The Twitbin of History: A Failed Experiment

I keep reading stuff about how people are using Twitter for legit business purposes. With trepidation, I decided to try it myself.

I’ve been Twittering for a couple of months and have actually come to enjoy what’s called [my favorite highbrow term of Twitter art] the “ambient intimacy”–the background of friendly, if usually vacuous, chatter of my smallish Twitter “posse” [my favorite Twitter lowbrow term of art].

So I proposed to a working group of mine–a threesome in an office, me from my home-office HQ–to create new Twitter handles known only to us, and create an invitation-only Twitter group in which we’d share our links, momentary observations, quick questions, etc. Essentially, we’d use Twitter as group IM.

We all installed the dead-simple Twitbin plugin for the Firefox browser. This displays a mini-Twitter-interface in a sidebar of your browser. We chose to “follow” each other’s new handles, closed the group to outsiders, and we were off.

We continue to soldier on, but the project isn’t working.

1. For quick group questions, this system works only when one or more members of the posse are at their desks, typing [none of us it a mobile Twit yet]. Otherwise I find myself sending a regular-old e-mail to one or several of them to get an answer. I’ve been known to use the phone.

2. Many times I’ll return to my desk–sometimes after an hour, sometimes when the sun is gone–to see a lonely message in the Twitbin: “You there? When’s a good time to call?” “Can you send me that draft?” It seems so sad and. . .defunct. I may answer: “Here now: Give a buzz.” Or “Talk at 4?” Then I see my sad, defunct message in the bin. It’s rarely responded to.

I suspect our group is too small for this to work effectively. Perhaps a dozen people would ensure someone’s around to create that efficient call-and-response. Our team should expand to 6 or 8 shortly, so maybe it’ll take on some momentum.

But, truth told–and I’m not proud of this–I miss my “real” Twitter posse. The links from friends, the brain-spatter of people I admire, the updates from the far-flung, the mundanities of car repairs, minor injuries, funny quotes, memorable meals, reported observations, and even the odd bit of shameless hype (how the hell did @supplementsforfree! get into my posse?).

And no, the thought of following multiple Twitter feeds is more than I can bear. Just one is sucking away my precious lifeforce–and time from other “important” social media tasks like reading RSS feeds, checking my Facebook profile, responding to LinkedIn mail. . .you get the idea.

[They say ADD is a structural or chemical condition. I’m wondering if you can’t bring it on with your own unwise, repeated behavior, the way you can get the flu by slow-dancing with the wrong person all night.]

But back to the question: Aside from promoting blog entries (which I do with my “real” Twitter account and will, in a curiously reflexive exercise, do with this one too)–has anybody out there found an efficient way to leverage Twitter for some professional purpose?

Leave a comment here. I’d tell you to find me on Twitter, but I’ll be away for a while.

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8 Comments on “The Twitbin of History: A Failed Experiment”

  1. Char Lyn Says:

    While your experiment with the twitbin is laudable, the only thing that differentiates it from group chats of earlier eras is the slicker, photo-ready interface. Group chat never really took off as a collaboration productivity tool, and I don’t see any major innovation in the twitbin that will provide lift off. Twitter is the telecommuter’s version of gathering at the water bubbler. Email will continue to be the workhorse.

  2. We have one in mind. We’re thinking about using it as an emergency communication tool. The idea is everyone signs up for Twitter and follows a company account with SMS turned on. In the event of an emergency everyone tweets that they’re ok etc; HR monitor and check off everyone; and the leadership team can send instructions out to everyone in the company as to what to do. You can follow me here if you wish

  3. Craig Stoltz Says:

    Geoff: That’s a good one. I work in the health 2.0 world, and I’ve been wondering if emergency responders, or public employees who find themselves in a distributed crisis of some sort, can use this. And of course Twitter has been used by journalists, pro and amateur, at disaster scenes. Key seems to be having a pre-formed group and having everyone SMS-poised against the fairly remote possibility of crisis.

    Journalists, first responders, public health folks out there: Anybody following this sort of protocol?

  4. Holly Rowland Says:

    Re: Using Twitter in an emergency.

    This would assume that communications are still up and running. One of the odd things that occurred following the 7th July bombings in London was that all of the mobile connections crossed. If you phoned someone on their mobile you would get through to the wrong person, it was as if all of the lines were crossed over.

  5. Taylor Walsh Says:

    I have been reluctant to expose myself to TwitterFlu, since I have too many other viral conditions. In previous renditions of such messaging formats, I’ve found that groups need a common purpose or task or event that requires communication – such as Geoff describes in the emergency response app above. Then the question is: does the app fit the communications required. I’ll have to expose myself further to understand Twitter’s twist on this.

  6. Craig Stoltz Says:

    Taylor: Excellent point about TwitterFlu, though sometimes I think we’re dealing with TwitterMSRA. A tool needs a purpose.

    For now Twitter is a compelling new type of communication: instant, brief, one-to-many, with groups that do not fully overlap yet connect with each other to some extent. It has enormous potential. None of us has a clue what that potential is yet.

    Sort of like nobody quite knew what to do with the device that eventually became the phone. Or the moving picture. Or, more recently, the PC. Asked the IBM exec when he passed on Bill Gates’s crazy scheme: What would anybody want a personal computer for, anyway?

  7. I have not found an effective use for Twitter yet. I have stumbled upon a new IM communication service that could be helpful for many company’s that deal with high security information, such as Social Security Numbers & Credit Card Numbers. It is called bigstring IM and basically any type of communication in the window can not be copied or reproduced in anyway shape or form. We are thinking about incorperating it with many of our business functions.

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