Screw popularity. Just make yourself useful.
That's the killer lesson of Dave Winer's new apporach to noise-filtered tweeting. "Friends" and "followers" aren't what matter. If you want substance, you need useful inputs. Not volume. Not style. Not popularity. Those have their places, just not in your face when you're looking for useful and interesting stuff.
That's what I want out of Twitter. Not just to be the waist in an hourglass where a pile of god-knows-what flows from Following to Followers.
The situation with Twitter reminds me of that silly ad where Verizon workers follow around a cell phone customer like a herd of bison, led by one guy who says nothing. Hey, the customer doesn't need a shepherd with a flock of techies. He needs somebody to pick up the phone when he calls for support. Don't tell him to go to some website, or to "listen closely because our menu has changed", or to navigate a maze of choices, all intended to deflect the call to a recording rather than a human being with a relevant competency. As for "the network", all he wants is for the damn thing to work. (I've used them all, and Verizon's is the best in the U.S., no doubt about it. Brag on that, Verizon. Use real evidence. Hell, show somebody with an iPhone who can't find a service. That'll stick it to both Apple and AT&T.)
The result of Dave's work is a pared-down Twitter stream, reduced to people who Dave knows have substantive things to say. They're not just naming their socks or reporting that the light just changed. They carry news. They provide links. They make themselves useful.
My problem with Facebook, besides the fact that it's the freaking Borg, is that the Noise/Signal ratio there is, for me, about 600-to-1. Yesterday I found the first thing that made me want to stay there longer than the time it takes to leave. It was a gathering of folks from Hodskins Simone & Searls, the advertising and PR agency I co-founded and where I worked for most of the two decades it was in business (most of them quite successfully). That, to me, is a substance I'm interested in.
It's funny, but one of my best friends belongs to both Facebook and Twitter, and isn't interested in "friending" me with either because she uses both to communicate with her family, exclusively. That makes complete sense to me. It also shows how zygote-grade early all this stuff is, and now woefully inadequate the extant tools are. I mean, what my friend does with FB and Twitter are "social" in a way, but that hardly makes them global-grade "social networking" tools.
So, in the meantime, we need more hacks like Dave's. With (let's see...) 331 Following, 4,712. Followers and 806 Updates, Twitter is too much of a fire hose for me. I need to pare it down to just the substantive sources. Such as, um, this one here. :-)
Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal
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