My first week on twitter: impressions of a newbie

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? TS Eliot There is more to life than increasing its speed. Mahatma Gandhi I joined the twitterati a week ago. Admittedly my situation was a bit anomalous, as this blog’s robo-tweet facility had already amassed eviltwitter4,500 followers for me to play with, but that made it all the more embarrassing that I didn’t know how to tweet. So armed with my handy internal Oxfam ‘twitter for technophobes’ guide, I stepped gingerly into the twitter torrent. What did I find? In the remorselessly upbeat tradition of this blog, let’s start with the positives: Good for bigging up other people and their work (e.g. tweeting from a London Citizens’ event that my son was organizing, or links to lots of good Oxfam output). Gives you a sense of an endless conversation, with memes and new bits of research and journalism picked up, swirling rapidly into the mainstream, to be gobbled up by bigger fish or sink back into the depths. Going to take me a while to learn to navigate this one. A sudden step change in links I liked – OMG, when am I going to read them all? Which ones am I going to put on the blog? (still struggling with division of labour between blog and twitter). Live tweeting during meetings is yet another reason not to concentrate on what people are saying (but sometimes that’s a relief). More relaxed and personal than blogging: people are much more willing to express their personal opinions on politics, the arts etc, even though it’s just as public as a blog. I felt OK tweeting people to urge them to vote online for my niece Stella’s class of 8-9 year olds in a song competition (on global education – hey, it’s a Geneva international school, what do you expect?), but would have felt a bit uncomfortable putting it up on the blog. But since you ask, they’re trailing badly with three days to go and you can vote by clicking on the main video…….. Oh, and no-one tweets about having coffee, or eating breakfast – that’s just twitterphobe propaganda. BUT hello who am IThe fragmented conversation is actually quite disturbing – makes me feel like I’ve suddenly contracted ADHD. Hope I get used to it, or I may just have to give up. At some point, as our concentration spans shrink towards a singularity, maybe 140 characters will come to seem excessive and we’ll all shift to a digital dystopia of nanoblogs where you’re only allowed one word – ‘hate’, ‘love’, ‘wrong’, right’ and the journey will be complete. The endless self promotion: people retweet their retweets, even when the retweeter has added no discernible value. Why? Have I missed something or have you no remaining shreds of decorum? Looking at you @Bill_Easterly. I tried crowdsourcing by asking for reviews on @WhyNationsFail, from the left. Result? One suggestion – the Economist. Some people just tweet too much, so I unfollowed @Calestous Juma and @RichardJMurphy, but I’m persevering with the equally frenetic Tom Murphy (@viewfromthecave) – got to choose your Murphys with care, clearly. Tom seems to have twitter hardwired into his skull – he outed me within minutes of me clicking my first ‘follow’. Scary. He also memorably described twitter as a ‘gigantic time suck.’ True that. Organizational tweets are awful (unfollowed UNDP). And at least on the basis of my 40 something follows (how on earth do you follow hundreds and thousands of people?) I did not find it a touchy-feely horizontal democratic conversation, as described by @clairemelamed when I asked about the paucity of women development bloggers/commenters. Actually it felt like lots of shouty men showing off. Overall, how does it make me feel? Like part of a blob – a heaving , amorphous community of tweeting, blogging, seminar-attending, development chatterers. That’s good and bad – good in that the analysis, links and ideas rain in from all sides. But bad in that it feels a bittwitter blob too much like groupthink, reinforced by myriad little links and nudges  – how much original thinking is likely to emerge from that kind of hailstorm? I will have to make sure I go off to a wifi-free cave and cleanse my soul every so often. But hey, at least I got a (heavily ironic – I’ll get you for that @alexcobham) #iloveduncan hashtag in my first week. Feel the love, dudes. So, let’s get crowdsourcing: please send in your top twitter tip (try saying that after a few drinks) and a non usual-suspect to follow (on development issues, no white males allowed – got enough of them). All answers in 140 characters or less, of course. And if you happen to be in Berlin on Friday, you can come and hear me talk about where ICT fits in the development picture. Expect some Gladwellian scepticism along with the technohype.]]>

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17 Responses to “My first week on twitter: impressions of a newbie”
  1. Timothy Phan

    Hello Duncan! Long time lurker who just started tweeting recently as well. At first, it still seems odd to be virtually speaking out loud when you’re not quite sure who’s caring. I don’t think I’ll ever get over that.
    But as a student of development, the Tweets I find most useful to learning about the field is the RT’s to interesting links and pieces that I would never find on my own. Even when you RT’d the Bateman piece on financial exclusion, I had already read that on the Guardian through my newsfeed…but it’s nice to know what other experts are reading.
    Twitter’s a good way to publicize such knowledge if you don’t have the time or urgency to dedicate full blog posts to a single link, you can just quickly comment your impression of specific info.
    That’s just my impression, good luck!

