Previous month:
March 2008
Next month:
May 2008

13 posts from April 2008

Revisiting "the 10 ways I learned to use Twitter"... and adding "Attention Lens" and "Presence"

twittershareyourstory.jpgWhy do you use Twitter? After the folks at Twitter added a "Share Your Story" link yesterday where they are asking people why they use Twitter, this has prompted a number of folks to blog about why they use Twitter. One nice piece was from Paul Colligan: "Why I Twitter - And Why It Just Might Make Business Sense" - and then there was Stowe Boyd's that I'll mention later.

All of this prompted me to take a look back at the post I wrote in late December 2007: "The 10 ways I learned to use Twitter in 2007... (aka Why and How I use Twitter)

Three-and-a-half months later the article is still pretty accurate. I would, though, make a few changes, such as adding:

1.5 Twitter as an "Attention Lens": I mention this in my #1, "Twitter as a News Source", but I've come to appreciate that it is different from "news". I find that Twitter suggests where I should focus my (limited) attention. By scanning down the list of tweets, I can rapidly see what people I trust think I should look at. My Twitter stream helps guide what I look at on the web on any given day. Sometimes it is "news", such as the Benezir Bhutto assassination I mentioned in my original article. Many other times it might be older articles or other information that someone found useful and tweeted about. Or it might be blog posts they or someone else have recently written.

11. Twitter as a source of presence information: Until Chris Brogan blogged about this, it hadn't really occurred to me that this is a very real way that I use Twitter. If I have emailed, IM'd or called someone who I know uses Twitter and haven't heard from them - and the matter is important - I will look at their Twitter stream to see what they are up to. Sometimes I've found that someone is on vacation or is many timezones away on the other side of the world. Or that a laptop crashed. Or other information that explains why I can't reach them. In fact I've found that sometimes I now go to Twitter before contacting someone to learn what they are doing before I try to contact them. Obviously, this only really works for people who use Twitter relatively frequently, but for those folks it works well.

twhirlmainwindow.jpgI would also note that the way in with I interact with Twitter has changed dramatically since I wrote that piece in December. At the time, I was reading my Twitter stream in a Skype chat window (or alternatively a Jabber chat window). While that worked great, since that time I discovered Twhirl, and now there is no going back! In fact, I've now turned off the notifications in both the Skype and Jabber chat windows. I find Twhirl useful for a number of reasons:

  • It runs outside the browser and updates automatically.
  • It allows me to very easily reply or direct-message someone in my stream.
  • It cross-posts to Jaiku and Pownce, letting me at least have a one-way flow of information to those services.
  • It easily lets me see the various types of messages I can receive in Twitter (replies, direct messages, my own messages, the timeline)
  • It provides easy access to the list of my friends and followers.
  • It has two search capabilities: "Search" for terms in tweets, and "Lookup" to search for Twitter users

All in all, it's a nicely done client and has greatly helped fit Twitter into my daily workflow to a deeper degree. The one thing Twhirl does not have that I had with the Skype chat is a basically endless history (which is then searchable). However, I find that this is less required as I can also just use good old Google to find older tweets.

I should also note that as a result of my last post, I'm now using Twitterberry on my Blackberry 8830 for mobile usage of Twitter. It has its challenges at times, but it does work for what I need. (I do like very much that it has a "Get Replies" to see your replies.)

I do have to say that all my various statements about how and why I use Twitter, both here and in my previous piece, pale in the face of the simple, eloquent and inspiring "Why I Use Twitter" by Stowe Boyd, copied here simply because it's so good:

Being connected is becoming the best way to be effective in the brave new webified world. By tapping into and supporting the passions and drivers of a swirling, ever-changing network of people, I am made better. I am made stronger, smarter, and deeper, and more together in a way that I could not be, on my own.

There is an African saying that says it is through other people that we become people.

Twitter helps us become more human, in a time when it is more important than ever before to see us as connected on this Earth, not separate; linked together, not divided; to see ourselves as elements of a whole that is greater than any, and all, of the individual parts.

Twitter is about hope and love, although the casual observer might miss that completely.

Well said!

Technorati Tags:

Front Porch Forum uses the Internet to connect neighbors

How well do you know your neighbors? How often do you see them? Do you know what's going on in your neighborhood?

