice made by the follower, the tweetee. Choice made both physically as well as logically; as the tools get better, capillary conversations will become more and more sophisticated.

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13 thoughts on “Thinking about capillary conversations and choice”

  1. Mm, interesting post.

    I hear a lot about relationships and conversations but not about the process of developing them. Everyone takes it for granted that they are A Good Thing, and have Value, but there seems to be a certain impatience and intolerance about the process by which these things come about.

    You’ve mentioned learning in this post, and you talk about playing in an earlier post. Lots of new people are coming in to things like Twitter – they’re enthusiastic, they’re excited, they’re clumsy. But they’re also needed, otherwise it will just be the early adopters and no-one else in the marketplace.

    Maybe being able to turn things up and down is one answer. Maybe allowing oneself to be exposed to other people who have different ideas and different ways of doing things is another. Otherwise, how are we going to get the creativity and innovation?

    It strikes me that this post is related to your last post the Digital Divide, and that resolving some of these problems is not just about the Enterprise, but about the world we want to live in.

  2. Just like the brain tends to filter out the Ads, the visual avatar icon acts as a equaliser cue. Thus high frequency tweeters get less attention per tweet( from me).
    This is one reason why catching up with old tweets via RSS reader does not work for me. [Aside: With beta.bloglines.com you can catch up with very very old tweets – for e.g., there are ~20,000 unread tweets in my beta.bloglines ]

    If extending the digital Dunbar number(recurring theme in the series of posts)is the objective, the tools have to mature beyond mere setting based filtering. And provide diverse way to address the issue. For instance, visual cue might work for some, but may not work for others. Same problem addressed/solved in 20 different ways, none more right than the other is more like it.

    Hey, are we shifting software from ‘Engineering’ to Humanities department?

  3. Dom, the sliders are there in Facebook right now. They’ve been there for a while. What Deb did was to add a slider for “ads”.

    I have also seen requests for sliders in Facebook for turning down tweet volumes.

    Moving from the graphic equalizer to the mixing desk was my way of suggesting we need very granular tools for tweeters and tweetees.

  4. After reading your post, it got me thinking. What is to stop you having multiple twitter identities for various activities? Pushing this idea forward, what about a future version of the product that allow you to tune what you want to broadcast to all, or what people can view via some kind of drilling down?

    Either way, great article and one I shall no doubt be sharing…

  5. JP – love your metaphor. At social graphic foo this weekend everyone was talking about how to graph the universe – i think we need to also be focusing on how to tune what we have – so our information is relevant when and where we need it. I need help weaving through the river of data. We are at a point where I am now ‘smarter’ about you[you are eating a pizza] – I want to also be smarter about US together and we need more granular tools to do that.

  6. ROFL – I just saw that I typed “social graphic” – too funny considering I have been spending a lot of time thinking about how we can better graphically visualize all this stuff…

  7. hey, great to hear from you Deb. Wanted to make Social Graph FOO, just couldn’t get away. Waiting to find out the outcomes

Let me know what you think