Replying on Twitter is optional, and is part of what makes it scale, even socially, quite well. It is a small part of how letting go helps you cope with overload. Following a few posts on Asymmetric Follow, JP blogged on continuous partial asymmetry. Its Sunday, I've quit smoking for a month, blogged twice now, and the present isn't evenly distributed, but I'll comment. JP plucked three things from the thread:
Three in particular are worth emphasizing:
- People in a Web 2.0 network are not uniformly connected; some have more connections than others
- Connections have directions; the number of inbound connections may far exceed the number of outbound connections, creating an asymmetric environment
- This is particularly true of “default-public” networks such as Twitter; Flickr is also likely to evince similar behavior.
I spell checked the British out of the blockquote just to fuck with him.
He quoted Stu Berwick that "In IM, it's polite to be silent." True that. Jerry Michalski taught me the power of silence online, Steve Gillmor did online. Then Steve chided me for apostrophe usage, which I still see as blurred a line as post-enlightenment serfdom. That and how my English teacher aunt derided how email destroyed English.
What makes Asymmetic Follow scalable technically is that its easier. Scalable businessmodelly, if that it is a word, is that its good for adoption. Scalable socially in that it doesn't create non-casual attention burdens. Twitter is reply-optional in the 'verse.
What is this thing that works? Asymmetric follow. Why? Because I am no longer expected to reply to everything that comes in. People who receive a lot of snail mail or e-mail don’t reply to everything that comes in either, so what’s the difference? The difference is in the perception of polite behaviour.
The politeness issue alone is not enough either. This whole thing is exacerbated, beautifully exacerbated, by the 140 character limit of Twitter. Because we can now have “continuous partial asymmetry”. Someone who has 4000 followers can choose to reply to the @s of 400 of the followers, because of two critical things. One, the cost of replying to the @ is low. And two, you can vary the particular 400 you’re replying to. Yes you’re constrained, ostensibly by personal bandwidth, from replying to everyone all the time. But because you manage to reply to some of the people some of the time, nobody feels left out, the weak ties remain in place and everything works.
There is another thing that works. DMs. I don't subscribe to Scoble's linkbait raint on how Direct Messages suck. DMs blow. DMs are push attention modelled messages within confirmed ties. What that actually means is they are like having IM between two people in that both parties confirmed the relationship (tie), but the modality is still new enough that you don't have to reply soon.
Hell, Stowe is right that Scoble would like it all to turn into email. So familliar and comfort. Ben Gross might pipe in with media displacement theory (you can't completely displace a modality of communication, it stays with us, those habits and tools last waaay to long) here, but let's try to appreciate what is new.
Maybe the tools, and burden from tools, have created actually productive practices, and tools. Where some channels have different burdens of reply. Twitter has a near zero burden of reply. DMs have a slightly less burden of reply, but still a cost to the sender in the form of relationship, initial and retention. Some of the best and busiest people say to me today that DMs are the best way to get ahold of them, when 'elst fails.
But what is interesting implementing a Twitter for the Enterprise is the practices to encourage use of Socialtext Signals as reply-optional. As a toolmaker, you cast a tool into the world, but people can use it differently. You try to set the right defaults, but don't want to assume intelligent design. There will be a manager that will demand reply in the new modality, but the conversation that makes things really work is what modality works best for what kind of attention.