The reality today is that our lives seem to be getting increasingly busier and we very often don't know our neighbors all that well. Even when we do know our neighbors, we may not see them all that often as our schedules may not overlap. Plus, there are often times of the year when we stay indoors as much as we can (winter in the north, summer in the south) and may see our neighbors only in passing. (Unless, of course, you have a dog, in which case you may see your neighbors a great deal if you walk said dog.)

frontporchforum.jpgHere in Burlington, Vermont, we've had an ongoing experiment for the past couple of years in using the global Internet to connect people in their local neighborhood. It's a service called Front Porch Forum (FPF) that started here in Burlington, has expanded to cover the entire county here in Vermont and is now looking to expand into other parts of the country/world.

One of the interesting aspects is that FPF uses that very decidedly unsexy and un-Web2.0 medium of...


Yes, indeed, the killer app for connecting people in their local neighborhood turns out to be... email mailing lists that are restricted, moderated and digested. You have to live in the neighborhood to join. All messages to the mailing list are moderated. And only one message is sent out every day or so (depending upon volume) containing all the other messages. Think of it as almost a community "newsletter" sent to all members.

I have to say that... it works! You know (or come to know) the people in your community There's no spam. It doesn't flood your inbox. There's no special website you have to go to... you just get the message in your inbox wherever you read your email.

Simple. Easy.

And that is perhaps the key. These days it's extremely easy to get set up with an email account, and that's all you need. You can read it whenever you can... so you don't have to be right there.

Here in Burlington where, according to the Front Porch Forum folks, some 30% of all households are subscribers to their neighborhood forum, it's been an incredibly useful service. I've learned of upcoming events (and posted some). Volunteers have been found for local events. Community associations use it to put out info about their activities. The city of Burlington has taken to sending out notices. Local politicians have posted notices. We've had some debates/arguments about certain aspects of our neighborhood (like "should we put a lock on the gate to the beach area?") Advocates for various causes have posted notes about their views. All sorts of notices, requests, questions, debates... (you can read some testimonials online).

Having been active in our local neighborhood (and on the community association board for a year), I've certainly seen the value. People will say "Oh, yeah, I saw that on the forum." I've had neighbors, some of whom I didn't know, contact me specifically because of notes I've posted. Sometimes by email, sometimes by phone and also in person. It has connected our local community together more - and it's been an interesting experiment to watch.

Now is there any real difference from FPF and just a plain, old, mailing list for a neighborhood using something like Google Groups? On one level, no, not really. It's just a mailing list after all. The difference really is that with your own mailing list, someone has to administer it. Someone has to deal with spam, either by approving memberships or moderating messages. And the list has to be publicized. The FPF crew takes on the sysadmin issues and moderation tasks. They also make it easy for people to find your local community mailing list because all you need to do is enter your street address.

To get a sense of the project, here's a video that was recently produced about Front Porch Forum:

Front Porch Forum is also up for a Case Foundation award along with some other great projects and is looking for votes. :-)

Sadly, when we move to Keene, NH, in a few months I'll have to leave the FPF behind (at least until they expand into that area). I'll leave, though, having seen an example of a really old electronic media (email) playing a really neat role in connecting neighbors to neighbors.

Do you have anything similar in your neighborhood? (BTW, you can sign up at Front Porch Forum even if you're not in Vermont and the FPF folks will contact you if/when they expand into your area.)

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Is cursive handwriting a dying art?

cursivewriting1.jpgWhen is the last time that you wrote in "cursive" handwriting? (a.k.a. "longhand")

Was it recently? Did you scribble a note to yourself or to a friend? Did you write something down in a notebook you carry? Did you need to write notes (or a prescription) as part of your work? Did you... (gasp!)... actually write a letter to someone?

I thought of all this last night as I was working through one of my various "boxes" in preparation for our impending move. Perhaps you are more or less "clutter-free" like my wife, but I'm not... and I have several boxes of various accumulated things that I'm committed to work through before we make the move, saving critical things and recycling the rest. Anyway, last night's box was full of... letters. Letters from friends... letters from my parents... letters from grandparents... from friends of the family... a few from old girlfriends... a few from acquaintances I now only vaguely remember... and a huge number of letters and cards from my wife.

It was fun... fascinating... sometimes incredibly emotional (like when I found the letters from my now-deceased grandparents on my mother's side)... humorous... inspiring (a friend writing from his Peace Corps work in Central America)... touching... romantic (my wife and I began our relationship before the era of heavy email usage ;-)... and many more emotions.

