Friday, March 16, 2007

QotW7: Birds of a Feather Flock to Twitter

The thing about Twitter is that it has come to serve an unintended purpose. Originally it was just meant to tell your community what you activities you were engaging in – boring stuff at first glance. There are plenty of other ways to do that without having to sign up to a website, then log in and enter your activity information. And there’s that hassle of digging up your whole community from the whole pool of the Web, or inviting friends if you are all that serious about it.

As communities grew, people must have seen an interesting activity on someone else’s profile, or more accurately an activity of interest to them, and used their text box to enter a comment about their friend’s activity. One can imagine how fast that trend caught on – probably faster than you can say tweet. :)

It was the same with the COM125 class community. And by now, you might have deduced that I agree that Twitter is an online community, albeit an unintentional one. We all signed up for it as instructed, rather skeptical of the uses of such a site. Early birds (hurhur) sent invitations to their closer friends. And in just half a week, as the class community started to build up with more people signing up, it started to look more like a web-based messaging client than a what-I-am-doing-now site. Having discovered the code for replying (@[username]), we were joking and laughing about the most silly things, flooding newcomers with welcome messages, and even communicating discreetly during another class held in the computer lab. We have held discussions on what to do the next day, and input suggestions and instructions on how to complete assignments. We do that all the time on MSN Messenger, or should I say Windows Live Messenger now, but rarely with as many people at once, and such a sense of togetherness as felt on Twitter.

Wellman and Gulia in their paper Net Surfers Don’t Ride Alone identified a few researchers warning about the dangers of making affliations with strangers on the Web in a virtual community (1996). One thing about Twitter is that the virtual communities there are most likely to be communities where members know each other, with the exception of users with a more popular status such as Singaporean blogger mrbrown. The COM125 class community, of course, knows everyone else at the very least by face. So perhaps we get to know each other more, instead of the usual scenario of interacting with total strangers across the world. The activities of a gift community, like giving aid or reciprocation of help, as discussed by Kollock (1999), looks to be enhanced, as compared to a forum or community of strangers.

Fernback and Thompson commented that "communities seem more likely to be formed or reinforced when action is needed" (1995). With the, for lack of a better word, forced formation of our Twitter community, it seems that we have reversed the process and found ourselves a purpose, or indeed purposes, for the existence of our community. With this function that the Twitter users decided for themselves, namely that of using it as an asynchronous messaging service, Twitter has become a prime site for virtual communities. Technically, it could be considered an online community with its original function, but there is only so much fun in seeing what your friends are doing, and I doubt it would have taken off as it has if people had stuck to doing that.


Fernback, J. and Thompson, B. (1995, May). Virtual Communities: Abort, Retry, Failure? Retrieved March 15, 2007, from

Kollock, P. (1999). The Economies of Online Cooperation: Gifts and Public Goods in Cyberspace. Retrieved February 9 from

Wellman, B, and Gulia, M. (1996, April). Net surfers don't ride alone. Retrieved March 15, 2007, from

No comments: