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September 27, 2007

Ten Questions with Chris Brogan

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Chris Brogan is a social media expert specializing in building communities using digital tools. He is co-founder of PodCamp, a free unconference exploring the use of social media like podcasting and videoblogging to build relationships. He produces the Video on the Net conference for Pulvermedia and blogs at Chrisbrogan.com

  1. Question: What problem does Twitter solve?

    Answer: Twitter connects me to my friends, and introduces me to people I don’t know. It lets me reach an audience all at the same time which means that I can tell them what’s got my attention. THAT’s how I answer the question on Twitter because I think “What are you doing?” is too focused on me. I’d rather tell you about something I think is interesting, and show you how to get there. Sometimes it’s about me; sometimes it’s about someone I think deserves more attention.

  2. Question: Why is knowing that your friend’s cat rolled important?

    Answer: It’s not that I really want to know about my friend’s cat, but I sure want to know about their lives. Why? Because it helps everyone feel connected across the distance. With the Internet comes the ability to have global friends, and a friend’s life isn’t just what they blog or podcast about. There’s lots of stuff that goes on in between. It’s like the commercial: “For everything else, there’s Twitter.”

  3. Question: When I go to the Twitter home page there’s nothing but tweets about people’s cats, people waking up, people going to sleep, and tweets in other languages—what do I care about this crap?

    Answer: The Twitter public feed is only interesting in the sense of thinking, “Wow, even with a big group of connections on Twitter, there’s these other several thousand people I have no idea about doing their own thing.” This almost immediately gets boring. Don’t care about it. Twitter is about you and your connections. It’s a tool that requires you to refine a bit.

  4. Question: Then who are the “must folllows” on Twitter?

    Answer: My Twitter “starter pack” includes:

    1. NewMediaJim—he’s a mainstream TV news cameraman. His travels make news real to me.

    2. ScottSimpson—truly one of the funniest guys around bar none. BadBanana—same reason.

    3. DaveWiner—Dave’s pushing lots of great thoughts into Twitter, as well as working with the medium itself.

    4. BassGhost—a high school friend, but generally fun for any old soul to follow.

    5. Mochant—Marc Orchant, interesting and often with neat pointers.

    6. Scobleizer—If you don’t have him, you’re missing a pulse point.

    7. AnnOhio—she rocks out the “human” face of Twitter.

    8. iJustine—makes me laugh out loud. A truly underrated comedian.

  5. Question: If Twitter didn’t exist, what would you use to solve this problem?

    Answer: Facebook does something similar, but it’s still so closed in and not as multi-modal feeling.

  6. Question: Why does the New York Times, CNN, and International Herald Tribune bother when they only have a few thousand followers?

    Answer: In one way, all the major media sources are using Twitter as a test. In another, it’s allowing those few thousand to propagate news fairly fast. Remember, it’s a network effect. 2,000 followers all have tangential overlaps that span the majority of Twitter. When news happens, we get it fast on Twitter.

  7. Question: Why Twitter versus Pownce or Jaiku?

    Answer: Twitter works best for me because it has a US-based SMS short code and because it offers multiple modes of SIMPLE interaction. Jaiku is a little too feature rich for me to spend time there—this is odd to say, but the extra features make it feel more like redundant blogging. Pownce just never struck me the way Twitter did. Maybe too much of an “also ran” feeling, though I think it’s a good app.

  8. Question: What do you consider the ideal mix for the subject matter of someone’s tweets? That is, news, cool sites they found, personal updates (“Getting on a plane to Boston), opinions (“Cheney sucks”), trivia (“My cat rolled over”).

    Answer: It’s nice to address your friends and followers using the @person convention and holding little mini conversations on Twitter can be fun. People have a low threshold for someone who just lobs links over the wall unless those links are almost always really interesting. However, the true magic is in answering the right question: “What has your attention right now?” Because the answer to this can span a wide range of topics.

  9. Question: I’ve been accused of not following enough people. Why do people care how many people I follow?

    Answer: People view the number of people you follow as a measure of how engaged you are with this community. If you’re just following five or six people, you’re probably a link-lobber. If you’re following tons of folks, nearly equal to who follows you, you’re probably interested in them. It’s a matter or trading attention. Mind you, the more people you follow, the less directly readable it becomes. I have to use Twittersearch and Terraminds to get the most out of Twitter.

  10. Question: But if I follow many people, then the feed is busy and therefore useless. What should I do?

    Answer: You could always have two accounts: one to follow the people you really really really need to stay on top of, and the other to hold larger conversations. Or, do what I do and use tools to mine for conversation.

