Things I expected to see in Twitter (but haven’t as yet)

When I first heard about Twitter, and during my “observe and learn” time, I worked on the (mistaken) premise that people would answer the Defining Question. “What are you doing?”

And because of that mistaken premise, I was expecting to see things happen that I haven’t really experienced so far. So what was I expecting? Let me try and explain. I’m going to call them “favours between friends”. There appear to be five types:

  • Community-based favours
  • Location-based favours
  • Experience-based favours
  • Activity-based favours
  • Returning favours

If I was an acronym-type person, I guess I would call them CLEAR favours. But I won’t.

Community-based favour example: “Is there anyone out there who knows anything about left-handed Wii wands?” Hoosgot may become a good vehicle for all community-based activity on twitter.

Location-based favour example: “Hey, if you’re going to the Apple Store then could you please buy this for me and bring it over?” “If you get the time to go by the MOMA store, I’d really appreciate it if you could pick up a Mondrian mousemat for me”.

Experience-based favour example: “I ate at TAO last summer. You just have to try the Kobe beef while you are there. Unmissable.” “I see you’re planning to watch Kite Runner. Could you tell me if it is really suitable for a 13-year old? I hear there’s some child sex abuse scenes in it.”

Activity-based favour example: “How did you feel going up to the observation level of the Empire State Building? Did it tire you, could you feel any change in atmospheric pressure?”

“Returning” favours: Any of these done on a reciprocal basis, but in covenant relationship. None of this you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours manipulative nonsense. People do favours for people because people are  naturally social, generous, want to help others. Altruism is real.

So that’s what I was expecting. That people used Twitter to signal what they were actually doing, about to do, had just done, and so on. That as a result of the signals, others could participate in a bigger something, building on the signals. That as a result of this bigger something, everyone would gain.

This works when Twitter is a community, with a real understanding of “commons”. When a person has an @someone-else conversation in Twitter, it should be because both people think the community will be enriched as a result. Otherwise the conversation should be taking place somewhere else.

These were my thoughts as I began to play with twitter. I’m still learning, but I’m definitely not seeing what I expected to see, other than Hoosgot.

Of course conventions like L: and @ and ++ are useful, but only if there is some place the novice can go to to find out about such conventions. Otherwise it will become an elitist fad.

I like Twitter. I think it has real value. And, by the way, so does Facebook. A subject of a different post.

18 thoughts on “Things I expected to see in Twitter (but haven’t as yet)”

  1. The more I look at Twitter, the more it makes sense from a business perspective. But Fred Wilson thinks it’s an ad placement play. Duh? OK – I’ll buy that if you’re in the ad placement business. I’ll bet that’s a huge turn off to many. So…since Twitter is essentially a feature rather than a fully blown service, it seems to me that someone in enterprise dev land will figure this out and build what you (and I) want. Goodbye Twitter, hello TwitterE.

  2. I think you raise some interesting points JP, but I do feel that there is nothing in Twitter to STOP any of these things happening, just that the community (with its wide range of individuals) finds its own ways to achieve much of what you expected.

    There are many people out there who, amongst their own “twitter peer groups” transfer exactly this sort of knowledge.

    That said, I do think there is an opportunity for Twitter to create the equivalent of a marketplace or hard-wired prefixed @ addresses to which users could follow/recommend/ask/exchange.

    Best wishes for a prosperous 2008.


  3. have been noodling on writing somethign similar but also considering how Twitter would work inside an organisation. would save a LOT of email, especially for the hoosgot stuff.

    thanks for helping me clear my thoughts on it and safe travels from JFK :)

  4. Within my small twitter community, I’ve seen and contributed to examples of the first three. As the volume of tweets rises, it is harder to see such requests amongst the thread though so maybe that is why you’ve missed them.

  5. Thanks for all your comments. I was seeing some activity along these lines, but the volume was trivial compared to people using Twitter for a variety of other purposes.

  6. JP: I do not use Twitter, but some of my friends do. But I do use Facebook and see an interesting temporal element to the ‘status’ element. In other words, the digital persona sometimes takes a while to catch up with the real person, as was evident when a friend’s status said: “Arrived in Athens. Waiting for bags.” for some 13 hours. Long wait, that!

    In your CLEAR framework, Location-based updates work to a very different – and hugely varied e.g. asking someone to get a Latte is more real-time than asking someone for a mousemat – temporal space than the others.

    This, to me, means that the ubiquity of connectivity is sort of assumed in your framework. Whereas I do not see around me, in London for instance, that ubiquity and mobility of connectivity. Is it possible that within the small, very small, always-on community, this sort of assumption is just self-serving and distracts from the bigger question of ‘how does Twitter make money?’ that many more will be interested in?

    Does this make sense?

  7. You’re absolutely right, I assume that all these tools work on an always on anytime anywhere any device any form of connection basis.

    I know we are not there now, but this must happen. For everyone.

    Usage of tools like these, the liquidity of that usage, the utility value created, these are things we need to work out.

    But we won’t work them out if we don’t experiment and learn. My biggest fear is that we waste time talking about business models before we understand the new world, and implement the wrong ones in our haste.

  8. Of course conventions like L: and @ and ++ are useful, but only if there is some place the novice can go to to find out about such conventions. Otherwise it will become an elitist fad.

    There’s the twitter-nanoformats page, but that’s probably not ideal for novices.

  9. It was interesting to hear your ideas about what you expected to see happening on Twitter, JP. I would be interested to hear your observations on what you think is happening, if so much of the activity is not falling into the types of activity that you expected.

    If people are not responding to the question “what are you doing?” then what are they doing? I see the question as more of an icebreaker, an invitation to join the conversation, with the opportunity to take off to many different places, rather than a relatively closed interrogation.

  10. I don’t feel that the mini feed and twitter are the same thing, and I think they need to separate even more. Will explain why in a later post

  11. Hi JP – maybe it’s in the nature of those within the educational networks within Twitter that just about all of your ‘five things you expected’ are actually occuring most of the time – whether it’s invitations to help/collaborate on projects, asking for help or returning help to others – it is a very strong twitter group, growing with the communication :-)


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