For a thing, I’ve been investigating some Twitter communities I wouldn’t usually go anywhere near. Most due to lack of interest but one sort due to a distaste of a lot of what it sets out to do. That one was the concept of a timed Twitter chat hour—there are loads of these, they often have a host account that welcomes people, but essentially it’s a free form IM-style chat around a pre-defined hashtag such as #WestMidsHour.
So far so a lovely community, coming together to make loose connections form weak bonds, boiling up the social glue that will bing them together. But it doesn’t really work like that. Look at the stream of one of these Twitter chats and it broadly goes like this: People looking forward to the #hour
People apologising for not being around for the #hour
People saying hello at the start of the hour.
The host retweeting some of the hellos and welcoming people to the #hour.
People essentially posting one line classified ads for their business.
People re-posting those ads slightly differently as they move off the top of the timeline.
People saying how much they enjoyed the #hour: see you next time.
Oh, and people who can’t just stay loyal to one #hour…
Or even week.
But what you don’t see is interaction or conversation. The number of @replies is low, ideas don’t develop and it doesn’t seem like connections are really made. Most are taking rather than listening, you can only assume that people aren’t reading.
The types of people using the hashtags seem very much to be the same sort of people that attend networking functions up and down the country and the conversation seems to be as sharp and about as useful. You might by chance bump into the exact bit of information you need, but it doesn’t harness the power of the network in using connections to search.
Like the Cargo Cults who acted out the bringing down of supply planes in the south seas without any understanding of what they were doing, the Twitter Hour participants have all the ingredients in place to have a community and act out conversaion without any of the knowledge or the benefits. It looks like a networked conversation, acts like a networked conversation, is collected together like a networked conversation: but it just doesn’t quack like one.