No matter how far removed my daily life gets from Urban Planning (I was a real-life urban planner for about 20 years), it still amazes me how I'm still right in the middle of it. Today on Twitter, Shel Israel sent out a note about a great post by Laura Fitton called "Twitter is my Village."
Her posts cover the basic aspects of community. Transportation, Culture, Commerce, and Continuity.
In her first paragraph, Laura says (emphasis mine):
For me, connecting on Twitter with someone I’ve just met in person is inviting them to live in “my village.” Follow-up won’t be limited to the “nice meeting you” email cul-de-sac. On Twitter, we’ll cross paths incidentally and without pressure. I may bump into them “around town” for maybe a word or two at the “coffee shop” or “post office.” Over time we may discover common interests (aka social objects) in each others’ tweets, and connect more deeply as neighbors or friends.
We instantly see an organization of interaction based on conceptual transportation. Laura recognizes the community-busting implications of cul-de-sacs and represents them as dead-ends in conversation. Twitter is not a medium you can ignore - because it is constant motion. You may not notice everyone all the time and you are not expected to.
An email is a demand for a reply. "Do you not get my email?" An Instant Message is even more so.
Twitter is more like being in a community and seeing people walking by on the street. You may or may not run right out and say hello, because they are always there.
But in Twitter you may see someone walking by saying "I am eating haggis" and you might say, "Why, I love haggis!" And run out to catch them. As she says, you "Bump into them." Great to do on foot, terrible to do in a car. Great to do in Twitter, nearly impossible to do in E-mail.
Both Laura and Shel in his post mention how when you first get to twitter you "don't get it."
I've been using Twitter since September, and like she said, for a while, I could not get what it was all about. I was new in the village. people said hello to me and exchanged niceties. The language and content of the 140-character spoonfuls of conversation seemed to me to be kind of shallow. .... But over a period of less than four months, I find I am more intimate with the people I'm talking with on Twitter.
When you are from somewhere and you go somewhere with a very different culture, many things seem patently stupid. Why would someone care if I stuck my chopsticks in my rice and left them there? or Why did he look upset when I gave him a thumbs up and a smile? or Why do I say Thank you before I'm given something?
Twitter is a tool, but it didn't define the culture. The culture grew out of the people there. The tool created a bounded world where certain rules applied and a new type of communication developed. This is culture which creates the community.
Urban planners like to think that a plan is a community. Architects like to think a design for a house is a home. On line community builders like to think our tools are the community. A community is never the infrastructure. Usually the infrastructure is what restricts the community.
The currency of twitter is the conversation. No market can happen without critical mass. In Twitter, your market is as valuable as the amount of capital being traded. When you first get to Twitter, part of your disorientation is that you haven't started trading and have no trading strategies.
As you enter the community, you need to participate. To add to the activities of the market. If you do not, then you will not get ROI from Twitter and the community will not gain from your productivity.
What was most beautiful about Laura and Shel's posts was the underlying assumption that once people begin to care about each other - that caring has an enduring quality. This creates underlying continuity in a community. On Brainstorms, a now rather mature online community, the people involved will seriously fly around the world to meet with each other. They honestly care for one another and this seriously transcends whatever tool may have brought them together.
Thanks, Laura and Shel, for giving me some very nice things to think and write about this morning! (I am @ourfounder on Twitter)