I’ve been using Twitter since 11:04 PM October 25, 2007. I quickly found it to be useful and entertaining, like a group IM client or IRC. But Twitter is different than previous “group chat” tools. I’ve been struggling with what exactly is different, and I think I’ve finally put my finger on it.
The people I interact with on Twitter are my tribe. I like the word “tribe” because it connotes a shared identity. My Twitter Tribe are a “we” and an “us”. I suppose this is how sports fans feel about their fellow fans, but I’ve never had this experience before, or at least not to this degree.
It was Rands who introduced the idea of tribes in Twitter to me. He does an excellent job of explaining some of the game-changing social networking hacks that Twitter provides, but he misses something that I’ve been trying to come to grips with. Twitter has provided a new sense of belonging in my life.
Because Twitter is an “opt-in” social network, it self selects for like interests. I don’t follow people because they are “famous”, but because I’m interested in what they have to say. What was unexpected at the start was that I became engaged with the people themselves, and not just their insights and wit. For instance, when I got into Joe O’Brien‘s minivan this weekend, I immediately realized it was the same vehicle that had been stolen and recovered. I only knew this piece of Joe’s personal history because he had twittered it. I remember the feeling of relief I felt when he announced, on Twitter, that the police had recovered his family’s primary vehicle.
Beyond all the productivity, entertainment and publicity benefits of Twitter lies this fact: I love the people in my Twitter Tribe. If you’re uncomfortable with the “L Word”, then please accept that I feel emotionally connected to them, even if I’ve never met them. When I do meet people after following them on Twitter, I have an urge to hug them like a reunited friend.
Twice now I’ve had the opportunity to meet up with members of my tribe that I hadn’t met previously, and the experience was seamless. I didn’t “think” I knew these people. We knew each other. We were already an “us”; a tribe. At the Indianapolis Code Camp last month I met around ten people I knew through Twitter and it reinforced my feeling about the power of Twitter.
This past weekend at the Cleveland Day of .NET I met easily twenty people that I knew through Twitter and followed that many more new people I was introduced to. This was a very emotional experience for me. You see, I am part of a small demographic of social or extroverted computer nerds. There aren’t that many people like me who are geographically close. Not enough to call a tribe, anyway.
Through Twitter I can connect with this demographic of people all over the world, and maintain constant contact. Twitter bridges the gaps between conferences etc. where people in my niche gather socially. Because of Twitter, I am in touch with “my people” all the time. The sense of belonging and acceptance is unprecedented in my experience.
There are many ways to use Twitter. There is no “right” way to use this simple service. I have stumbled into one particular habit of use. I am not resorting to hyperbole when I say that the effect has been life changing. Your mileage may vary, but from conversations I’ve had, I know I’m not the only one experiencing these effects.
I always demo Twitter at the start of my presentations these days as a way to encourage audience members to continue the conversation and learning outside the session. Perhaps I should include a warning “This service could lead to serious emotional attachment and meaningful relationships resulting in a fulfilling sense of belonging. Proceed with caution.”