Conversational communities, or why using Twitter beats screaming at the TV

“The Peanut Gallery” (via)

Last night’s post-primary coverage reminded me of something. Actually, it reminded me of many things. But, the first thing that came to mind was November 8, 1994. It was the mid-term election and for an association client of Hammock Inc., a group of us helped coordinate an online election-night forum on CompuServe — a quaint little online service that used to make buggy whips. A hundred or so participants from around the country — all watching TVs at home — were chatting away about the coverage they were viewing and their response to it.

That experience led me to appreciate the enjoyment individuals have in experiencing live events in a shared-way — even if it’s from the cheap seats way up in some dial-up text-only bleachers. That night, I realized that a news event — or any type of event, say a sporting contest — is no longer merely the topic of water-cooler talk the next morning, it’s a potential real-time community gathering. A giant couch filled with friends and foes who are witty or idiotic, but who all together give an additional dimension to the event.

Since 1994, I’ve participated — and hosted — many such online gatherings, primarily among a small group of friends or colleagues. Often the gathering is done via Instant Messaging or Internet Relay (IRC) if the group is comprised of tech-savvy participants. In the past, I’ve discussed on this blog how live events can be experienced in a completely new way when such “back channels” are available so that friends — or even strangers — can interact with one another about what they are both observing or participating in.

Last night, I had an I-see-the-light moment on Twitter when I realized that it has become — for a small segment of the world, at least — a giant real-time peanut gallery for experiencing events. I’ll admit, my additions to the conversation were mostly goofy or rude comments about what was taking place — sorta like watching the State of the Union Address on Comedy Central, but not funny. Others, however, were providing insightful and informative data (@patrickrufinni, for example).

While I’ve occasionally used Twitter for comments about sporting events, this is the first time I’ve jumped into the deep end of posting tweets on Twitter at a blistering pace. (Which is something I often un-follow people for doing.) My tweets were not worth reposting here as they — this can be said about Twitter in general — lose their meaning out of context.

However, I do know this. Using Twitter sure beats screaming at the TV.

Sidenotes: Twitter sure could benefit from having a feature that allows the creation of “groups” for topic-specific tweets. Also, the folks at Politweets.com are using the Twitter API to isolate and display tweets that include the names of candidates. A little bit glitchy but a very creative example of how Twitter can be used for something other than a confusing stream of unrelated chatter.

Note: I’ve also cross-posted this on my “People Page” at Hammock.com.

  • This is a great post. You are so right about the 1994 election…I hadn’t thought about that in a long time. Funny.

    Yesterday was the first day in about 3 months that we had TV, and I had to explain to the children several times why I was talking to the TV. I also kept having to explain to them why certain commentators on the TV were wrong, wrong, wrong so my poor children’s brains wouldn’t be poisoned by them. I didn’t get on Twitter til later, but it was a much more satisfying experience. And no Lou Dobbs.

  • Rex Hammock

    Laura, I won’t ask about the TV, but I do recall using IM to live-bicker with you during presidential debates for at least three election cycles.

  • Gaaaaaahhhhhhh! Here I had pretty much viewed twitter from the sidelines being somewhat dismissive and you turn on a light bulb. Time to take another look 🙁 Thanks a lot.

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