Friday 16 July 2010

I'm forever blowing bubbles?

In the midst of the mass of data I absorb on a weekly basis, somewhere in the depths has stuck the idea that we social media bods are in a bubble. That noone outside of the bubble cares. My question is, who is blowing the bubbles, exactly?

You see, quite simply, there is no noise without a silence. No solution without a gaping void. No technology without its users and no Twitter without answers to the eternal question: What are you doing? If there is a bubble, then that may very well be the case, but the bubble does not preclude the usefulness of the particles inside the bubble, only it shows the value of introducing more particles into the bubble, to expand the shape, colour and direction of the bubble. Bubbles are not exclusive. And there we leave that analogy, weeping from its abuse, quivering in the gutter.

With apologies to yet another blog writer whose words I consumed voraciously, pondered sub consciously for days and as a result have no memory of the identity of the author, someone else mentioned that 'What are you doing' might as well be 'What do you know that I need to know?'

I don't believe Twitter must be 'something'. I believe Twitter is many things to many different people, just as Facebook is. Some people enjoy immensely the pleasure of dissecting politicians and associated commentators blathering on Question Time. A mass political derision, mostly, but it's commentary nevertheless. To others it is a campaign tool, and after the campaign, a tool to continue to ask questions and receive quick answers on local feelings, contentious issues and relevant input from other politicians. Some use it as an RSS aggregator though some of those people don't know that's the name for what it is their doing. Yet others use it to relentlessly network, no interest in those passing through, only interested in the opportunities new followers can give them.

Then there's the public sector. What does the public sector use Twitter for? I had an interesting conversation with a chap from a constabulary the other day. 'We're just not sure' he said. 'We've set up the account and people are following us from the States and Canada, we think they're hoping for some kind of voyeuristic thrill'.

I was rendered almost speechless. Almost, because when talking about social media, my natural reticence seems to disappear into the ether, and there emerges someone whose enthusiasm tends to railroad anyone in its path. Something I must work on, frankly, but anyway. For the moment, points for enthusiasm seem to count for something and for this I am grateful.

This chap didn't get it. I tried. I really did try. He still didn't get it. I don't think he got it at the end of a rather beautifully presented social media presentation by a company I wont mention because you might possibly identify the constabulary and that simply wouldn't be fair. The presentation distilled social medias multiple channels neatly and concisely into easy bite size little chunks. I learnt little but it wasn't aimed at me. I'm rather comfortable in the digital world, as might be evident if you've read through this blog, the presentation wasn't aimed at me, it was aimed at the lady who identified herself as a luddite and then proceeded to get so entirely, piercingly and beautifully to the point she managed to deprive the 'experts' of speech, momentarily. I still grin when I think of that two weeks later.

Anyway, Mr Constabulary. Missed the point of being a geek. Missed the point of what geeks do. In the process applied normal rules to geeks and came up with an altogether incorrect assessment of the motivation of the geek on the other side of the world. I don't follow people because they're local to me. I follow people because, quite simply, they know something I want to know. My motivations for wanting to know are wide ranging. They lurch drunkenly from idle curiosity, to the vain hope that someone behind the account might know the solution to a particularly thorny work problem I'm currently trying to solve. Sometimes I hunt down the wrong person to thank or given positive feedback to, but I figure that's a points for trying scenario too. My follow list scythes from metal and rock music, through public sector, via excessive amount of mountain biking and cycling feeds and......can I admit to this......In Style and Vogue magazine. Is someone at Vogue wondering why a woman who enjoys getting covered in mud and chooses to do it for fun in her spare time is following them? No. No they're not. So, here is my first rule of Twitter and entering the bubble. Normal rules do not apply here. Normal people operate quite happily here but in among those happy shiny people, are people who follow thousands upon thousands of Twitter streams, yours is one of them, and what does it mean?

Absolutely nothing. They thought you were interesting. Someone they follow retweeted you and they thought the stream sounded intriguing and picked you up that way. Twitter doesn't have geographical borders. I don't think it should have geographical borders. I don't want a little UK Twitter bubble, that would be boring, Justin Bieber hate aside. One of the most wonderful things I have ever seen is following the multiple Eurovision Song Contest tags on the big night (because someone didn't publish an official tag, there were many streams, there's another lesson here for another night), and watching French, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Swedish and English scrolling up my screen, all saying the same thing. Well okay, I can guess read all of it bar the Northern European where I become lost, but it was one of the most humbling experiences I've ever had. All these people, all talking about the same thing, all at once, using the same platform. To the best of my knowledge it's never happened before, or certainly if it has, it's not been public, laid bare for all to see and appreciate and lo! behold! contribute to.

Bubbles gather air particles together, no matter who they are, how obsessive they are, how curious, what colour, what gender, how mobile they are. The bubble is growing. It's changing shape and it's becoming the thing whose direction can no longer be predicted, whose use in the future perhaps could not have been predicted in the past. This is the magic of the digital world. You can think you know the rules, you can think you know where things are going, you can think that see all the possibilities and all the outcomes, but really?

The clue is in the word social. People make the social, are the social, and direct the social. Psychology tells us much about group behaviour, but I wonder if perhaps this time the size of the group socialising, chatting, networking and collaborating means that this time, maybe, the rules will be broken and the world will truly be changed.

Not bad for a pointless little bubble which is only relevant to the people within it. I leave with the thought, one I've had repeatedly since my last post and all the fab comments which came in (thank you) - was the telephone a bubble when it was first introduced?


  1. Thought i'd just add that tweet from last night.

    "Why make me think on Friday night :-) Social Media is great leveller we follow convs not names, but do think 95% outside the bubble!"

    95% being our friends and family who either don't use tech, or who just use it to get by. We have reated a bubble that we like to play in - we need to look up and see the real world at times too though!

    May come back and add to it, but this captures what I was thinking last night.
    Thanks - Paul

  2. I get where you're coming from. My sisters on here, and quite a lot of my mates too, but we're geeks, old school geeks at that - apart from my sister. Why is my sister on Twitter? Because she is a political commentator and loves being involved in the mass Question Time derision.

    The thing is, bubbles aren't static and we don't know right now if the bubble is going to burst or expand to ridiculous proportions snowballing everyone who comes into contact with it. Email had to start somewhere after all, there was a niche and someone filled it. It just depends if Twitter is there for the fun of it, or whether it really has provided a necessary tool in the worlds toolbox.