Twitter is an odd beast. Those 140-character status updates force a strange style of communication, but it’s kind of fun to be able to follow almost anybody you want without needing their permission (excluding those with protected tweets, of course).
Truth be told, I still prefer Facebook for keeping in touch with friends and neighbors, but Twitter has done something Facebook really never could; it has put me in touch with people all around the country in all areas of the networking industry; people who I would likely never otherwise have met.
Twitter Peeps (Tweeps)
What remains amazing to me is the access that Twitter provides to some incredible people (access that those people are awesome enough to grant). In the last month, I’ve been talking to people from Cisco, Insieme, Juniper, Arista, VMware and Plexxi, to name but a few. These folks are giving up their personal time to interact about things that are of interest to me, and provide an insight that I can’t get anywhere else.
I also follow a number people just like me (but almost certainly better); regular folks who work in the industry but each of whom brings expertise to the table and willingly shares it with others. These folks have real world experience doing similar jobs, and between them and the vendor tweeps I have an informal but incredibly powerful technical support system, as well as an endless source of industry news, bad jokes and good advice.
Through Twitter I have ended up interacting with the good folks at Gestalt IT, who organize Tech Field Day – and subsequently attending NFD4 and NFD5, and more recently the Cisco ACI Launch. If I had not been on Twitter, I very much doubt that I would ever have got involved in the TFD events, which have been some of the best experiences of my technical career.
Twitter introduced me to Packet Pushers, and the people behind it – another great resource for anybody who does networking.
Even if I’m not taking part in the conversations, just watching other people talk can be of huge value, and I frequently learn things just by reading about other people’s problems and the solutions offered. You just can’t get this kind of real time interaction anywhere else.
Uninformed personal opinion warning. App.net, to me, is the Google+ of short messaging services. It’s very cool and has features that I’m sure are better than Twitter, but the bottom line is that I’m not going to pay money to use a service that doesn’t include most of my contacts. This may be why they’ve started offering a (limited) free account now, to try and get a little momentum to push them beyond the 100,000 or so users they have at the moment. Google+ has a similar problem with most of my friends not having accounts, although at least it’s free and to be fair, I’m slowly warming to it as a consumption medium because, like Twitter, I can follow anyone’s streams. Anyway, no app.net for me at the moment, thanks. I’ll be a late adopter I guess.
Half the problem I have with Twitter is the sheer volume of updates every day. Consequently I have to keep my Follow list fairly well-trimmed in order not to collapse under the weight of updates. That also means I do not operate as some users do by reciprocally following any user that follows me; I’m sorry, I’d like to, but I just can’t cope.
My policy is that I typically end up following new people either because we have an interesting interaction (sometimes initiated in response to a blog post), or I watch one of my existing contacts have a good conversation with them, so I rudely add them as somebody I’d like to hear more from.
I guess the success of this model depends largely on ‘seeding’ my contacts list with the right people in the first place, and by luck or judgement I have managed to do just that, with a core of friends on Twitter who have led me to “meet” so many amazing people. Interestingly, there’s a strong correlation between the people I follow on Twitter and the blogs in my RSS client, so perhaps means I have a particular like for those who give back so generously to the networking community. If you had to pick somewhere to start, following some networking bloggers you enjoy might not be a bad idea.
Twitter is good, but nothing beats meeting the people behind the snark. I’m so grateful that I have been able to meet some of the people I respect the most in person, either at a conference like Cisco Live, or at the Tech Field Day events. Getting time in “meat space” takes those online relationships to another level, and I feel like I have a set of good friends out there as a result. Perhaps more importantly, none of them have blocked me as a result of meeting me, which I’m taking as a small personal win.
You don’t have to. On the other hand, being even marginally active on Twitter has opened up avenues for me that I am not sure I could have found any other way. I’ve made contacts I would never have made in person, and I’m far more aware of current industry trends than I was before. I feel connected to the wider networking industry, and perhaps most importantly I have surrounded myself by people much smarter than myself, which means I learn something every day.
If you’re in the networking industry, I strongly recommend getting on Twitter, following some good people, and expanding your contacts. Who knows what it will bring you.