  2. SBa

    I agree with most of your feelings about Twitter, but particularly on those who tweet too much and about the Twitter accounts of organisations. I also unfollowed UNDP (and several other development organisations) some time ago, because it seemed to me their target audience was the 12-15 year old age group. Grating.
    Also agree on Easterly’s retweet-retweeting and that 140 characters is, despite what many think, not enough. Well, usually it’s just enough to put in a link to lengthier content. I find discussions and retweets very hard to follow on Twitter. Sometimes I ask who did the original tweet, who retweeted it, do they agree and what did they add? Then usually I just give up and move on to the next one.
    Mostly I use Twitter to follow some sites that couldn’t figure out how to do RSS feeds. Unfortunately, the numbers are increasing. There are a few journalists who use Twitter in an interesting and useful way.

  3. As a relatively long-time user I thought the above was pretty much spot on – particularly those that retweet people that retweet them – I unfollow those people pretty quickly along with the Foursquare users and anybody who links their Twitter to their Facebook or YouTube or any other accounts. **** has just added a picture to their FB page. Don’t care.
    I also think that anyone following more than a couple of hundred people isn’t getting much more than noise.
    Anyway, my thoughts on this are: The best tip you can ever have is don’t listen to tips. I’ve trained people in the past to use Twitter and the best analogy I can come up with is it’s like talking to a 14 year old boy before his first date. Just be yourself – don’t try to be clever, don’t talk all the time and don’t bore people.
    It’s conversation that is all. You find people who are interesting to you and you follow them and within your own little group, as with “real life” you slowly establish conversational norms without even meaning too.
    Look at the trends every day and it’s all Jonas Brothers and Justin Bieber – the people I follow haven’t mentioned them once which suggests that my group are pretty much tailored to what I care about.
    So if anyone tells you what to tweet ignore them. Nothing wrong with tweeting what you had for lunch – if it’s a pretty spectacular lunch. But we all need that little voice inside our head that asks – does anyone else actually care about this? But that goes for life as well as Twitter.
    Like life some people will like you and follow you. Others won’t and you’ll have to deal with that.
    Beyond that don’t automate (get rid of the robo-tweet thing sharpish) and don’t sell. Twitter is not marketing, yes you could call it communications but only in the sense that using a phone is communications.
    Oh and, if you haven’t already, install Tweetdeck on your desktop or laptop (doesn’t work so well on a phone) and then it all makes a little more sense.

  4. You’re spot with regard to twitter use(rs) in particular. However, I think of twitter more as a personalised hub than as an arena in itself.
    There’s 140 characters for you. Sort of proves the point doesn’t it.

  5. Oops. Just realised I proved my point in more ways than I intended. Please insert ‘on ‘ where applicable and remove ‘ith’ from the ‘with’ above.

  6. Silke

    “lots of shouty men showing of” – I couldn’t agree more! not that I can really explain what is going on, but there is a strong gender bias in who spends how much time on twitter.

  7. Satish Pandey

    Glad you survived the first week and presumably are still on Twitter. The criticisms are fine but I think we can let people be who they want to be on Twitter. Twitter is Twitter (‘a short burst of inconsequential information’) and we cant change it. So, accepting that, I don’t mind the barrage of information or how disorganzied they can be. I also don’t mind people retweeting their own blogs or retweeting retweets of their Tweets. I can easily ingnore what I want to ignore and unfollow if I want.
    I have found Twitter to be a great source of information provided we follow the right handles. Yes, it is a gigantic time suck but so is FB, blogging and any video game. But being a development professional, I have found the experience tweeting to be highly useful, interactive and informative. The rewards have far outweighed my frustrations with some people/organization tweets. At the end of the day, the tweets are not that inconsequential as the definition makes them out to be.

