For a long time I resisted joining the league of twits, as I thought of people who used Twitter. Since joining, I can safely say there are quite a few twits out there, but that I’ve been turned around on the usefulness of Twitter. It is indeed a great service. I’d suggest that if you’re in IT and you’re not using Twitter, you aren’t thinking clearly.
People place a lot of emphasis in Twitter on the “social” part of Social Networking. But social can also mean collective, as in collective knowledge. You can become involved in a group of experts, sharing information and tips from all around the world by following people in similar fields and getting involved in the discussions.
Have you ever been in a position where you were having problems solving a particular issue, and you “shouted it out” by either sending a help request to all of your colleagues, or raising it in a group meeting?
Imagine being able to do that to a collection of people from all over the planet. That’s what Twitter is about. Sure, it can also be about what movie someone is watching, or whether they agree with what someone has been quoted as saying, etc., but for technical people it’s about collective problem solving, which is truly a remarkable thing to participate in. That’s why I say that if you’re a technical person, but not using Twitter you’re nuts – you’re denying yourself something even better than Google: a collection of world-wide experts. Of course, it’s a give and take relationship. Trolling, something popular in a lot of forums (and valid too, I might add, in many of those forums), just doesn’t work in Twitter. You need to partake in the conversations that happen so that when you have a question, people are following you, and can hear you and help you.
Here’s something else I’d suggest too: Twitter is also about seeing things from entirely different perspectives. I have fairly strong opinions about how crapulent Windows is, and that carries through to a general dislike of Microsoft. I have fairly strong opinions about the need for DRM in some form, and I have fairly strong opinions about Cloud being the biggest con-job IT has ever seen. I’m also very much left-leaning in my politics and I’m quite a determined atheist.
I follow and communicate with people who challenge me on all those issues – people who have just as strong views but in the other direction. I follow people who love Windows (and Microsoft in general). I follow people who loathe Apple. I follow people who loathe DRM. I follow people who think Cloud is the absolute most important thing that’s ever happened in IT. I follow people who are as equally right-wing/conservative in their views as I am left-wing/liberal in mine, etc.
And I really, really enjoy following those people. They keep me on my toes; they challenge me to think of alternate perspectives, they present me with information that I’d not normally be aware of, given my contrarian views, and they encourage me to properly articulate why I think the way I think. I hope that occasionally at least I help them to understand a view that’s contrary to theirs as well. That’s even better than a collaborative forum of experts: it’s a collaborative evolution of wisdom.
Thinking about thinking is frequently more important than thinking itself; understanding how we’ve come to hold our views, or what are the core components of our views (something we don’t always otherwise do) is an absolute defining part of achieving personal growth.