Earlier today I noticed it’s three years since my life on Twitter began. At the time I wrote about my belated entry to Twitterland.
It now seems strange to me that I was such a late starter compared to many other connected folk, given that Twitter is now so central to my life.
The primary reason I held off getting started on Twitter was that I felt that my blog was my primary space for content sharing, and I didn’t want to divide my limited spare attention across platforms. I now know that blogs and Twitter are highly complementary. Yes Twitter can be time-consuming. But the rewards are absolutely worthwhile.
Here are 7 reasons why Twitter has become central to my life.
1. Twitter is an unbounded conversation.
In contrast to most social networks, Twitter provides a space for unbounded conversation. Anyone can follow you, find your tweets passed on by others, discover you in search, or come across you in any of a multitude of ways. You too can discover people and their contributions in many ways other than following them. In my post 3 years ago I referred to Twitter as a ‘cross-section of human conversation’. It is still today a broadening slice of global conversation, bringing in the most relevant new participants and connections to discussions.
2. Twitter facilitates valuable new connections.
I haven’t been keeping count, but it seems to me that at least half of the people I meet face-to-face or engage in meaningful dialogues with I have first encountered on Twitter. Many I see through their conversations with people I already know, others I find through tweets, and others I find through exploration. While I get many new followers on Twitter every day, I try to look at every single one, first to see whether I want to follow back, and also to see if I want to say hello directly, which I frequently do. In Living Networks I wrote how technology facilitates human connection. Twitter is outstanding at connecting people based on common interests. Because it is an unbounded conversation, with many points where people’s interests intersect, there are continually happy accidents, the serendipity in creating fantastic connections that dedicated Twitter users know so well.
3. Twitter lets you get to know people.
Twitter lists allow you to focus more on selected people you follow. While someone’s tweets only give you a limited view of who they are, they can be surprisingly revealing. The breadth of a person’s interests become visible, and often their fundamental social views. In particular, you can usually get a good sense how much they are oriented to themselves or to others. There are many people I genuinely like and feel I know well, having only interacted with them on Twitter.
4. Twitter is an invaluable information discovery space.
A decade ago I used to tell investment banks they should set up systems to let their analysts share what they were reading with the bank’s clients. That could be more valuable to the most sophisticated fund managers than reading what the analysts wrote. Today anyone can tap into what some of the most interesting people on the planet are reading and thinking about.
When I give my keynotes on the future of business, the most frequent question I get is how I keep on top of everything going on. While I have many information sources, the most important single one is Twitter. Of course I have to use it well for this to happen, but it is unquestionably the most valuable tool I have for keeping abreast of the most important and interesting changes in the world.
5. Twitter enhances and redefines blogging.
A large proportion of the traffic to my blog comes directly or indirectly from Twitter. While I also get a lot of search traffic, Google has basically said that its search rankings take significant cues from Twitter activity, so that would also erode without Twitter. While comments on blogs are still important, often the conversation happens on Twitter. By allowing easy sharing of links and quick ideas Twitter redefines the role of blogs. For some Twitter is sufficient, however anyone who blogs should be on Twitter to provide another platform for people to engage with their content.
6. Twitter gives access to breaking news.
Just watching my Twitter stream alerts me to any important news, almost always well before I would see it if I were looking on mainstream media. If I want to know the latest on a story, I will search on Twitter rather look at CNN or search Google News. For anyone who is not content to wait until the scheduled news broadcast on the hour, Twitter offers faster access to breaking news. Of course, what is on Twitter is not verified, filtered, and edited, but I think most people can deal with that given they get news faster.
7. Twitter is at the center of the emerging global brain.
Living Networks was all about the birth of the global brain and how the networks were coming to life. Just after the section on micro-messages I wrote:
Soaring connectivity is giving rise to what increasingly resembles a global brain. The idea is hardly new…Yet communication technology… is now allowing the incredibly rich flow of information and ideas that creates this single mind, that can integrate all of our intelligence and insight.
If we consider ourselves to be as neurons in the emerging global brain, then Twitter is today the single most important platform accelerating the flow of messages and ideas out of which a higher-order intelligence is emerging. Certainly, most of the messages on Twitter are in themselves essentially valueless. However there are sufficient messages that have value, and more importantly the emerging mechanisms on top of that, out of which a global brain is being born.
I often exhort people to ‘contribute to the global brain’, though which they will build their own success. Twitter provides a ready mechanism to do this.
Of course, the benefits I glean from my participation in Twitter come from how I use it. Others who haven’t got as much value from Twitter may not be approaching it the right way. I may another time share in more detail how I use Twitter, but what works is highly individual – what’s right for me may not be for others. However certainly, the value is there in Twitter for those want to find it.