Musings on micro-blogging

By August 21, 2007 11 Comments

For those of you that haven’t come across the term before micro-blogging is the business of sending out small communications to your friends on a frequent basis.  The main tools for this are Twitter, Jaiku and status updates on services like Facebook.

This is a newish development and is one of those things that polarises people at the moment.  A lot of people have passionately embraced the new media (mostly younger people) and an equal number just don’t get it.  They see no value in inane ‘twitterings’.

I’ve been using Twitter for a couple of months and update my Facebook status reasonably frequently.  I’ve found it useful for getting an idea of what people are doing, what interests them and how they think (particularly now my friends Facebook status updates have started miraculously appearing in my Google toolbar).  Hopefully the messages I put out there give people similar insights into my life.

I’ve seen a couple of posts in the last few days which put some theory behind this observation.  Firstly an article in Wired puts it like this:

when my four closest friends and worldmates send me dozens of updates a week for five months, I begin to develop an almost telepathic awareness of the people most important to me.

It’s like proprioception, your body’s ability to know where your limbs are. That subliminal sense of orientation is crucial for coordination: It keeps you from accidentally bumping into objects, and it makes possible amazing feats of balance and dexterity.

Twitter and other constant-contact media create social proprioception. They give a group of people a sense of itself, making possible weird, fascinating feats of coordination.


It’s almost like ESP, which can be incredibly useful when applied to your work life. You know who’s overloaded — better not bug Amanda today — and who’s on a roll. A buddy list isn’t just a vehicle to chat with friends but a way to sense their presence. Are they available to talk? Have they been away? This awareness is crucial when colleagues are spread around the office, the country, or the world. Twitter substitutes for the glances and conversations we had before we became a nation of satellite employees.

The other post was from JP and was really about Facebook and knowledge management.  In it  he described how in to help his direct reports get to know and understand him better he opened up his email account to them.  To his surprise they spent more time reading his sent mail than his inbox, which lead to the following insight:

People learn best by watching what you do. Not what you say.

Microblogging is a tool that helps people watch what you are doing in a non-demanding and non-intrusive fashion – i.e. a kind of knowledge management tool.  They can watch more closely if they are less busy or if they are particularly interested in what you are doing this week.  They can watch less closely if their focus is elsewhere, but still keep an idea of what you are doing and where your head it at.

As the enterprise becomes more extended, we get busier and we have less face time with each other we end up facing all sorts of management challenges.  These tools can help with those problems.