Versatility Made Twitter What It Is Today

One of the all-nighters I have pulled for school work in the last week has been for the last computer science course I need to take at Georgia Tech. It's called Design of Online Communities and while essentially a slightly toned down version of a graduate course and the most reading-intense computer science course offered here, it is also among the more interesting.

CS4803 DOC: TwitterAbout to present to the class.

For the past semester I have been researching Twitter for this course. It was my first real experience with research. I had to attain certification from the Institutional Review Board and do some online ethics coursework before being able to research and interview human subjects. While the project was a group assignment, 95% of the work was a collaboration between myself and Jarryd McCree, who has done quite a bit of Second Life research previously. The point of this post is to put this ~30 page paper online for your reading pleasure and briefly share what the research paper had to say about Twitter.

I'll be the first to say that this paper is not my best work. Most of it was done overnight at the library. It was done collaboratively in a Google Docs document with just over 3,000 edits/revisions according to the revision history.

The paper used renowned community designer Amy Jo Kim's nine principles for community design as its framework. The principles basically ask the questions "Does the community have..."

  • a clear purpose?
  • distinct, extensible gathering places?
  • profiles that evolve over time?
  • promote effective leadership?
  • a clear-yet-flexible code of conduct?
  • organize and promote cyclic events?
  • provide a range of roles with increasing involvement?
  • support member-created sub-groups?
  • integration with what's online and the real world?

Before taking those principles into account, we discussed the affordances and constraints of Twitter and how they affect the service and users. We focused on how Twitter's sheer accessibility through a variety of clients (IM, SMS, mobile website, regular website, third-party apps) combined with the short 140 character or less tweets have made Twitter a real-time and ubiquitous form of social communication and networking.

We also focused equally on how the original intent of Twitter, getting users to answer the question "what are you doing," has been put in the backseat as creative users find new uses for the service, thus turning Twitter into a highly versatile form of communication. If you have been an active Twitter at one point or another, you have definitely seen people use Twitter for sharing things that don't exactly answer what they're doing. Versatility made Twitter what it is today.


Paper Slides

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As you might have imagined with the sparse posts recently, it's crunch time for school and finals are around the corner. Expect more of the same for a bit. I will be in San Francisco from May 1-8 right after my finals end, so email/leave a comment if you would like to meet up. There's also a chance I'll drive down to Los Angeles.