Tim O’Reilly has a great post I read over the weekend about why he loves Twitter.  I am going to write two posts in response, this one about ‘ambient intimacy’ and one to follow whether the value in social media startups lies in the data or the interface – that will probably be tomorrow.

One of the reasons Tim loves Twitter is that it keeps him in more frequent contact with people and for work colleagues to learn about areas of their lives he might otherwise never hear about.  I have attempted to describe this before, and I think Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of weak ties explains a lot of the power of Twitter (and other micro-blogging platforms, including Facebook status updates), but the phrase ‘ambient intimacy’ which Tim uses captures it more succinctly than anything I have seen before.  (Plus it is a throwback to some of music I used to love…)

Moreover, Tim’s subsequent explanation of how it works for him in practice brings it to life beautifully:

I don’t know who first used the term “ambient intimacy” but it’s a great description of what begins to happen on Twitter. I know not just what people are thinking about or reading, but  enough about what they are doing that our relationship deepens, just like real-world friendships. People who follow me on Twitter learn that I’m making jam or pies, or gardening or riding my bike or feeding the horses, things that I’d never (or rarely, since I’m doing it here) share on my blog. I know a lot more about many of my professional contacts that makes them more into friends. And in the case of my family, who keep their updates private and visible only to a limited group of real friends, we can keep in touch in small ways that mean a lot. I get special moments of my wife or daughters’ day that we might not have shared otherwise. It’s truly lovely.

These things are increasingly important in a world where we don’t know our neighbours, live further and further away from our families, are busier and busier at work, work more often on our own, travel more often, see our colleagues less often, and (finally) work in companies that are on average getting smaller.