“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

Conversation on Twitter — a solution?

Eric Reiss (@elreiss) from Copenhagen asked me in a private tweet, what’s my trick for conversations on Twitter. I told him so long story in the reply that I won’t bore you with. What I will tell you is the short version. I just like digital asynchronous conversations. I’ve been doing them since usenet/fidonet days when I was 1/2 the age I am now (even younger, b/c I’m older than most people think). But I also think that its because I love to engage people in this way. Discussion, argumentation, bitter fighting (for fun) is like water to a fish for me. So in the schema of approachable to enjoyable, it doesn’t have to be that easy for me to want to join in, provided the topic and the people involved are those I want to engage in and with.

But as a designer, I have listened to people like Eric (usually in wonder), but also in an attempt to understand. I mean, what is wrong w/ Twitter for conversation? With IxDA’s email list? and whatever else people have complained to me about over the last 20 years? Is there even a right way for everyone to chat or converse online? in real-time? asynchronously? in combination?

I’m not sure I have the perfect answer. People/organizations with a lot more resource are taking on the issue better than I can. I do think it is such a complex issue, and one that really hasn’t been given the real-world attention it deserves.

Even though I have said that I don’t quite get Google Wave, I do think that the work they are doing is ON that path of taking on this important issue. Who else is dong work at that level? (seriously, I’d love to know. Is anyone outside of university putting stuff in the hands of real people like Google Wave?)

But right now, I’m all about Twitter. And the initial question from Eric (@elreiss) got my attention going and I think I may have just come up with an interesting answer to the Twitter conversation problem.

First off, we have to realize that there are conversations and then there are conversations. HA! … What I mean is that the best conversations on Twitter are always the ones that started from a spark and not a call to communicate. Someone says something either provocative (on purpose) or quite innocently that someone else grabs onto and then boom! a conversation starts. This is not the same as a person saying, hey! let’s have X chat online from 7-8. It is this former type that I’m interested in here. (Maybe my suggestion can help the other type, but I don’t know.)

Ok, so here is the idea … non-timeline channels. (or some other metahor: room, closet, courtyard, cube, carol, etc.

Here’s what I imagine. Someone posts something that sparks a discussion. A back and forth begins. At some point someone does the usual (this would be better outside of the 140char limit). Instead of saying that, they would create a break out.

There would be a link put on the status icon of a person who is in a breakout. That icon has a hover over text w/ the breakout topic and anyone is free to join it (some sort of spam/undesirable removal system in place).

People who are in the breakout can tag specific entries in the system (or even string selections) as full tweetable. This can serve as bait to get the more people into the breakout and let others know the content.

Then, like favorites, a breakout can be tagged so that it is added in a similar way as a tweet in a favorites like repository, or some other way to be made historical.

Does tinychat.com already do this? I’m not too sure it has all the pieces yet. I know it does some pieces in a slightly annoying way. But it also is sorta outside the eco-system in an odd behavioral way, too, from my experience.

What do other people think?

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  • http://www.fatdux.com Eric Reiss

    Nice article. But I’m still unsure how to keep track of a dialog on Twitter. I cannot see the conversational thread, only the individual, disjointed stitches in an otherwise complicated fabric of social discourse.

  • dave

    Ok, first, what is your twitter client? If you be on a Mac and are interested in following conversations then the best tool I’ve found is Tweetie (only on Mac). Alternatively across platforms the AIR app DestroyTwitter & TweetDeck have good thread following features.

    But this is a hack at best and is very unreliable as it requires people to use the “reply” buttons of their apps instead of hand typing the @username to create a reply (and some even forget to do that.

    For Multi-user conversations it is even worse. i have seen Tweetie do an OK job of managing these, but it is even less reliable.

    In the end, if you’ve ever been into chat rooms like IRC, or Yahoo or AOL Twitter is the same thing. It is just as hard to track conversations in these chat tools as it is in Twitter.

    I have seen 1 successful model for capturing conversations in a similar type application–plurk. The problem with Plurk? Not enough of my peeps were there to make it worthwhile. I tried. I really did! But in the end, not enough critical mass. The reply/thread of Plurk though is really well done. It even has a “mute” feature which says, don’t tell me about updates in THIS thread b/c I’m done w/ it. Replies though were kept as Replies. So if you had a juice bit you think people outside the reply would like to know there was no easy way to do that.

    I think my piece was trying to offer up a similar but more complete design concept (at least in narrative format). But you are right. For now, there is not much I can do for you except to say, I’ll be working on it through my @tweet101_org initiative.


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