Conversations and Twitter

I'm enough of a tech geek to have heard about it years ago, but for a long time I didn't understand what Twitter was for. I joined Facebook back when you had to have an email address ending in 'edu,' and I have seen the various iterations of privacy, publicity, and everything in between. Even when I didn't like the directions Facebook was headed, I understood what it was for. Twitter, though, seemed like the old AOL instant messenger1 but public.

Over the last two or three years, the bloggers I follow have been referencing Twitter more and more, so I signed up. At first, it was another inbox to check, and I didn't know anyone else with an account, so I didn't bother checking. After a few months, I gave it another try. It was a little bit like overhearing conversations on the bus. I'd catch a bit of this and that, but it was often surrounded by lingo I didn't understand, and I wasn't about to jump into someone else's conversations.

At some point, though, I did start joining the conversations. And then I found more conversations to listen to. And I've realized that there are lots of fascinating chats going on via Twitter that don't make it back to the blogs.

It is a lot like listening to conversations on the bus, except that on Twitter people aren't peeved when you jump in. They're less formal. I'd probably spend an hour composing an email to Zen Faulkes, whose Better Posters blog I admire, but I've had no trouble asking him questions in tweets.

Maybe it's not like the bus. Maybe it's more like mingling at a conference. Simply by standing at the edge of the circle, people shift over to let you join in. If it's an entertaining or enlightening conversation, of course you're going to listen, and of course you can contribute. It's just casual chat.

I have been tickled to find so many scientists on Twitter. They're having the conversations I should have been listening to and participating in years ago. And now that I realize that, I feel like I've missed out a little.

As of today I still have no followers.2 I'm okay with that. I'm just glad I have so many other folks to listen to and learn from — and, now and then, to talk to.

1: Oh, AIM. How often as a high schooler did I wish we had something other than dial-up so that I, too, could leave Away messages posted all day long so my friends could see how cool and clever I was when not at the computer. I think it's a safe bet that's where Facebook status messages came from, though of course status updates predated AIM.

2: If you'd like to change that, I suppose you could follow me. I'm @belehaa