All Groups Are Not Created Equal

December 16, 2008

by: Mike Langford CEO, Founder and Funder of Tweetworks LLC
Mike is a serial entrepreneur with passion for making a difference in peoples lives. In addition to his roll at Tweetworks, Mike is a principal at the investment advisory firm Course Pilot Financial. Prior to launching Course Pilot he held a variety of roles as a member of the finance teams at Fidelity Investments and State Street Corporation. Mike earned his MBA from Boston University’s School of Management.

See Mike’s Tweetworks Profile

People Like to Group Things

It’s human nature to categorize and lump stuff together with similar meanings. I’m playing pop anthropologist here but it most likely goes back to pre-historic times when being able to quickly assess the meaning of something meant the difference between lunch and being lunch. “Animals that hop are tasty. Animals with fangs are scary.” Think about it, there are very few things that we encounter in our daily lives that we haven’t categorized (grouped) at some level either passively or overtly.

So the appearance of groups in social media tools shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s a good thing, people need them so they can handle what can seem like an overwhelming volume of connections and activity. How groups are implemented, what is grouped and why, is what we should focus on when we think about their value.

Current Grouping Methods for Twitter

Below are my answers to Jeff Cutler

You asked how the groups on Tweetworks differ from those on Tweetdeck. We should also mention other grouping services like Twittgroups, Twellow, and Twitterpacks.

Grouping Contacts

Tweetdeck’s groups function is pretty much like the grouping you use for your contacts in MS Outlook or Address Book on the Mac. It allows you to group or categorize your contacts, in Tweetdeck’s case they are called members (which are pulled from the list of people you follow on Twitter). This is great and very useful. If you want to see what’s happening with people you follow who you know are writers then create a writers group and watch their tweets. It is very good for compartmentalizing your time and efforts on Twitter.

The challenge for Tweetdeck groups is that they are localized and user specific. I have no idea how you’ve grouped me or other users on your desktop. So, while you may decide that I like to talk about Project Runway because we had a conversation about it last week at the WBUR tweet-up, I have no idea that’s how you are grouping me.

Listings and Directories

Twittgroup, Twellow, and Twitterpacks function more like open directories. In keeping with the Project Runway example, you might find a list of Project Runway fans on any of these sites. Think the Yellow Pages for Twitter. Twittergroup has gone step further than the others and added a Twitter Search query to each group. Click a link in each group and it brings you to the query results where you’ll see a list of tweets that are hopefully related to the grouping.

Groups of Conversations by Topic

Tweetworks groups however are opt-in discussion forums with threaded conversations. If you like to talk about Project Runway you can come to Tweetworks and either form or join a Project Runway group. If the group is a public group anyone can join in the fun, even people who do not have a follower/following relationship with each other. If the group is a private group you can limit the participants in the conversation.

The difference is profound in that the reason people use Twitter and follow the large numbers of people they follow is to have the reasonable ability to have conversations on the topics that interest them. The downside with that model is that it comes with a crazy amount of noise. You followed someone because they mentioned Project Runway but now you’ve got to see their tweets about Underwater Basket Weaving. Instead of following hundreds or even thousands of people, might it be easier and actually more rewarding to follow the 10, 20, 30 topics that interest you most? Further, if the focus is on the conversation and the posts are threaded instead of sent into the time line ether might you expect more robust conversations to materialize?

Resistance is Futile

I know some users love the free flowing banter of Twitter just the way it is. There is a lot of appeal to the chaos and it is a big part of what made Twitter grow so quickly. “No license, no traffic signs and no speed limits. Let’s ride!” But, even the most ardent resisters of order embrace a hashtag or two now and again to connect their conversation with those of others. And while this minimalist, early adopter convention works just fine for the professional tweeters the coming mass adoption wave will struggle if some order isn’t made available. With Tweetworks we are simply making the process a bit easier.