Breadth vs. Depth

Lately I’ve been very concerned that I haven’t really been able to communicate very much with friends. I have not sent enough emails, posted enough on my blog, or called. Part of the reason is that I feel like I just can’t find enough energy to spend time on a long-form prose or conversation, which I deem necessary in order to do any of those things. That’s not a good thing to continue this way, so I have been trying to decide how to fix it.

One of the options is to abandon those modes of conversation altogether and adopt shorter-form ones, such as Twitter and Facebook. Start sharing things that I’m thinking about without having to spend time trying to draw conclusions or do a deeper research on it to see if it is something that I really have an opinion on.

At first I thought that short discussions were just too shallow. After some time I realized that I was missing an important part of it: the fact that it was a less filtered view of what is going on. I don’t usually need to know what the person thinks about a subject, just that they are interested on a subject.

There is certainly a limit, though. You don’t want really to know all articles I read, or songs I listen to, or things I buy. There is a level of noise that starts to muddle the message. We all read things that are not really that good, or listen to songs just because they were recommended to you, or they were randomly selected, or you just wanted to just not think too much about selecting your song and just listening to it. That information that you are then listening to the song has very little signal, tells very little about yourself. But because you are not really saying anything about it, just that you are listening to it, or reading it, it becomes impossible for somebody casually looking through your “life stream” to recognize the difference and that’s when value is lost.

Another very important thing that you get on Facebook and Twitter that you don’t usually get on a blog is discussions. Yes, people can leave comments on blogs, but that doesn’t happen that often. Well, sure you can claim that this doesn’t happen on this blog because almost nobody reads it… And that almost nobody reads it because I don’t post anything here… And we are back to where we started.

The other side of the coin to discussions is that it is only useful if the people involved on the discussion are keeping up with it. It quickly loses the interest if it becomes one-sided because the other side just was never able to get back to it. That’s what sometimes keeps me away from Facebook and Twitter (especially the latter): if I don’t have time to check it at least once a day (sometimes more often), discussions with me end up not being very “enriching”.

Back to the initial problem as mentioned above: what is the solution to the communication conundrum? I wished I knew. Maybe one of these days I’ll find one. Until then, I’ll just have those weekends where I post multiple times and those other 51-ish weekends of the year when I don’t post anything.

Funny things about Twitter

If you don’t know what Twitter is you are probably living in an alternate universe. But, although it’s been pretty big for some time now, it feels like people don’t really know how to use it correctly. It started out very simple: I create a network of friends and people can send short messages through their cellphone or online to say what they were doing now. This way people can quickly organize themselves and know what their friends were doing.

But then it turned into a “stalker” type environment: there is this set of people that I’m interested in and I follow them to know what they are thinking. On the other side, I want to advertise myself to my “stalkers” (or fans if you want to put a positive twist to it) and keep them thinking that I’m a good person.

The problem in my opinion with this new reason for twitter is that it’s not that good at that. It centralizes everything into one platform that allows you to have only 140 characters to send out your message. So it becomes a world of sending links around that is very hard to index and organize. And if you want to keep an eye to what is going on, you have to be online all the time and reading a lot of things (that are now linked around and not there for you to filter based on the text).

Then what happens when you have a tool that people can’t really find a perfect use for but lots of people are using it? Well, you start experimenting! People start using it to try to promote themselves by starting to follow somebody, which will make this person look at what you have and decide if they are going to follow you or not. That’s what happened today when I was followed by masstransitnow, a political temporary twitter account that is trying to pass some proposition to increase the amount of money sent to mass transit in the greater Seattle area.

There are others, like comcastcares that tries to use twitter to solve customer problems with Comcast.

Does this type of thing work? Well, it’s not a great way of sending good content to people, but it’s a cheap way of getting your name out there and getting a couple of hundred people to know that you exist. The numbers are completely meaningless for most of those applications (what would 200 extra votes do to a proposition being selected in a place like the whole state of Washington?), but it’s easy and free. You only need 140 characters a day and people will keep you in mind.

So back to my personal experience: do I use twitter for anything useful? Actually no. I end up writing less because things that I want to write are too long to twitter about, but because I first try using twitter, I feel like in order for me to post it on this blog it needs to be more in-depth, which usually means that it just never gets written.

I’m actually amazed that I was able to finish this post… Before 2 AM!