Keep Your Twits About You – Taking Charge of the MicroWeb

I had a disconnect with a very savvy web worker the other day when I showed her my Tweetdeck layout. “It’s too overwhelming,” she said. “So how do you manage the people you are following?” I asked. She looked at me as if I had spoken in a foreign language. And one that she did not understand at all.

We were having breakfast at El Sol y Luna the kickoff morning of SXSW Interactive. There was another very smart web worker who also seemed confused by the “twitter control deck” across my screen. Okay, no worries. Let’s see how to dissect this.

“And do you leave your Twitter window open during the day?” she followed on, trying to be helpful. “So you don’t miss anything?”

[Holy cr**!]

Neither of these web savants had figured out what Twitter was about. But more so, they did not have any concept of how to control or filter the flow of information pouring through the Twitter stream.

Now the other woman spoke up, “And how do you follow more than about 20 people? That’s about all I can handle before I get overwhelmed.”

I worked to contain my surprise and reminded myself, I’d been Twitter-literate for almost a year. And Twitter-aware since SXSWi 06 when it was the BIG thing. Oh, and it was the BIG THING at SXSW again this year. In a different way, but with the same misunderstanding about what we do with Twitter. [This year’s questions: 1. How do we “monetize” twitter? 2. What’s the ROI on your enterprise Twitter team?]

So here’s my observation of Twitter and my experience of it.

1. Twitter is like IM broadcasting. Calling it microblogging is confusing. (I recommend distancing yourself from that term less you get confused with how and when to use Twitter.)

2. Twitter is not something you leave open and follow. If you did you might just go crazy. Even with today’s twittertools, twitter is a stream to dip your ladle into and hopefully pull out some nuggets of gold. It is not a river to dive into. You will be swept downstream. You might lose your self in the endless curiosity, the discovery that is inherent in the stream, and you might enjoy the refreshing dip into Social Media. BUT: more than likely you will wind up gasping for air and wondering how you misplaced your afternoon and got behind on your projects.

3. In order to effective in “working Twitter” you have to manage the stream of Tweets. And there are lots of tools to help you do this. I have written an extensive review of Tweetdeck and how I manage my Followers and Followees.

Tools like Tweetdeck and PeopleBrowsr can help. Plugins for Firefox or stand alone apps like Twirl can help. But you have to do something besides use Because trying to keep track of, and manage Twitter in a single column of data that continuously updates before you very eyes, is like trying to drink from the proverbial fire hose. It never stops. It never slows down. And if you follow enough people, global folks, it NEVER sleeps.

So how in the world would I be able to make ANY SENSE of the Twitterverse if I am trying to watch and use any of the data streaming by on my page? Honestly, I can’t.

I do use the page occasionally. It is the main place you can Follow and Unfollow people. And also, as a catalyst, I occasionally watch the mono-stream tweets as they pass by, because I may find some nugget, or see someone I follow but do not have in my “close” or “pro” lists.

I can understand the desire to watch the stream. It’s like the green wall of data in the Matrix. I can even see how, if my two friends imagined my Tweetdeck stream as a continuous flow of data but now in multiple columns, that it would seem overwhelming. BUT when you take control of the stream whole worlds of possibilities open up to you. But be careful to watch the edge of the stream less you slip and go down the falls roaring nearby.

And the first part of managing Twitter is getting your streams in order.

John McElhenney

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