  11. Question: If you were the owner of Truemors, how would you use Twitter?

    Answer: If I owned Truemors, I’d build a Twitter-to-Truemors bridge that lets me start a twitter with “tr” and then a space, and then everything after would go in as a “Twitter-Truemor” or whatever you want to call it. This would make for lightning fast news-transfer. I’d make this a stand-alone topic because it wouldn’t look as nicely formatted as other truemors.

    The news here would be a little more “unprepared” because how much can you say in 140 characters? But I’ve got a sense that Twitter is faster at finding information, just because it often becomes the dumping ground of what has our attention, and we send links so others can watch too.

    I’d probably also do just what you’re doing and find me some of the best/funniest/most engaging articles on Truemors and tweet them in between other things you’re twittering about.


To follow Chris on Twitter, click here. And there’s me.

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Comments

Twitter-to-Truemors?

I recently likened Twitter to a sheet. One can use it as a toga, or a sarong, or a ghost costume, or a drop cloth, or even a sheet.

Nice article Guys

Twitter is one of those ideas when you first heard of it, you would say that it is one of the silliest thing you've ever heard. But when executed properly just in this case, it is one of the best things on the net out there.

My turn to check in on this, after one week of my 15 minutes of Chris Brogan fame. Even though my tweets are locked 50 people added me in the past week to their Twitter list. I'm not sure what they were expecting--words of geek wisdom? 2.0 epiphanies?

Chris described me as the human face of Twitter. I guess my role for the past week is to show Twitter newbies that there are lots of ways that Twitter can be used. A friend calls me the social butterfly of Twitter, NewMediaJim calls me the Mae West of Twitter. I actually talk to people and call those out who are Twitterbating--talking to themselves. For me Twitter is about interacting, learning and growing. If you are into that by all means I want you on my Twitter list--if not you probably don't want me on your list anyway.

Thanks for the mention Mr. Kawasaki-you've given me a look at the other side of Twitter. Fifteen minutes of fame was more than enough. I think that I'll stick to being AnnOhio from the cornfields and being an active part of my crazy Twitter community. That's what works for me.

AnnOhio

Guy,

I follow both you and Chris on Twitter. You guys both offer up a lot of value. Plenty of news and information, including some that personal and some that are professional. The mix is just right.

I agree with Dr. Mani about setting up multiple accounts, as the interview talked about. If you have different "threads" of your life, that can make a lot of sense.

By the way, for folks looking for more "secrets", I listed 10 (actually 20) in a blog posting about a month ago:

http://imsimple.com/10-simple-twitter-secrets/

In any event, thanks for the interview. It's good information and keeps people thinking outside the box.

Perhaps more importantly, it keeps people thinking *inside* the box. That is, people will determine the value of Twitter. This is very similar to what happened with blogs. They were a fad once too, remember? ;-)

~ John

p.s. Almost forgot, feel free to follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/webword (I think Chris already follows me.)

When I first started tweeting a month or so back, I was struck by the same question: "Who cares?"

And realized, like Chris says, that the answer to the question: "What are you doing?" needed to be rephrased or modified to read: "What are you doing THAT OTHERS CAN USE?"

The emphasis shifts from 'me' to 'you', my follower on Twitter. That shift is likely why I have 88 followers instead of the 7 or so I had all week long when I began.

@guykawasaki:

And I do enjoy your personalized tweeting, Guy, where you intersperse comments with Truemor stories, and also why I stopped following the Trumors Twitter account which just auto-posts updates to the site.

The reason is probably because I feel it gives a slightly better insight into what has YOUR attention at the moment, which - if I'm curious about you and want to emulate / follow / study / mimic / learn from you (like I am/do) - is relevant and interesting.

Thanks, Chris, for recommending Twittersearch and Terraminds, on my Mac running Firefox, for some reason I can't get the OLDER tweets link to work, which means I'm limited to viewing only the most recent tweets from folks I follow on the homepage - once they scroll off, they're lost forever. Now I can retrieve them!

Also, great suggestion of having two accounts, one for the core folks I follow and the other to reciprocate 'followings'.

I'm here, btw: http://www.twitter.com/drmani

Dr.Mani

I'm not a big fan of twitter. I don't really see the point of it. Do we need to be that connected? We have email, text, blogs, facebook, flickr etc. At some point there is a social media overload. I also think there is a lot of steam left in things like blogs. I recently came across a niche blog on stumbleupon that was precisely about building a community called http://www.secretarialblog.co.uk. It's a blog in the UK aimed at secretaries and PAs. Good content with a purpose and builds a community. Better than twitter?