  8. Matthew

    Can’t beat a bit of @joey7barton for football, philosophy and general thoughts. He once managed to pick a fight with the cast of The Only Way is Essex using only 140 characters. We could all learn from that.

  9. Irene Guijt

    My experiences in a nutshell as well. First 2 weeks I looked at all tweets daily, this is now to once every few days or once a week and then really just a stroll through some. Sometimes I want certain people to inspire me and I become more purposive.
    Unfollowed several people who tweet more than 3 x a day. I loathe with a passion the ‘thx @ x a gazillion tweet address’ postings that some feel is part of etiquette. NO! NOT politie, just self-congratulatory word clutter….
    Some orgs are good to follow e.g. IIED and ODI.
    Follow too many white men myself. They seem to have time….

  10. I am glad I have not driven you away yet. My advice is to make lists. Even the inane org handles have interesting info every so often. I follow many accounts, but have a list of about 300 accounts that I follow more closely.
    Use a client like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite so you can have the list of your top users in front of you. This allows you to follow Calestous the super tweeter without him taking up too much screen space.

  11. Hi Duncan,
    Would you like to expand a bit more on your critique of ‘organisational tweets are awful’? Why do you think they are awful?
    I do not have a personal Twitter account, but help to maintain the IDS one (as one of few who ‘babysit’ this account), so glad of any tips which will lessen the awfulness of our tweets (!) 😉
    What I particularly enjoy about Twitter is its ‘scannability’ and access to links and resources from a large (and sometimes quite random) bunch of people I would otherwise never come across. The links that is. Although, I know what you mean about not always having time to read and digest the links you do click through to!
    Other things that work for me are its ‘ticker-tape’ quality of quickly finding out about news and events (handy when you work in comms); and that instant feedback you get from your Followers which you don’t always get from other social media tools, like the silence that sometimes follows when you publish a blog post: if several people RT your tweet, must have been something they liked about it. Ok, not very profound in terms of impact analysis, but rewarding on a smallscale, more human level!
    Enjoy the tweeting, and look forward to (no doubt) some detailed analysis about people’s favourite tweets, how many people you’ve reached on aggregate, where are most of your followers based and all the other funky analysis you can do with Twitter.
    Best, Emilie

  12. Oscar

    Some of these were already mentioned or you may already know, but here’s a few must-follow non-white-male development people:
    @intldogooder (Jennifer Lentfer,
    @meowtree (Linda Raftree,
    @devxroads (Shana Montesol Johnson,
    @texasinafrica (Laura Seay,
    @InnovateAfrica (Solome Lemma,
    @SlaughterAM (Anne-Marie Slaughter)
    @Semhar (Semhar Araia,
    @kanter (Beth Kanter,
    @BonnieKoenig (Bonnie Koenig,
    @AnnHollingshead (Ann Hollingshead,
    @howfund (Sasha Rabsey,
    @mindfulaidwork (Alessandra Pigni,
    @Alanna_Shaikh (Alanna Shaikh,
    And here’s a big list from my good friend Sarah (@gurrity) that went around a few months back (also contains some repeats from above):
    Oscar (@oabello)

  13. Duncan,
    There are at least three reasons why a retweeter would retweet without adding anything meaningful.
    1. The author wants to broadcast someone’s tweet, unedited, to their own twitter following. The same way I might post one of your blog posts on my Facebook wall without saying anything more about it than “read this now.”
    2. The author suffers from a character limitation. Sometimes there’s just no room to add anything to a retweet, even when the author wants to, so they just retweet without anything added.
    3. The author uses Twitter differently than you do. One great use for Twitter is as a repository of links to things you read. You can read from Google Reader (or on Twitter for that matter) for hours and hours, and if you tweet everything you like or that you want to blog about later, you now have a nice big list of links at your ready disposal. So when you see a tweet you want to reference later, in a blog post or Facebook or whatever, you can just retweet it without adding anything substantive, and it will be on your Twitter stream for later reference whenever you need it.

  14. Ed

    Just to say +1 to Oscar’s excellent list
    Add in some people on your issues (I could recommend many more entertaining funny people but here is a serious tweeps list):
    I agree organisational accounts are generally awful unless they have some people providing a bit of quirky commentary @decappeal is pretty good usually though