Stephen Fry and Graham Linehan on Twitter

Apart from my own astoundingly wonderful critique of that “research” on Twitter by Pear Analytics, I’ve been directed to two extraordinarily well-written responses by the redoubtable Stephen Fry and by Graham Linehan, creator of TV series Father Ted and The IT Crowd. I particularly like Linehan’s observation that Twitter has given us humanity’s first truly global conversation. A hopeful romantic?

Choosing who I follow on Twitter

Twitter bird cartoon by Hugh MacLeod

Since being listed as an “interesting Aussie Twitter user” at the other night, I’ve gained 300-ish new followers. Here’s how I’ve been deciding who to follow back.

First, though, I don’t think Twitter starts to make sense unless you have a reasonable number of people in your network. For me, the penny dropped when I had about 50 followers and followees, and you actually interact with them. At that point I started to see the live communication rippling through the hyperconnected mob. It helped that I already knew some well-connected geeks to get the ball rolling.

Once you hit hundreds of followers, though, there’s a phase shift. You simply can’t see everything that happens. It scrolls by too fast. At first that’s stressful — until you realise there’s always more in the world than you can ever experience. So another penny drops, and you detach. Zen. The Twitter-river flows on 24/7, but you don’t stop to watch every fish.

I use Tweetdeck most of the time, not Twitter’s standard web interface, because I can create groups of people. The unfiltered Twitterstream rolls by on the left of my screen, with separate groups for close friends, for media contacts I need to keep an eye on, direct messages and so on. Another panel shows everyone who replies to me or mentions me. So while I can’t see everything on the main stream, just mentioning me will grab my attention.

(I daresay it changes again when you’re like Stephen Fry with more than 88,000 followers. [Update 5 February 2009: It’s now more than 122,000.] May the gods forbid I reach that level of fame! He wouldn’t even be able to monitor all his @replies and DMs!)

So, how do I choose who to follow? Here’s what I’ve noticed today.

Continue reading “Choosing who I follow on Twitter”

Retreating into the walled garden, for safety

Why do people pour their lives into proprietary environments like Facebook when everything they need to communicate with their friends is already on their desktops? Or their phones. The inimitable Stephen Fry has once again written complete sense, theorising that it’s deep human nature.

What an irony! For what is this much-trumpeted social networking but an escape back into that world of the closed online service of 15 or 20 years ago? Is it part of some deep human instinct that we take an organism as open and wild and free as the internet, and wish then to divide it into citadels, into closed-border republics and independent city states? The systole and diastole of history has us opening and closing like a flower: escaping our fortresses and enclosures into the open fields, and then building hedges, villages and cities in which to imprison ourselves again before repeating the process once more. The internet seems to be following this pattern.

How does this help us predict the Next Big Thing? That’s what everyone wants to know, if only because they want to make heaps of money from it. In 1999 Douglas Adams said: “Computer people are the last to guess what’s coming next. I mean, come on, they’re so astonished by the fact that the year 1999 is going to be followed by the year 2000 that it’s costing us billions to prepare for it.”

But let the rise of social networking alert you to the possibility that, even in the futuristic world of the net, the next big thing might just be a return to a made-over old thing.

Another possibility, I guess, is that most people are overwhelmed by the choices available. Facebook and the rest just give them a few obvious options and they can get on with it. Or are both Mr Fry and I completely missing it?

Two quick reads, and a quote

Yes, I’ve been busy. I don’t want to fall off your radar entirely, so here’s a couple of things I’ve read recently which will be good for your brain.

  1. All bloggers can now stop writing. The erudite and exceptionally English Stephen Fry has joined the blogosphere. His first post is an astoundingly detailed and well-informed essay on the evolution of the Smartphone. Anyone who can talk intelligently about Project Dynabook is worth masturbating over, IMHO. Pass the tissues please, Stephen?
  2. “Karl Rove could put faecal matter on his lapel and call it a boutonnière. Goodbye and good riddance,” said the redoubtable Garrison Keillor in No wonder they called him Turd Blossom. OK, not recent news, but a fun read. Thanks to Perceptric Forum for the pointer.

And the quote?

Admit it — back in the 20th Century, none of you imagined that World War III would be Robots vs Muslims. Seems obvious now.

The quote is from Gizmodo’s coverage of this video of a Packbot robot getting blown up by an IED. Thanks to The Long Tail for the pointer.

And now, to find time to write some more…