I joined Twitter on March 2, 2008; 1678 days ago. I know this because I asked the Internet when I joined. I kind of remembered, but wanted to be sure. I just typed into Google “When did I join Twitter?”. Actually, I didn’t have to finish my sentence. Google finished it for me. I was presented with the following link, http://www.whendidyoujointwitter.com/. I put in my user name and in less than a second I had my answer. A short while later I remembered HootSuite knows when I joined and shares that info quite easily as well. Oh well. It’s good to have choices, eh?
The University of Twitterville
At the time I joined I was working for a rather large aerospace company (Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a division of United Technologies), where I had been a member of the Space Shuttle Main Engine team for nearly twenty years. My job at the time, which had changed considerably over the years, was to seek out new technologies for communication and collaboration and determine if we could use them internally to our advantage. I don’t recall when I tweeted for the first time and I just tried a whole bunch of applications which purport to reveal that initial tweet, but none of them can handle the number I’ve made (18,036 at the moment). My recollection, however, is that it took me nearly six months until I was able to figure out a use case that made sense.
I was never interested in following celebrities and I wasn’t interested in small talk. I was looking for how Twitter could be used for a business to help its people get their work done efficiently and effectively. I think one of the first actual uses I encountered that impressed me was my discovery the team preparing one of the Shuttle Orbiters for its next launch were using it to share status updates in real-time. I had been part of teams that had “stand up” meetings every morning to update each other on the previous day’s activities. These were hugely wasteful exercises made necessary by the limited communication capability at the time. There were many days when only 20% or less of the team needed to be at the meeting, but there was no way to know that until it was over.
With Twitter, I imagined the NASA team being able to follow each other and share their status immediately. The value to this could be, in my estimation, enormous. For instance, if a team member was offsite picking up an item that another member of the team needed to continue working on a particular task, the knowledge that it would be available in four hours could allow them to start a task, knowing that the upstream portion of it was now complete or that a needed component for finishing that task was on its way. There are all kinds of scenarios where not having to wait until the following day saves time. There’s also something to be said merely for the value of one-to-many communication capabilities, which is one of the many value propositions of Twitter.
Unfortunately, I could never get anyone at Rocketdyne to experiment with Twitter as a communications tool, so I had to look for another use case; one that benefitted me but might have broader implications as well. So here’s what I, personally, got out of Twitter and why I think it is so valuable. One of the first people I started following was Tim O’Reilly (@timoreilly). He had written what I found to be the seminal paper on the transition in the Internet from a one-way, broadcast medium to a multi-path, participatory medium. It was entitled “What is Web 2.0“, and reading it had been one of the more enlightening reads of my career. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it highly.
It wasn’t long before I was following quite a few thought leaders. What made all this so incredibly valuable was not merely being able to read their pithy tweets, but also being able to read the papers, columns, and blog posts they provided links to. Thanks to link shortening services like tiny.url and bit.ly, a very long URL could be shortened to less than 25 characters, allowing the author of a tweet to not only share the link, but also to provide a little information on what the subject is. This made it easy to determine if something was going to be of interest to me.
Although I hold a professional degree (Juris Doctorate) and a Masters degree (in Knowledge Management), I am largely an autodidact; a self-learner. I never went to undergraduate school and got into Law School on the strength of my LSAT scores, which I am reasonably certain were high based on my being self-taught and, therefore, fairly well rounded and well educated. I barely made it out of high school, taking an extra semester to finish enough credits to be able to graduate. I’m a lousy student, but a powerful, self-actualized learner.
In my opinion, perhaps in large part because I’m already someone who learns on his own, I found the things I learned – the education I got, if you will – from Twitter was every bit as valuable and useful as what it took for me to get either of those advanced degrees. In some ways I’m pretty certain it was actually better. It was certainly more pleasurable because it was done entirely on my schedule and nothing I studied was superfluous. I can’t say that of any other educational experience I have had in my entire life.
My experience with Twitter, therefore, is analogous to having gone to University; one of my choosing, taught by people I admire and respect, and studied on a schedule completely of my choosing. Tests came in the form of real-life applications both on-the-job at Rocketdyne and in various interactions I had with professional and other organizations and people. I am very grateful to be a proud graduate of the University of Twitterville.
Has Twitter affected you in any appreciable, useful way and, if so, what was it?