Twitter and Social Networking

All Web2.0 tools need to have a certain ‘critical mass’ before they start to become useful – for example, YouTube is only interesting once a good number of people have uploaded some videos.

With Twitter (and other social networking tools) I think you have to reach critical mass in two different ways:

  1. Critical Mass of People. That is, lots of people* have to be using it. (*By ‘people’ I mean people who you may wish to share thoughts with – friends, colleagues, like-minded professionals, others with interesting viewpoints)
  2. Critical Mass of Communication. I know several people who have signed up for Twitter or Facebook (or Bebo, MySpace etc.) and then asked “what does it do?”; “what’s the point?”. Social Networking does not work if users do not attempt to join social networks.

This is analagous to moving home and making new friends. When you move home, you pick a neighbourhood in which you will ‘fit’. In order to make new friends, there has to be a neighbourhood of people (i.e. a critical mass of people with which to be friendly) and also forums for communication. These forums may include the schoolgates when you pick your children up in the afternoons, the local shop, the local pub etc. People who do not communicate with their neighbours do not create friendships.

Following this analogy, online social networking is more likely to be successful if:

  • users choose the right online social network (i.e. ‘neighbourhood’). I don’t use Bebo because none of my friends use Bebo and it seems full of teenagers. I use Facebook because a lot of my friends have accounts and most of my students also use it.
  • users find friends and communicate. Facebook does not work if you join and do nothing else. It becomes less pointless if you search for your (realworld) friends and throw sheep at them; post pictures of yourself; play games with colleagues etc.

This is particularly the case with Twitter. It took me a long time to ‘get’ Twitter. I joined, found a few friends to ‘follow’ and waited. And nothing much happened. (I don’t have that many real-world friends who tweet; and don’t have much time to tweet myself.)

However, things looked up when I started to follow interesting Tweeters – people who I didn’t necessarily know in real life, but seemed to have something useful/funny/current to say. Things looked up again when I started to tweet a little – even if I just retweeted someone else’s previous tweet. People began to follow me as well. Social networks began to grow and so I began to see how this might be interesting.

Two questions remain though:

  1. How do I find the time to tweet, whilst also coping with work, family and the rest of life?
  2. Twitter may be interesting, but is it worthwhile? In particular, can it help with my work as a teacher?

I’ll consider these questions in another blog sometime. Right now, I need to get back to Twitter!

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