Friday, 24 November 2017

10 Years On Twitter

I Joined Twitter on the 16th of October 2007 .. why Timekord. My first tweet is below ... it sort of sums up the excitement with new tech and the experimentation of the time - the Vye UMPC was a new thing and so was Twitter - lets have a go and see what happens ... ... lets try them together :)
During the mid naughties the Web and PC had spread and combined to enough to provide the oxygen for an explosion of innovation and optimism - it was like a Cambrian Explosion of technology or better still a sort of Great Ordovician Diversification Event (GOBE) - there were so many different things emerging from the primordial soup and Twitter was one of the most exciting.

I remember people describing Twitter as micro-blogging rather than social network and squeezing things into 140 characters including URLs was a new challenge and a challenge many rose to - recipes crunched down to just 140 characters or less for example :) In academia we are used to expanding things ... having to crunch what you want to say into 140 characters including URLs hashtags and any @ references was a new skill I had to learn. 

Back in 2007 I was used to the system providing the features I used ... and the feature creep that caused systems to get fatter and more complicated. One of the wonderful and refreshing things about Twitter back then was that it was so simple and people could DIY their features. It took me quite a lot of head scratching to get used to the idea that hashtags were just something people made up - a recognised and super useful feature that was DIY by the users of the system rather than the producers of the system. The same applied to the way you could reference other people .... using RT (retweet) or HT (hat tip) for example. I really got the hang of Twitter DIY when I wanted to reference a link I came across from another user but wanted to add my own take on the link and didn't want to simply RT what they had written so thought of writing something and using VIA @xxx ... only to find out quite a bit later that this was a recognised DIY method.

The first few years on Twitter were a wonderful time of DIY and relative openness - Twitter accounts had RSS feeds so you could bring Twitter feeds into whatever news reader you were using along with all the other RSS feeds you had from blogs and websites for example. There was a hive of activity using the Twitter API - there was talk of not having to use the Twitter application itself and Twitter becoming a sort of protocol rather than a platform. There were lots of third party applications to access Twitter with, there were many programs accessing the Twitter API to carry out social studies and the first bot type systems that interacted programatically with Twitter and its users via the API. I remember how people hooked up sensors to objects and how they tweeted their condition ... e.g. moisture sensors in plant pots to tweet "I need watering" when the soil was getting dry or using Twitter as a protocol to communicate with an actuator to water the plant when it received tweets from the plant about getting too dry. I remember how objects tweeted their condition ... how Tower Bridge would tweet if it was raised or not. Yes ... it looked like Twitter might become the communication mechanism for an internet of things as well as people ... before the Internet of things became a thing :)

What a moment it was when I got my first re-tweet .. there were other people out there who were listening to what I said and even thought it worth passing on. The world seemed to be getting flatter ... anyone could be heard and amplified by the network - we were all connected and the butterfly effect and seven degrees of separation were real and we felt we could make a difference. 

I remember the Hudson river plane crash in 2009 and the excitement about how the news broke on Twitter first and how mainstream media used the Twitter feeds of normal people as sources in their reporting - the citizen journalist became real and the implications of this reverberated around the network.

I remember how I picked up several news stories first on Twitter - for example, using Twitter late one evening in 2009 I noticed many people tweeting that Michael Jackson had been found dead ... I checked some trusted mainstream news sites and found some stories about this which confirmed it. And so it went on ... news breaking fast and often first across social media to be confirmed later on mainstream traditional media.

We were so enthusiastic and techo-optimistic .. social networks were a web of people for people ... people were practically streaming their lives openly on-line ... I remember (Howard Rheingold) tweeting about his cancer treatment for example and how people were literally giving birth and dying on twitter - having their monitoring equipment tweet. People were frequently tweeting photos of their food and drink ... I guess it was important to them and did no harm but "Why do I want to see what people have had for their breakfast" was a common reason for people not wanting to use Twitter. People were getting addicted ... we read about couples breaking up because one partner (usually a man) spent so much time tweeting ... social media addiction was emerging but at this time it was an older generation rather than teens. The problem with social media addiction in the naughties may have been with people crossing over with baggage from a previous era of tech ... treating social media like a bucket rather than a stream. With a stream ... if you missed something .. it was "water under the bridge" but if you carried the behavioural baggage of something like email you worried about missing something and needed to keep emptying the bucket.

I remember being an early adopter of using Twitter in education ... to Tweet college news, IT services news and in teaching and learning. I used Twitter with students in peer support experiments - to ask questions and get advice among themselves, from me and from the wider community. The ability to see what famous people were saying and doing in real was something new and you could even get replies from them ... that a college student could get a reply from a famous thinker was mind blowing. I encouraged staff and students alike to take to Twitter to learn, it was a useful tool in research - this was the future!

2009 was I think the sweet spot for Twitter. The number of Twitter users tripled and the first user (Ashton Kutcher @aplusk) got to a million followers. Twitter was really taking off and growing fast - we were all getting excited ... this was the future and we could all be part of it. I remember how social media jobs came into marketing - there was one marketing job I remember advertised on Twitter (naturally) for someone to spend time on a tropical island and just tweet about what they were doing and how wonderful it all was! 

2009 was the time when Twitter crossed the chasm to the mainstream and Twitter itself started to change and become mainstream. 2009 was the year when (just like a mainstream platform) Twitter started to add system features for things people once did for themselves .. it was the year the Re-tweet became a button.

The "platforming" of Twitter has continued as it has diffused through society and it has lost its early charms and around 2012 or 2013 people started saying its looking more like Facebook. Twitter is no longer "an exclusive club" ... the early adopters have to mix it up with everyone - people, trolls, saints, sinners and everyone in between. I've noticed how many Twitter early adopters have left in the last year with an attitude of "good riddance" as they look for something new to find "the way we were" but Twitter is poorer for their absence - I miss their contribution and their conversation.

I have been lucky with Twitter ... I haven't been trolled. Over ten years my Twitter network has been honest and "organic"  - I follow only a small group of people who tweet about things of interest to me or interact with me  - this keeps my Twitter feed manually manageable. I have created a few lists but don't use them - I like my Twitter social network mixed up as it comes in a single stream. I just don't understand how anyone can honestly follow several hundred people let alone several thousand. I'm aware of the dangers of the filter bubble so take care to follow some people who have very different points of view to mine ... this can be uncomfortable but is essential if you want to learn.

Twitter ten years ago  ... we thought it would be the future but not this future. We looked forward to a flat earth and political spring where citizen journalists and the voice of the people would call out the abuses of those in power. We were naive ... the network has been weaponised by those in power against the people .. trolls and bots nudge us with lies and hate ... did anyone foresee the controversy of social media influence on the US election?

We shouldn't be surprised how Twitter has turned out ... all human life is on the platform .. the good, the bad and the ugly and like any technology it amplifies ... it amplifies the good, the bad and the ugly.

2017 has been a wake up call for Twitter ...  concerned people have for a long time been calling for it to be treated as a media outlet and be responsible as such. Twitter must open its eyes to see itself as a social media rather than a social network. Twitter will have to change and adapt to the new reality .. 2018 is going to be a crunch time for Twitter - it needs put reputation on the line and be bolder in how it manages its network ... it needs to think of itself, and its users, as a community...  It’s Time to End Your Anything-Goes Paradise.

There is a lot of good on Twitter and I won't be abandoning it and I look forward to seeing what happens in the next 10 years.

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