Twitter friendships and why I took some time off

By | 11 February 2009

When you first arrive on twitter it’s lots of strangers sending messages speaking about what they’re doing and it quickly becomes overwhelming, especially with the vast number of people. For the first few months many people send no more than a hundred posts a day as they get used to the twitter stream. Eventually with time they get into the swing of things and they begin to interact with the other users and this creates a sense of friendships.

Those friendships grow and they flourish, from the occasional exchange initially until several weeks later they are full grown conversations. That’s when character begins to show, when we see who we would love to spend more time and who we would get to meet in person. That’s when the tweetup is about meeting old friends for the first time in person.

For most of you this is a foreign concept. For you the web is a place to keep in touch with friends who have moved out of the town where you are living. That’s why facebook is popular with over one hundred and fifty million people worldwide. That’s why so many of you are friends of mine on facebook but not on twitter.

There is another trend, which is stronger and stronger, online friendships becoming physical world friendships. I call them this way because as good as the conversation is online you can’t give the person a hug or share a meal with them. The tweetup was an occasion when you had the pleasure of meeting these people for the first time. i still remember meeting sizemore for the first time, Loudmouthman and a few others. I remember meeting Documentally too.

What made these meetings so interesting is that we knew each other from weeks of tweeting in most cases, although in others it was spontaneous. There was no breaking the ice. You just go straight into the conversation an that’s what makes it such a great networking tool. That’s part of the reason I was invited by Seesmic to LeWeb. I really value these opportunities.

Recently though there’s another trend. You meet people in person and learn they twitter, you chat to them in person for a day, two days or more and you feel you have a good connection. A few days later you’re online, using twitter and you’re interested in staying in touch with them, seeing what they’re doing and sharing that passion, whatever the project.

There is that drift away though, you give them your time but they don’t reciprocate. Instead you get a deluge of self promotion and ignored comments to what they’re doing. That friendship which had seemed interesting is broken. People don’t have time for twitter.

Thousands of people are joining twitter every day and thousands of people are finding new followers but none, or hardly any of them are working at what made twitter so great, the community aspect. The community feel has disappeared. It may have something to do with traveling away from London but I think it’s deeper than that.

I feel that as twitter has grown in value and as it has become part of their daily lives they are less willing to devote as much time to communication online. Of course this may be a sign of how ubiquitous Twitter has become. If it’s a tool where everyone is spread around the world then everyone wants to be online to talk because that’s their only choice. Now though opportunities have blossomed and twitter has become a local affair, and the bigger the local population the more isolated you will feel if you’re living in the provinces. That’s what I feel now.

I’m not saying it’s a negative thing. I really disliked the only twestival event I went to but I think that’s because I saw that twitter has finally become something local. The fact that the event is in over 100 cities proves this. Twitter has become local, and so the focus is on those that live within easy meeting distance of where you live. That’s why London twitter users ignore users in other cities. That’s why there’s a new form of community.

I’m looking forward to when twitter becomes more popular in Switzerland, when I get more local friends to use the site. In the meantime though I have to accept that more traditional approaches to friendships may serve me better.

I did leave forget my phone at home tonight, when I went to meet some friends and I didn’t turn back to get it. I went out. I was disconnected from the world and it didn’t matter. I was finally living locally once more. I’ve learned a lot from this twitter separation. I will be back to the service but if you don’t give me the time of day when I send you a message then you can forget about me following those hyperlinks to the work you’re so busy promoting.

I want to feel I have a personal connection with those I follow, not that I’m part of an audience. I want you to be in my seminar group.

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