Have you ever stood gazing at an open sky on a dark night?. First you see a faint glimmer of a few tiny points of light. As you keep gazing, you will observe more and more stars. Occasionally, you may find a few shooting stars. Keep gazing and you will see lots of beautiful patterns, some familiar some entirely new. Some of us go back and not think about this much. Some of are transfixed by the beauty and keep coming back. Some of us even go and buy a telescope and fall in love with the heavens. This is exactly the experience I am having with Twitter.
When I first started on Twitter it was merely out of the curiosity. The name probably had some thing to do with it. I tried a few tweets, read a bunch and then walked away. To me it seemed trivial, people posting that they had lunch or waiting in an airport or trying to sell you something.
The event that changed my view was the terrorist attacks on Bombay. I was in Chicago at that time. Having lived in Bombay for over 6 years, I have a deep affection for both the city and the amazing energy of the people who live there. I was devastated to hear the news and sat glued to the TV and internet during those few days. I searched and surfed and flipped channels. The information was utterly inadequate and kept repeating. Even the most popular Indian news feeds had very little. I was among the many anxious millions all over the world really hungry for information. Suddenly I thought of Twitter. So I went back and found some items of news. One of them had a hashtag that pointed to the news stream. I found an endless bits of little items, some times comments, some times conjectures. Following the Tweet Stream was like trying to drink out of a fire hose.
It was not just a news stream. You could hear different tones in those tiny messages. There were discussions, dialogs, anger, wonder, sorrow and every emotion you can think of. To me, this a small sample of humanity in its true form. Engaged and engaging. Faced with a common tragedy, it was humanity at its best – sharing, discussing, dissecting. In all my years working with the web, I have never seen such energy and strong emotions. There was some beauty in the brevity of the messages.
This incident changed my view of Twitter completely. It is now my new source of instant information, news, opinions and thoughts. It is by people like me not people necessarily paid to bring me news. There is no editors here filtering stuff, figuring out which goes on to the front page. I structure my sources of information and when I find a new and exciting one, add it to my growing repository of personal news reporters. Some times it is endless trivia, but some times it is pure bliss. Even the self-descriptions are amazing – “a mom with lots of kids” (makes me think of mine), “happily unemployed”, “a reluctant exerciser”. You relate to these people. They are you. And you are them. Where else can you find in 15 minutes a theory on how Yoga is good for your sex life, about a hot oil chilly fish dish, a profound discussion on Open Linked Data, emerging trends in learning and the best way to market your small business? If an occassional post evokes your curiosity, there are links to find out more.
Facebook allowed me to rediscover my old friends and stay in touch. Peek a little into their life and have them peek into yours. But Twitter is bringing me new friends and acquaintances, that one day may become friends. I am richer by the experience.
Twitter is a place to have conversations. You can say something without really saying anything by simply retweeting. When you retweet, you do more than merely pass on the message to others. You are thanking the bearer of this little nugget of information by recognizing them, you are telling your friends to take a look and you are starting a conversation. When you post something on Twitter and see it propagating through the Twittersphere, you know you contributed something useful to the conversation.
Tweets are triggers. They trigger business ideas, product ideas and ideas for blog posts but mostly, they evoke curiosity to know more, to learn more. Twitter can be an observation post. Some times I fell as if I am sitting in a mall or a town square watching people. It is a great place to observe people, interesting patterns of behavior and odd quirks and fascinating reactions. Twitter is a information exchange, a knowledge sharing network. You gain knowledge not only from the tiny bits of information streams but also from the reactions, behaviors and obsessions of the crowd. I am glad it is there and growing.