September 16, 2008

Thoughts from Open Lab, part 1 – or, why I don't get Twitter

Follow-up to Nokia Open Lab 2008 – Overview from Steve's blog

I don’t get twitter. I’ve tried. I’ve signed up, I’ve posted the odd tweet. I’ve followed a couple of people. But frankly I don’t get it. I don’t feel I have anything interesting enough to say to tweet on a regular basis, and if I follow too many people the tweets get disruptive and annoying. Of course, none of the people I know in person are twitterers, at least not that they’ve told me, so finding people to follow is challenging anyway, and that’s the first clue to what I’m missing.

The second clue came in a talk given at Open Lab 208 by Adam Greenfield, the recently appointed Head of Design Direction at Nokia. He titled his talk “The Long Here and The Big Now”, in reference to Brian Eno’s The Big Here and the Long Now. What he said about the Big Now is what struck me about my reaction to Twitter. The point is that now is a single moment in time, but it is happening right around the world. So many people are experiencing so many different things now, and that’s what Twitter is about. It is about what is happening now, everywhere. Yes, people use it to keep up with what their friends are doing, but they also use it to find out what is happening around the world. Proper twitter users will follow all sorts of people, from all walks of life, with the only constraint being that they have something interesting to say.

And that’s why I don’t get it. What people I don’t know are doing in places I’ve never been is just not appealing to me. Following the tweets of strangers isn’t interesting. I’ve always said I’m not a people-person, and this is a perfect example of that. Similarly, I’m not one of those people that collects Facebook friends. I have about 20. I know them all in person, and mostly interact with them regularly in person (except for one or two who have moved away and I’m trying to keep in touch with). There are lots of people I know vaguely in real life and who are on Facebook, but who I don’t intend to send friend requests to. If they asked me I wouldn’t refuse, but I’m not doing it pro-actively. I’m just not enough of a social (or maybe sociable:-) person.

So, Twitter is a “Big Now” thing, and I’m a “Small Now” person. I think.

There was lots of other, similar, stuff in Adam’s talk, and that gives you a flavour for how Nokia are thinking about the future and how society is going to evolve digitally over the next few years, and therefore what mobile devices might need to do 5 years or more from now to support that. It isn’t the sort of thinking I would have expected in a mobile phone company.

- 4 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Steve Lawson

    I think your idea of the Small Now is a very useful one. It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘shininess of the big now’, and for extroverts to feel like we’re missing out if we don’t track everything. The problem is the quality of interaction drops exponentially. With increased familiarity and better UI design, though, comes greater potential for granular usage – it becomes much easier to converse with the few, but banter with the many…

    I was just thinking about you in relation to the Geo-Location workshop – I really wish we’d got to hear more from you about how you use it, given that you’re clearly a more active user of geo-stuff than almost anyone on the workshop. Looking forward to hearing more from you about the weekend. As we said at the airport, the format favoured extroverts, which was to the detriment of the event, but perhaps unavoidable.

    17 Sep 2008, 17:08

  2. mike bradshaw

    Interesting thought on Twitter.
    As a fairly active Jaiku user, i also have never really got Twitter, but James Whatley gave me a good explanation – Jaiku is for conversations, and Twitter is for broadcast.
    Your idea of Twitter being used for “Big Now” ties in nicely with that.

    One thought that occured to me while reading your review/thoughts was that although the actual event might have been dominated by extroverts, it is the quite thinkers who may have more impact in the long run. With the exposure to all of these new ideas and people, the quite thinkers can go back home, and once they have had time to process all of that happened, the really good stuff will start to come out.

    17 Sep 2008, 21:48

  3. Steve Rumsby

    Taking time to process new stuff is definitely how I work. It is only today that my thoughts from the geo- workshop have started to make some sense. It will be a day or two yet before I can write anything coherent from them. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only person there who works this way, so I hope everyone gets a chance to contribute after the fact. I certainly plan on putting my thoughts here when they finally make sense. I wonder if Nokia are watching…?

    17 Sep 2008, 22:32

  4. Anne

    Some strangers are more interesting to follow than friends ;)
    In all seriousness, I follow people who post informative info on Twitter, like a blog. I’d LOVE to unsub from some people who just say “I’m hungry, when’s lunch?” but they’re my friends, lol.

    As for the big now and little now, I’m of two minds. Some can feel quite content in life until they learn about the Big Now - what everyone else is doing. For some people, that encourages them to action - to work harder since they know what can be achieved. For others, they just get discouraged. Each person must find their own balance—enough about the world so they don’t sit blithely ignorant of what’s possible, but not too much in order to avoid overwhelm.

    17 Sep 2008, 23:01

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