I realized recently that I’ve been through three different stages of using Twitter as my number of followers / followed has increased (they’ve always been roughly the same).
Stage 1 – friends – only connected to a small number of people that I know well. All tweets are fairly valuable and of interest to me. I know the person behind each handle, at least by reputation if not in real life. I read every tweet, going back to catch up on them if I missed a period of time. In general, I treated Twitter in this phase like a must-read information source like email.
Stage 2 – community – connected to two groups: a slightly larger version of the strong core from Stage 1 (as people have joined) and another sizable group of people that are doing stuff of interest to me that I don’t know well. I’ve relaxed the constraints around knowing the network. Maybe this has something to do with breaking some limit related to Dunbar’s number.
I actively sought out people in industries I was interested in by following those conversing with people already in my network who had interesting tweet histories. I also followed hashtags around a few key events that were good indicators of overlapping interest to discover others.
JavaOne 2008 hit in the meaty part of this stage for me and Twitter served as a strong enhancement to my conference experience. It led me to lunch with people I kind of knew by reputation but didn’t know for real and helped me find sessions that were better than my current one (in real-time).
The volume of tweets in this stage was such that I could leave my Twitter client open and “catch up” on all conversations the next time I looked at it if I wanted to, skimming in some cases.
Stage 3 – presence – I’ve now reached a third stage where I am following over 500 people. I’ve lost any hope of following “all” or even a fraction of the interesting conversations I could participate in. That is somewhat freeing. When I have something to say or I’m waiting for a compile I’ll check the Twitter client and just take a top sip off the firehose. I’ll check replies to me and might hit a link or two in the last 30-40 posts. I make no attempt to look further back than that.
I now rely heavily on persistent searches (especially now that Twhirl has such awesome support for it) to find conversations of higher than average interest instead of actually reading all traffic. That means I miss stuff (but at least I’m blissfully unaware of it).
The combination of serendipitous meaningful conversations from sipping the stream (due to having built a set of followed people that I find interesting) and being able to find topics of top interest (regardless of whether I follow them) via persistent search is equally as rewarding as the first two stages but in different ways.
In the first stage, it was the feeling of being in the same room with all the people I know. In the second stage, it was the feeling of being connected to a community. In the third, I can still tap into the feeling from the first and second stages, but I do so purely as a function of my time while still retaining the ability to skim off (and promote) the things I care about most.
I think the one thing I do miss at this point is seeing “all” the tweets of the people I know the best (friends or co-workers). I could build that through searches too except I’m a lazy man. Maybe some day I’ll get to it.
Follow me at @puredanger.