!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Twitter and Kin

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Twitter and Kin

A few weeks ago a friend attending a training conference in California found herself in a session being led by a woman who delighted in the fact that her computer screen, projected for all to see, was regularly showing incoming tweets greeting her audience. The speaker had invited people following her on Twitter to send these mini-messages, and they were obliging.

My friend found the experience of constant interruption a negative. Later, when she was back home, we spent some time talking about situations in which 140-character broadcast messages would be useful in a business setting. Right on cue, I began to notice newspaper articles addressing this question.

First was a November 23 article by Sarah Milstein in the New York Times in which Milstein described how Twitter and Twitter-like software is being used in offices.

With its base of 3 million users, Milstein explains, Twitter can be a good means of being in touch with customers and staying in touch with people in your network of professional colleagues. On the other hand, because Twitter messages, generally speaking, are public (though users can elect to require that people request permission to follow their tweets), it is not well-suited to fully internal messaging.

For internal messaging, Milstein cites Yammer and Present.ly, which enable private networks, and subgroups within those networks. People can do things like posting project status updates, asking questions, sharing weblinks, and passing along news and other information. Each person creates a profile with such information as their professional background and expertise and their current projects. The database of messages is searchable, so people can find out who is discussing a topic of interest and what they are saying. Present.ly allows attachments. (For a comparison of Yammer and Present.ly, you can see this October 21 post by Dan York.)

Milstein reports:
Workers say several aspects of microblogging make the medium well-suited to internal communication. The messages are very quick to write and read, replies are optional, and there is nothing to delete or file. Moreover, people can glance at posts as they come in or read a batch during breaks.

Companies that have adopted microblogging internally say a surprising benefit is the ease with which employees can learn relevant information across departments. The sales staff, for instance, may get wind of projects in development long before it otherwise would.

Companies with many employees who work from home or in far-flung offices [can use] internal microblogging [to] help fill the inherent social gaps among remote workers.
Next up was a "basic Twitter guide" published by Katherine Boehret in the December 3 edition of the Wall Street Journal. Boehret offers this answer to the fundamental question, "Why use Twitter?":
While some people primarily use Twitter to post updates about their activities or comments on the news, I use the service more as a follower, allowing me to see quick snippets of news as it occurs. Most tweets are written by real people, while others, such as updates from news organizations that you've selected, are automatically generated. Many tweets include the addresses of Web sites with relevant articles that tell readers more on a topic.
From Boehret's perspective, the key benefit of Twitter is access to fast information.

The final item I encountered took me on a return visit to the dark side of Twitter — from a business perspective — its enabling of posting of time-wasting trivia.

The instance in question was reported by Al Kamen in the December 10 edition of the Washington Post. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Colleen Graffy was off on a final round of overseas visits — to Iceland, Croatia, and Armenia — before the change in administrations in Washington, and she was using Twitter to keep the world informed of her activities. Although the substance of her tweets improved after Kamen weighed in with his report of tweets like "Dashing in to State Dept to pick up tickets, briefing books — white knuckle time — gotta catch that flight!" and "Renting a bathing suit and getting ready to take the plunge into the geothermal hot springs and smear silica mud on my face," you have to wonder why she ever thought sharing trivia was a good way to earn her salary.

I have to admit that I myself am not yet feeling a need to follow anyone at Twitter since I already get plenty of news from the sites I visit daily. However, my mind is open, and I wouldn't be surprised to find that there are a few people whose twittering I want to track. I definitely do not have the time or the need at the moment to do my own twittering, but that too could change.


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