Thanks guys, now I finally understand Twitter...Been trying to figure it out for a while now. Guess I'm a bit slow.

Great interview. I've been avoiding Twitter for a while -- afraid I'd get sucked in. Too late now that you've given me a "starter pack!"

I'm having trouble reading all my RSS feeds as it is. How do you find the time to keep up with twitter & truemors?

I have to admit tho... even I'm getting addicted to iJustine!

Linda - you can use Jott to update your Twitter account. Seriously. Phone it in, it shows up as a Tweet. No typing necessary.

Twitter-to-Truemors? In Guy's language that would be cr**-to-cr**!

Twitter is also a great media to send data thru SMS. Think about the combination of TinyURL and Twitter...

Fantastic overview of Twitter.

One aspect that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere -- the difficulty of keeping up w/ such tools when you have tendonitis in your hands, as I do - the nasty result of 25+ years in the high-tech industry.

It's frustrating to see all these new developments and know I can't personally be typing that much w/o damaging my hands further. Voice recognition software and ergomomic keyboards can only get you so far....

Twitter is a great conversation tool, and an extremely easy way to reach out to people in a community. Not only does it put a personal life into perspective with tweets about boarding a plane, or grabbing some starbucks, but it also allows for a glimmering look at what people specialize in and enjoy over time. As for noise, you might want to rethink following those individuals if you can’t scan through it easily. [Aww..my cat just rolled over!]

The following is a small sampling of some of the best users of twitter who do a good job of merging both their professional ideas, and personal lives: @marshallk, @chrisbrogan, @jowyang, @ijustine, @steverubel

As for businesses, blogs and news sources using Twitter to their advantage, @woot is a fine example. No need to visit their site for the deal of the day. Sure its bad for site advertising, but it sure does make its users happy since they dont have to load a page everyday. We use it for @downloadsquad to give our followers links to a few interesting posts everyday. While @ZDNetBlogs hits users with 6 at a time which can get annoying.

Tips when using Twitter: Keep it simple, ask questions, provide feedback, link when available, and open up your life a little to keep followers interested. Twitters are an on going story of your life. To find interesting people to follow, watch who people '@' to in their conversations.

And yes @guykawasaki, you are doing a great job.

http://twitter.com/chrisgilmer

Wow! Now this is a great conversation. Chris's answer to #2 is perfect! That's exactly why I use Twitter. :)

Guy -

I recently likened Twitter to a sheet. One can use it as a toga, or a sarong, or a ghost costume, or a drop cloth, or even a sheet.

Brogan and I use Twitter in many different ways, made possible by some very subtle features that empower the user.

You now have the option of individually selecting which individuals you want streaming to your IM, or your cellphone. That allows for different strata, and lets you create a hierarchy of the voices you care most about.

I see you follow some fairly big names, but very very few. You're missing the conversational element - ideas developing and refining through a series of replies.

Here's my suggestion: look for the "@username" replies from a Brogan or a Scoble, and track it back one link. See if what that person wrote interested you. If so, add them for a couple of days. If you see blather, unsub.

I've got a tribe of communicators, a good 15-20 of us who are mostly cross-connected. Frequently you'll see a question or challenge posted to the hive mind - and it's a great way to get real-time pertinent advice from people you know.

http://twitter.com/ikepigott

Twitter bugs me for the same reason sites like LiveJournal bug me; the most active people tend to be the least interesting. Part of that is because they're too busy being active online, part of that is because they tend to be very interested in other people.

I'm a big fan of Hugh Macleod's "How to be Creative" list, many of which (1, 3, 5, 10, 13, etc) are based on the principle of 'other people don't matter, ideas matter.' Twitter (and the like) is focused on people, and 'people issues,' and not on ideas and 'idea issues.'

Twitter-to-Truemors is a great idea.

Guy,

You may have a harder time justifying the use of Twitter as a conversation catalyst, unless you've changed your point of view from a few years back.

At that time, I had a brief email exchange with you and came away from it with the impression that you didn't feel like making time to engage in conversation with your audience.

No fault there, but if you like to keep what you do as strictly a "day job" then I can understand why you may choose not to embrace those who carry your message forward.

Good conversation. Couple of things I'd add - apps like Twitteriffic or Twitbin that let you interact with Twitter without going to the website itself will greatly increase the amount of engagement you can offer the community there. Second, noise doesn't have to be a problem - just scan with your mind's eye and you'll be set. It's great for multi-taskers who already like to read loads of feeds. I LOVE TWITTER!

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