Where the People Are

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I really disliked Twitter when it first came out. I looked at it and thought I had no desire to know when someone ate a sandwich or went to the bathroom (still don’t). I did not like the fact that thoughts or ideas had to be stunted to 140 characters (still don’t). It struck me as a craze that will go by the wayside when the next tool comes along (5 years into it, Twitter may have sticking power, but who knows?).

However, Twitter does have one key benefit. People. It is where smart people post ideas, thoughts and conversation starters. Skimming a Twitter feed of can generate lots of great reading and ideas. Like any successful tool or service, it relies on the community of users to make it valuable.

I am new to the Twitter game, but I get it now. I am amazed at those who can be posting on Twitter constantly (or so it appears). I have made it my goal to try to post one idea, reflection or thought per day to contribute to the stream. I have tried one or two conversations and lurked in the #edchat discussions, but have not actively jumped in (time is the big issue here). I have added Twitter into my routine, but have not given anything else up. Actually, that is not true – I do much less focused reading on one thing (like a book), and more fly-by browsing. Not sure if that is good, though.

Just like managing email is best kept to one or two short time periods per day, I think Twitter is best like this, or else it may take over.

Here is what I wish for future versions of Twitter (or whatever service becomes the “in” tool):

  • The ability to type more than 140 characters. I understand that brevity is key, but some leeway would be nice.
  • The ability to manage information without need for a 3rd party app (TweetDeck, HootSuite, etc.). If you provide a service, why not provide the ability to use it??? The #NewTwitter interface is definitely an improvement.

There are other services that do provide a broader range of communication tools, starting with “status updates” and the ability to grow into more in-depth conversations. At the national level, LearnCentral is one such community. Steve Hargadon’s efforts in bringing an incredible amount of people to the discussion table in LearnCentral is remarkable. All of LearnCentral is “free,” with the understanding it is a service sponsored by Elluminate.

At the state level, NYSCATE’s Ning community is another such service. Nings have been around for a number of years, and recently made news when the free versions were going away, causing a stir in the ed tech community (my thoughts on free tools can be found here). Regardless, NYSCATE has adopted the Ning format, and within the community are many layers of ways to communicate and collaborate. LearnCentral and NYSCATE’s Ning don’t have the power of people as much as Twitter does, but the scalability of conversation in these networks is much greater.

So, do I Tweet? Yes. And I will continue to? Yes, and perhaps a bit more. As a matter of fact, as soon as I put up this post, I’m heading over to Tweet about it. However I want more than 140 characters as an option for expression (hmmm…maybe that’s one of the reasons for this blog…).

Learning requires community, and communities are only strong if they have people in them. Twitter is one such community, but there has to be more.

P.S. Please do not ask me about Facebook!