I have talked about Twitter many times here, but I am continually amazed at its overall staying power. This semester provided me with some new observations as it relates to Twitter … I thought I’d take a minute and share two of them.
The first thing I was amazed with in my Disruptive Technologies for Teaching and Learning class was how powerful the community felt because of the constant connectedness. Twitter was “assigned” as a technology we would investigate — at the outset, we got lots of the typical “Twitter is stupid” comments … that was expected. After a couple of weeks however we saw an interesting thing happening — people connected and used Twitter to build stronger bonds. Again, that was expected and I wrote about it here at the time. What wasn’t expected was how Twitter formed the most powerful back channel I have been a part of in a learning environment. I am not a Twitter junkie — some days I actually don’t even update — but I do check it quite a bit to see what is up. This semester one of the most essential components of the course was Twitter and our students’ use of it during class. I found myself refreshing constantly as we sat and discussed things to see what people were thinking about in the moment. Some of the best pointers to related resources emerged in the Twitter stream — people talking about things and others instantly sharing links to them created a much richer course experience. I didn’t find it distracting and I can only assume by watching the ones participating that it had the same effect on them. The ability to instantly share new insights to those connected was simply astonishing. I am not doing the experience justice with this post on any level.
The second observation has to do with Twitter’s inherent goal of dragging you into a stream of thought from your contacts. What I mean is that the design of Twitter is built around the assumption that I would actually care what someone else is up to. Sure, we use it to spout off and embellish strange details of our own lives, but the real power is that we also sit around and read what our Twitter stream is sharing with us. Again, the simple ability to follow others creates new connections. When I compare it the blog community I spend time in it is very different — not because of the length of the posts per say, but because of the intensity of the connections — my Twitter page is my personal gathering place for my community. Again, I am having trouble articulating this. Let me try to simplify … I can’t read all of my friends’ blogs, look at the their Flickr photos, or check their del.icio.us links the same way — aggregation into a reader just doesn’t provide the same joy that the Twitter stream seems to.
I tried out TweetWheel this morning to see my Twitter connections … I am amazed that when I look at the intense connections that have been created via my Twitter stream I am simultaneously struck with the fact that I cannot easily visualize my RSS feed subscribers the same way. It leaves me feeling like I am writing to no one (or perhaps only myself) here in the blog while when I type in Twitter I instantly know who is getting the post. Just take a look at the image below and tell me that it doesn’t make you feel really good about making and following new connections … I have seen that power first hand — organizationally, professionally, at conferences, and now in a classroom.