The various writing styles were intriguing as well. Some were in small, tight compact script. Others were larger and looser. Some were in block print. Most were in cursive. Some were a mixture. Some were obviously written quickly while others at least appeared to have been written with more care. (Or the writers just have great penmanship.) Some were extremely legible and easy to read while others were... um... "challenging". All of them showed the unique, individual style of the writer. As I worked through the box, it was incredibly easy to say "Oh, here's another one from _______". The writer's style... their identity... was easy to see.

Not for the first time I found myself wondering...

have we lost something fine as we have moved to electronic text?

Oh, certainly we can send email messages or IMs that are as equally fun, touching, humorous, inspiring, romantic, etc. In the 23-ish years that I've been using email (starting around 1985), I've certainly sent and received all sorts of email comparable to letters. And certainly there is a "writing style" that comes through in email/IM messages that is distinctive to individuals. (Although one wonders how much distinction there will continue to be as we move to ever-shorter messages.)

But what is missing is the physical uniqueness of handwriting. Sure, you can use different fonts in email to make your message "different" from others, but: a) half the time those fonts don't make it through to the recipient; and b) you are still choosing from among a certain set of fonts included in your system, i.e. the font is not unique to you.

With handwriting, everyone has their own unique font/typeface.

No one else in the world has handwriting exactly like mine. There are two many variables involved in the creation of the individual letters. The way you hold the pen. The pressure you exert against the paper. The way you connect the letters together (or not). The style of your descenders. The shape of your loops. The way you make punctuation. There is a unique identity associated with... you. Hence why we have used handwritten signatures to assert our identity in signing forms. (And hence why generations of criminals have worked at forging those signatures and handwriting.)

cursivewriting2.jpgAnd yet are we losing this uniqueness?

A few weeks back I stumbled upon some other letters that included one written by a former neighbor in Ottawa who was, I recall, in her 80's when we left there in 2005. Her handwriting was beautiful. (Snippet in the image to the left.) There was a style and a grace that I've actually seen often in writing from people of that era. To a certain degree I wanted to write back to her just to get another letter in return in that beautiful script.

Yet how often do we actually write by hand these days? As you might infer from above, I wrote tons of letters in earlier years. Today, I almost never write letters by hand. When was the last time you received a hand-written letter? My mother, bless her heart, still sends them from time to time and while I admittedly don't reply back in writing, I do value them. (Please don't stop, Mom!) A friend from long ago also sends me one very rarely with his news. But that's about it.

Outside of letters, it probably comes as no surprise that I have written in journals for decades. I have many, many journals in various forms with the pages covered in my handwriting. Yet since I started blogging in May 2000, I hardly ever write in my paper journal anymore. (I "write" in my "journal", but it's all online.) A paper journal that I might previously have filled in a few months now may last for years at my current pace of writing in it.

We have left handwriting behind.

Even more so, I have had a sense in reading some various articles (that I need to find again) that we are leaving cursive handwriting behind. That we are increasingly printing our letters and not connecting them in a cursive script. I notice this even in my own notes for work. In the notebook where I jot notes from various meetings, events, etc., a great amount of my notes are written in a "block print" style. Using upper and lower case... but not connected in a cursive style. Actually, my notes are somewhat of a mishmash that mixes cursive writing and printing... sometimes even on the same line.

(What do your work notes look like? Cursive? Printed? A mixture? Or do you not even write any notes and keep them all on your computer?)

I wonder, too, about the generation coming up through the schools now. In an era when there is so much focus on the electronic world... when kids are texting and IM'ing... when they are doing all their reports on the computer... when they are using computers in their classrooms... how much hand writing do they actually do? Do they even teach cursive handwriting like they did when I grew up?

On a certain level, is it even relevant to the digital world in which these kids are growing up?

I don't know... perhaps cursive handwriting is destined to go the way of manual typewriters, fountain pens and so many other anachronisms from another time. Perhaps it will live on only in those of a certain age and those who have an interest in preserving dying arts. I don't see any real way for it to return... as I noted earlier, even a fan of handwriting like me has moved increasingly online.

But as cursive handwriting fades, are we as a culture losing something fine with its passing?

P.S. I did save many of the letters in the box last night. :-)

Technorati Tags: , , , ,