Researching Twitter Magic

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Whether you love it, hate it or otherwise, there is something unique enabled through Twitter. I think there is something interesting and potentially powerful happening and seem to have ranted well enough to get the interest of Dr. Frances Westley, co-author of Getting to Maybe – How the World is Changed, a member of Social Innovation Generation, and the Chair of Social Innovation at University of Waterloo. Frances asked me to articulate my hunches from which we’ll see what might be the most interesting research questions that someone from her team could dig in to.

Though this post, I’m hoping to refine my hunches and maybe provoke some more conversation in the comments.  The more we can feed into researchers like Frances the better.  It’s all part of helping us and others make better use of Twitter, spread the innovation, and realize the benefits.

My Hunches on Twitter Magic

1. The following features are the key enablers:

  • Default public on account setup (tweets will be public)
  • 140 character limitation
  • Tagging (@ and #)
  • Permission-less follow (you don’t need permission to ‘follow’ someone)
  • SMS compatibility (tweet from your mobile phone)
  • ‘Open’ API (anyone can build on top of Twitter)

2. This seems to nuture/result in:

  • Unmatched discovery because of the public nature, short snippets, and tagability (@, #, url – and now $, ^, !) that generate high link density. No matter your interests you can find people and threads on twitter that will also lead you to new interests and places.
  • Uncontrollable as there is no structure beyond voluntary tagging. Can’t even be sure a person that is following you will see your tweet. This is why ‘marketing’ fails spectacularly in Twitter.
  • Humbling and leveling. Anyone can follow anyone and ‘reply’ to them by tagging their handle. Billionaires and others who are most inaccessible may respond to an unknown person on twitter. And just because you are a billionaire, it doesn’t guarantee that people will be interested in what you have to say. On twitter a big part of you is your last 20 tweets.
  • Authenticity and rapid trust building. The 140 character limitation seems to promote a brevity and frequency that leads to a higher degree of authenticity. My experience has been that my experience of meeting people in real-life is highly correlated to my experience of them on Twitter. I think it must take too much energy to be something other than who you are on Twitter if you use it with any frequency.
  • Collectively iterative. Again because of the brevity and uncontrollability things tend to iterate quickly among multiple people if they gain any momentum. Things only gain momentum when there is collective iteration.
  • Speedy and Spontaneous. From the collective iteration and default to public, if something takes hold it can spread uncontrollably aournd the world. It is unknown where it will go and can die as quickly as it started.
  • Loving and constructive. There are only so many ways to complain and criticize through 140 characters. What’s more, noone has to respond, and you can’t be sure anyone is even reading. What gets rewarded is intersting information, links, and action. Those are the things that people will invest their own 140 characters in.

3. This isn’t utopia, it just encourages our better parts:

  • Human nature will always show through
  • But, because of the key enablers it’s more likely to be the better parts of our nature.

I’d love to hear your comments, or get links to any other posts, reserachers that are exploring this topic. And if you are compelled enough to post, please link back here too. The more we can feed into the research engines that are interested in this the more it will help us all.

UPDATE: Btw… there was an interesting Twitter thread on this a week or so ago.

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