Beki Grinter

Social Media: Reinventing IM with Twitter

In research, social media on June 16, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Let me say from the outset that I do not feel entirely comfortable wtih twitter. Well more accurately I feel that I don’t understand twitter (especially in comparison with facebook where I feel entirely at home).

No, that’s not completely true. I think it’s an awesome backchannel for meetings. I get that use. It’s also fun to read the capture of other meetings that you’re not at.  I think this would increase if I had more friends on Twitter.

OK, a quick aside. On Facebook, if a student friends me I will reciprocate. That seems appropriate. I won’t friend a student on Facebook or sign up for their flickr stream, but if they ask to see mine for some reason I think that’s appropriate on facebook and flickr.  Funnily enough I don’t think it’s appropriate to follow a student even if they follow me on twitter.  I suppose I don’t see it as bi-directional.  Someone’s asking to follow the tweets I generate, but I am not sure that I should follow theirs.

Perhaps it’s the word.  Friends versus following. Friend seems like a gesture I get and reciprocate. Following seems a bit more like following, it has less to do with friendship, more to do with watching.

But…

Twitter.

The other day I was using twitter with a colleague at a different institution. He’s actually an important part of my invisible college.

OK, another aside. The Invisible College is a brilliant concept. As a researcher I have two networks. There is my local, visible college. In my case it’s the School of Interactive Computing, where I work with my colleagues. But then there’s the invisible college of research colleagues who span many institutions (although I will note that IC has a significant number of HCI researchers which is awesome). It is in collaboration with them that we produce the knowledge that is HCI, CSCW, etc. They are the people whose paper’s I cite and write findings to build on or contrast, they are also the people who provide peer review, not just of my scholarship, but also of my career.

OK, so I was using twitter with a colleague at a different institution and we remarked that it was a bit like an IM exchange.

This reminded me of Amy Voida’s thesis work. I should caveat this here by saying that this is one key point I took away from the thesis, something that resonated with me, deeply.  An argument she made was that given the plethora of appropriation experiences that people have with technologies, each encounter with a new technology can be “read” in multiple ways. She made her arguments over cameraphones and IM.  Technologies that mix hardware and communications ideas (is it a camera, is it a phone, is it a written or spoken medium?).  Seems to me that might be how I am making sense of twitter.  Perhaps I am reading it as a different genre.

You may have noticed that my blog has become more active lately. This is a consequence of two new orientations.  One is to stop watching television as much.  The other is that I’ve decided its more like a media that I am more comfortable with, or that I understand (at least until I get a lesson in how my interpretations might not hold robustly).

And so twitter, perhaps I am reading it as IM. Perhaps that works for me.

And in that light I will say that it does not have the difficulty that IM has, which is that saying goodbye, the turn taking protocol on IM doesn’t seem as good as face to face. It’s awkward. Twitter seems easier to move in and out of conversation.

Of course, today, and for the last few days something completely else has been happening with Twitter.  The Iranian elections have been a source of significant conversations via twitter. So, this is a far more local musing, and an important reminder that many communications technologies don’t just have a single story of adoption and use, but a plurality that speak to the many, varied appropriations.

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  1. Fascinating! I’d love to hear your thoughts about how the public nature of twitter & blogging impacts your academic work. That is, how do you decide whether to disclose what you’re thinking on your blog or twitter vs. keeping it guarded while you conduct research for publication?

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