Twitter Me

I was lucky enough to visit with Odeo sometime last year while on business in San Fransisco and thought what they were doing at the time was very interesting and honestly very important in the education space. I remember sitting in their SF office space in a conference room that looked down into the developers area and remembering how much I missed the days of start ups and small teams all working together to do good things. That aside, the tools they were building (and have since killed off) are still the holy grail of podium podcasting as far as I am concerned. The Flash based recorders they had were amazing and the fact you could record right in the browser, or by calling a special phone number impressed me and a bunch of students who were using it in my class. I could tell they were smart people … but to tell you the truth they seemed to be searching for their true space. I guess that’s why I wasn’t too surprised to learn that they are now part of Obvious and that they have once again changed exactly what they do.

But this post is about Twitter — another Obvious product that according to this came about as a side project down in that developer’s space I could see from the glass conference room.

I have been reading about Twitter for a few months now but never really thought much of the concept. The idea of wasting time to update the mundane seemed not only silly, but almost downright stupid. But then I got an account, asked a bunch of co-workers to get accounts, and started to think out loud with them about how we could use this. I am now seeing Twitter as a very interesting tool set for a whole host of things … a bunch of them are around organizational dynamics, structure, project tracking, and other on the job kinds of things. There are obviously fun things that can be done with Twitter, but as I am thinking more and investigating I am finding people doing good things with it. I can see educational opportunities on the horizon, but I need more time to formulate them. Here’s an example of a woman who has been using Twitter to do sort of live walking tours — there’s something in that concept that needs to be further teased out. I am thinking about the upcoming TLT Symposium and how we could use Twitter to keep people on the outside feeling like they are a part of it … again, there’s something to this.

Here’s an example of what I am thinking about as a single possibility … we are having a plasma display hung in the hallway when you get off the elevator in our offices. One thing that strikes me as an interesting thing to display there would be a custom Twitter widget of some sort that would integrate with the kiosk style information we’ll be displaying on the screen (did I mention they have an exposed API?). What strikes me as interesting is the fact that as a person walks off the elevator not only are they greeted with high quality digital signage that speaks to who we are, the Twitter stream could let them instantly know what we are all doing. If I could get more of the ETS staff using Twitter we could create a fairly interesting running archive of what a given day looks like in ETS — when I get asked the question, “what the hell do you people do all day,” I could simply pull the ETS Twitter Stream up and let them look for themselves. Another thing that we’ve been discussing is if by updating Twitter status people would be more likely to stay on task? I really don’t know the answer, but I do know I would be less likely to take the time to walk across the hall to ask a colleague a question if their Twitter status told me they were talking with a faculty member. Again, just thinking out loud. One thing I would want to add to Twitter to use it as a business tool is the ability to “tag” Twitter messages with things like “work” or “personal” and only see the work tagged updates show up on the ETS Twitter Stream.

So now that I have a handful of friends on Twitter updating their status I am getting a good feeling for what it is all about. One of my friends, Brad Kozlek, had knee surgery this past week and was providing Twitter updates during the day … it was an interesting example of how this thing can be used for all sorts of stuff. The next couple of weeks will see us tease some more information about Twitter out … if it is useful you’ll see more and if it isn’t you won’t. Either way I think it is worth some more investigation. For now, you can check me out on Twitter … get an account and add me as a friend so we can see what happens in a large network. I have integrated one of the pre-built Twitter badges here at my site that keeps a running list of the people in my Twitter network … take a look. Join in and tell me what you think.

7 thoughts on “Twitter Me

  1. Some random thoughts:

    Will people update their status enough to be useful? I know that I will since I’ve been going something similar for the past 10 years with my calendar.

    There may be others who feel reluctance to post what they are doing during off-hours. Which I don’t think is a major problem except that if you’re going to adopt something like this, I find it easier to just adopt it across the dotted line between work and personal time — which is how I intend to use it. I’m not going to post everything though. There are limits of good taste and you really don’t need to know how much time I’m playing World of Warcraft.

    I’ve enjoyed seeing Brad’s entries as well.

    Is Twitter a 10-second blogging platform?

  2. This is an interesting technology, and one that I think is relatively harmless in the “voluntary” mode. I have concerns about the issues of management mandating that it be used, especially when you write that it could be used to help people stay on task.

    What concerns do you have that what can be a useful tool for a sharing of information among friends could be used as a tool of management to create a sweatshop, task-centric, work environment. While I doubt, Cole, that you would see this as a tool for documenting (perceived) poor performance of your employees, I could see how other less scrupulous Directors might end up (unwittingly) creating a very hostile work environment.

    And just how does one engaged in pushing the edge of technological creativity document in Twitter “thinking about new projects” without someone passing a rather negative judgment.

    Just looking the half-empty glass. Sorry.


  3. Steve, it is a great question and one that I know I would get at the office … it is sort of funny that as I wrote that none of those thoughts crossed my mind. I honestly only envisioned some real positive outcomes. Also, the term “mandate” never really enters my mind when it comes to management … I do have expectations that people participate in things that make sense for the organization, but Twittering probably isn’t one of them.

    I did spend the weekend keeping a fairly updated Twitter stream going with some people and it was interesting and engaging. I awoke this morning to not only see many updates long after I went to bed (a 5 month old makes you turn in a bit early), but also an update from Adaptive Path. Adaptive Path is a leading web consultancy that focuses mostly on usability and design. I had found them on the Twitter site and added them as a friend … I now get RSS news and little twits keeping me in the loop on their goings on. I followed their lead and created an “ETS Talk” account that I update with little bits of information … … If a handful of people pick that up then we’ve created another opportunity.

    But back to your questions. I wouldn’t dare look at the use of Twitter as a way to monitor my staff. Here’s the real story — nearly everyone in ETS is engaged with either projects, professional development, meetings, or meaningful conversations all through the work day. If one of them Twitters that they are “thinking about new projects” or “surfing the web for inspiration” then more power to them. I want them to feel like they work in a place where they are encouraged to explore, engage, and think. I am also interested in exposing the overall intelligence of the group … having a bunch of them sharing their thoughts throughout the day is just one other little piece to the puzzle.

    Did any of that make sense?

  4. Thanks for your reply back to my comment, Cole. As I mentioned, I wasn’t “as concerned” about you as manager as perhaps the alternative uses of the tool.

    I do find it interesting how you use two words, specifically in your reply, but also in general. You comment that you found other’s twitter notes “engaging” and that you hope to have created another “opportunity.” What interests me (I told ya I found your use “interesting”) is how you are using these words in a way that is perhaps outside the day to day use of these words (with the exception of the day-to-day use in your community of practice.)

    For instance, you found reading someone’s twitter “engaging” and I am left to think that it somehow engaged your mind, but that you didn’t mean that reading it enabled you to engage these people in some sort of exchange or discourse. Also, you refer to opportunity in a way that I would (in my own buzzy-word way) refer to as a “realization” of opportunities.

    Would you be willing to share how you (and your community) operationally define these words? I think that would be enlightening.

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