March 10, 2009
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Misunderstanding Twitter

Elin points out that the press coverage of Twitter is exceptionally dense. In fact, I find that almost anything you read about Twitter is likely to be wildly wrong. For example, Elin quotes a clinical psychologist who writes that

Twittering stems from a lack of identity. It’s a constant update of who you are, what you are, where you are. Nobody would Twitter if they had a strong sense of identity.

This is absurd.

The prototypical Twitter scenario is simple: you've got a team of colleagues developing a Web site. They're scattered all over the city, or all over the world, because that’s the way we work now. Add a deadline: the client wants a proposal for a huge new project, and they want it on their desk by 5pm tomorrow. And so one person works on a logo and one person works on a framework and two people starts prototyping code and you know that someone is going to have to write some sample copy – when anyone is free. And so you use Twitter to keep track of who is working on what, who might have a free moment, who can lend a hand, who needs help. It’s got nothing to do with identity: it’s about coordination and presence and knowing the rest of your team is pitching in.

This is obvious.

You used to do this by walking around the office. You'd stop by everybody’s desk, see who was working, who left early, who was stressing out. You didn’t ask people, “Hey, are you working?” You said, “How about them Cubs?” That didn’t mean you were more worried about the Cubs than the account.

Now, you can’t walk around the office because parts of your team are in different offices, and some may be half way ’round the world. So you use AIM or groupware or git or you use Twitter. People have been doing research on this for twenty years, but all the popular reporters act as if the whole thing was invented by a crazed teenager who ought either to be disciplined or showered with money.