Sunday, March 22, 2009

Twitter: Training Wheels, Airbag, or Insurance?

I'm pursuing a number of job opportunities right now. If I'm hired, I might move away from Denver. I'm casting my net wide, so I'm not really sure where I might end up, but I know that before I get there, I'll try to build up my Twitter network with local contacts - people who might be able to help me navigate the move and so on.

As I thought about how I could best leverage my current and future network, it occurred to me that we can look at Twitter in three distinct ways: as training wheels, as an airbag, or as insurance.

Training wheels - The world moves at about a million miles a second nowadays. It can be frustrating and time-consuming to enter the stream all at once without help. One of the much-touted uses of Twitter is helping people. We need to know where to go for Kindle support, or what kind of RAM our computers need, or even how to use Twitter itself. Other users can act as training wheels to help speed us along into the web and in real life.

Airbag - Bad things happen. As an airbag, Twitter can help to insulate us against problems. Closely related to its use as training wheels, there are many ways that we've seen the community come together to help those in need, as it did when David Armano helped Daniela and her family. With many of our jobs in crisis, Twitter can be helpful for job-finders or even those seeking state and federal help to get by. An airbag is used to slow us down in an accident and prevent big hurts; Twitter, as a community of interesting and interested people, can be that airbag.

Insurance - Last but not least, we cannot ignore the power of microblogging to aid us in our most desperate...or our most powerful. Let me explain: Last April, a blogger tweeted about his arrest in Egypt. The message got out and so did he. Imagine witnessing a crime on a city street. Unable to stop the criminal, the best you can do is shoot out 140 characters describing his or her appearance. It's a rough example, to be sure, and there's no guarantee that it will necessarily help the situation, but at least it's something. And in terms of power: a Twitter user snaps/uploads a Twitpic of an elected official engaging in questionable activity (let your mind wander). Boom! Lights out. Twitter in the hands of a disgruntled employee can also be wielded with frightful results, if that employee was so inclined.

Training wheels, airbag, or insurance. It can be one, all three, or none of these. How do you see Twitter?

Flickr photo from user kate at yr own risk