Blue Fire.
Blue Fire. by tesla1000
posted 16 May ’06, 12.49pm MDT PST on flickr

Miles Waldrons T.C.

Like the web first did about 12 years ago, Twitter seems to have jumped an inflection point from something weird and for geeks only… to something else.

Who would of thought?

I did not when I first tweeted in 2007 (thanks once again @colecamplese), but like the web, had this tingling sensation (hindsight 20/20 specs on) that there was something there.

On one of my recent drives back and forth across the desert/mountain transition between home and Phoenix, I started thinking of some of the interesting phenomena that happen in the …. (ugh don’t use this word,, no, no, resist…) ….the…. “twittosphere”.

Eavesdropping on Half Conversations. This happens when you are looking at your stream, and you find yourself curious about the halves of conversation you are hearing (half from one party you follow) yet you don;t see the other half, as they person they are conversing with is someone you don’t follow. In some aspects, its like listening in to that loud person at the airport or in the bank who is having a loud conversation on their cell phone. Can you piece together a story from half it’s lines?

I don’t know about you, but this is an odd thing to follow if something sparks an interest– one way I sometimes decide to add to people I follow. The easy way is to follow the other person. But you can sometimes follow the links of “in reply to” and trace the conversation, but that also is not perfect as sometimes twitter seems to not preserve the train.

It’s sloppy, and I guess there are some people who would prefer more “structure” (ugh, threaded tweets). It is the sloppiness and serendipity I prefer. It adds some element of mystery and intrigue. It is the chaotic nesting of connections that I find interesting, but that’s likely not the way everyone likes it.

@you Seeing the @someperson appear in other electronic places; using it in blog comment replies or discussion forums, is interesting, as a new shorthand for directing a reply. It starts to feel reflexive.

There is also the quasi emergence of your twitter handle as a nickname for yourself. I smile when I go someplace and someone refers to me as “cogdog”. I am thinking there is a potential for making some t-shirt $$ on a line of personalized @t-shirts.

Direct Message is the New Email I find a fair number of people reaching for twitter to contact me over launching an email. I guess it has to do with convenience as they have twitter tools open, maybe more so than email? It’s easy enough to check your “inbox” and keeps people from writing long rambling blabbathons.

I am now working with someone on doing a conference session and this person does not do email, so all our contact, negotiation as been through twitter direct messages.

I would not suggest it supplants email, but in many cases it can be more effective than email, and in some sense better than IM as there is somewhat of a trail.

Worlds Collide As I watch the conversations in my stream swim by, I smile as I notice people twittering to each other who I would have sworn had no communication or connection as I know them from different “networks”.

I see former Maricopa colleagues twittering with people I met in Australia, I see Second Life contacts tweeting to K-12 teachers I met at workshops, I see NMC colleagues tweeting with some geek programmers I know from developer circles. I love that this happens.

I am not taking any credit, because the paths of connections are way to complex to even chart, but it signals a true explosion in the numbers and ranges of what may be ephemeral (or not) connections. Twitter is hyper-connecting us at a scale beyond what we had ever seen in blogs, listservs, etc.

Even if you can sort of what is a “group” vs a “network” the looseness of these connections makes them much more of a Heisenberg Uncertainty cloud than anything you can graph. It becomes more about funky probability than lines on a chart.

It also resonates with Michael Wesch’s concept of YouTube “context collapse” — to me, this happens in the twitter process, but maybe even it is “network collapse” as models of networks as neat nodes connected by sticks becomes an organic soup where the network connections form, shift, de-connect more quickly than you can see or draw them.

How do really even define a “twitter network” as it is not merely the people I follow or follow me, as I can spontaneously create a connection with someone I don’t follow or does not follow me (privacy locks notwithstanding).

I am not suggesting that twitter will emerge as some sort of essential communications platform, and I shudder to speculate at what technology future generations will shake their heads at in disdain and mutter, “Twitter? that is for old people, like my parents”.

But I am near absolute sure of my first gut instinct, moving past the sneering of “what do I care what someone had on their pizza last night”, there is some there there– and I plan to be there.

What twitter phenomena have you observed?

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. the strange thing about dropping off of twitter was the number of people that couldn’t find any other way to contact me. suddenly, I ceased to exist for them. although my blog has a contact form. my email addresses are all public. I’m really not difficult to find online. But losing the ability to @dnorman suddenly meant they were paralyzed when trying to contact me. bizarre.

  2. I’m originally from another part of the country. I started following a couple people I found from my hometown and then like you, started following some of the people they were following based on half conversations that caught my curiosity. I’m now following a whole network of friends that I don’t personally know, but “feel” like I do. Every once in awhile they’ll tweet something that elicits me to respond. Sometimes they reply back, but they usually do not. They probably wonder who the heck I am and how I started following them. Anyway, it helps me feel connected to my hometown in a strange, but comfortable way.

  3. Alan, the Twitter phenomena that struck me during the past year was receiving unexpected replies or direct messages from the developers of tools such as Flock or Swurl. I had raised questions or made an observation regarding the tool only to find a reply with offers of assistance from the developers! If only I could have tapped into Bill Atkinson of HyperCard fame in a similar fashion 16 years back!
    Cheers, John.

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