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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

twitter: an analogy for the non-technical (pt. 1 of 4)

In this series of posts I am focusing on the use of Twitter at the General Assembly. Accordingly, the explanations and applications I offer are not exhaustive, but directed toward that end.  The series is in four parts: 
1. Twitter: An Analogy for the Non-Technical (and maybe for techies too!)
2. What is Twitter? - an introduction
3. Why Use Twitter? - 8 potential uses at GA 
4. How to Use Twitter? - step by step guide to getting started

    An Analogy for the Non-Technical (and maybe for techies, too!)
    (pt. 1 of 4)

    This analogy may be frustratingly vague at first, but that is only because it is trying to describe a technology with which many are completely unfamiliar. Imagine explaining e-mail to someone who has never used a computer. It’s like that… In fact, trusting that many of you HAVE used a computer and e-mail, we’ll use that as a launching pad for the analogy.
    Regular U.S. Mail is to E-mail
    A Conversation is to Twitter
    It used to be that you had to handwrite (or type) a letter, address it, stamp it, put it in the mailbox, and wait 2-6 days for it to be delivered to another person, depending on distance. E-mail allows for any computerized message or file to be sent instantly anywhere in the world with Internet, and to single or multiple recipients. To exchange a series of letters might take weeks, but with e-mail, one can exchange just about as many pieces of correspondence as needed, as long as both people have access to the computer.

    A conversation is, at best, talking, listening, and responding to another person in such a way that relationship, community, and trust are fostered. While there are other ways of imparting information, a good conversation can be both effective and rewarding as a means of exchange of information. Conversely (at worst), a conversation can be one-sided, manipulated, overbearing, and break relationship, community, and trust. I will assume that most of you grasp the dynamics that effect a good, healthy conversation and those that do not. Twitter is conversation gone digital, at the speed of the Internet, and with the accessibility of a cell phone or PDA (Blackberry, iPhone). What makes for and results from good conversation OR bad conversation can thus be amplified and multiplied quickly and significantly with this new means of conversing.

    As regards General Assembly…

    If you can imagine applications for a “good conversation” at General Assembly, then multiply and magnify those scenarios and you’ll begin to grasp the significance of Twitter. Yes, there is a time to argue passionately at a microphone. But what can be accomplished with winsome and persuasive conversation over a cup of coffee? What can an invitation to lunch conversation or a meaningful interaction with a table-full of colleagues accomplish? You can do so with 100 people with Twitter. Ever had an opportunity to have a private conversation with a political or theological “opponent?” You can do it in the middle of a crowd and even in the middle of a vote with Twitter.

    Mis-use is just as powerful – you can ignore, misconstrue, bully, and make a fool of yourself on Twitter and it will be seen by thousands. But what may be the biggest mistake is to go to an Assembly where thousands of people are having a conversation, and you are deaf and mute for lack of being “plugged in.”

    Some examples…

    Let's say I'm in committee and wish I could have a one minute conversation with Gradye Parsons, Tom Hay (Dir. of Operations at GA), Bruce Reyes-Chow, or one of the special interest groups... easily done.

    Don't believe me? Bruce RC will respond to a Twitter post directed to him, on ANY topic, usually within 10 minutes, and that's if he's NOT paying attention.  Now those folks will be busy come Assembly time, but they are not the only ones on – there is a growing list of people who will be using Twitter at the General Assembly (look HERE for starters). Any commissioner... anyone jumping into the #GA219*  twitter feed will immediately be in conversation with a growing group of people talking at and about General Assembly.

    Let's say I'm in a room of people and don't see anyone I know - a simple twitter on my location and perspective might quickly identify friends in the room and open up a conversation with them (for that matter might also identify 'opponents' and open up a conversation with them!). Want to know more? More coming on what this thing called “Twitter” is and how to use it…

    *#GA219 (the abbreviation for General Assembly 2010)


    Dave Hackett said...

    By the way, thanks for raising this whole opportunity!

    Dave Hackett said...

    I'm all for twittering GA, and I will very likely join in. What I think is imperative is to create some system (in advance) of hashtags, because given all the multitudinous issues at this GA we're going to want to divide up the streams. Hashtags will be the better way to let people "group" around high-frontpage value committees, or around issues. By suggesting to people a logical system of marking tweets, we can better zoom in on what we're interested in. I'd suggest that we suggest that each GA tweet have TWO tags - one like #GA1020, and another with the particular topic (drawn from a pre-suggested list of hashtags). Of course people will create and use their own hashtags, but in the intensity of the GA these might get lost. Others will just tag once (the #ga2010 tag), but I suspect that that stream will get very populated very fast, and people would prefer to follow a stream (ie, using http://twubs.com/) to isolate out those specifically related to their chosen interest area.

    Deborah said...

    So excited about possibilities of using twitter at GA this year. The kinds of real conversations and connections being made will help us be a more connectional church.

    I'll be sure to remember to think - and pray - before tweeting. Will this help the body?

    robert austell said...

    Deborah, thinking and praying will help the body for sure. (I'm assuming you are the same Deborah that tweeted at me?)

    The (public) conversation analogy was one I just stumbled onto a week or so ago in trying to explain Twitter to some very non-tech friends. I think it is so fitting... we have (barely) learned to guard our tongue in real-life conversation. So, we don't tell off-color jokes (well, 'cause they are wrong, but at the least because we might hurt someone overhearing them).

    I think Twitter is still so new, and we forget how public and visible our comments are. It is SUCH a great opportunity to invite conversation, but also carries great potential for hurt and marginalization. So I'm hoping to encourage the former and equip people to take part.

    Thanks for your encouragement and for joining the conversation! Look forward to maybe meeting you IRL at GA.


    Dave Hackett said...

    Beyond recognizing that Twitter is "public conversation" (good point, by the way), what Twitter can do for a GA is that it excels in letting people quickly link others to relevant information. What's often a scarce commodity at GAs is knowing what all is happening elsewhere in the Assembly, and tweets from all corners would be thrilling - as well as mobilizing. Think flashmob!

    robert austell said...

    You're right, Dave - and you've anticipated an upcoming post (well, pt. 3 anyway)...

    I just kept running into people that glazed over when I said the word 'Twitter' - so I wanted to start with helping people understand what it was... I'll some more to post soon on what we can do with it.

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