status? updating twitter

So back in January Kevin issued a challenge:

“Will Jason start twittering before December 2007?

Of which Kevin decided to write a reminder about today.

I think Kevin forgot his Dante because I actually said “snowball” and “hell”

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of presence in instant messaging systems – particularly xmpp. In my old job, my boss had this “dotboard” thing that we had to move our magnetic dot on a whiteboard within in/out columns to indicate whether we were there or not. Since it was on the second floor, and I and the systems team were in the basement, well, that didn’t happen much. I always wanted to build a “virtual dot system” (if we had to have one) – and I think one of the team started to after I left, using the xmpp status.

Making presence a string can be pretty powerful, at a glance you can get a feel for the mood/activity of your colleagues – and when used effectively – gives a pretty good overview of the activities of the organization. I don’t really care about pseudo-random strangers. But my colleagues? that’s interesting to me.

I actually created a twitter account in January, right after Kevin’s challenge. I didn’t use it though. I’d occasionally check twitter to figure out where Kevin was at (he sometimes travels a lot, and twitter became useful in knowing when he’d be in the office). Or figuring out when James was headed out for the day – or whatever Beth was up to. Twitter became a tool for institutional knowledge (or at least work team knowledge) – which is really, really useful, because status reports don’t really work well, and we don’t have a lot of round-the-room-review in staff meetings (everybody forgets what all they’ve been working on anyway).

I didn’t use it, because honestly – I’m not in the habit of visiting web pages anymore (if I can’t get it in a feed, I really don’t want it) – and I also didn’t yet another information distraction. The IM interface wasn’t working at the time that I signed up. And twitter was beginning to suffer from scaling issues, and was slow, slow, slow.

So, I was just checking it out from time to time.

So what changed – when did I go from being bystander to twittering fool?

Two things happened:

one was twitterific.

two was Beth, who posted a comment after a particularly dismal IT group meeting one day that said

“Where did our “we can do it” attitude go?”

And I wanted to respond. You see, I’ve written about this time and time and time again. I absolutely hate the tendency in myself where the first phrase out of my mouth is “I can’t see how we possibly can do that” – usually it’s in response to an one-off idea where the actual implementation details of that idea would swamp everything else we are trying to do – or the idea is a solution before the problem is actually even identified. Kevin once gave me a pep talk about this (the best pep talk ever). But there’s sometimes when being the outfielder IS NOT a good thing.

I really want to create great things. I really want my work to having REAL meaning. I want the Yak Shaving to have a purpose. It’s incredibly frustrating to see in myself an Orwellian doublethink about “can and can’t” I have to make sure that the “can’t” is an actually constructive one – something that is trying to head off real problems now and down the road. You can’t say “Yes” to everything (and those that do kill projects) – but the “can” has to outnumber the “can’t” (and organizations have to provide a framework to make this possible)

As my grandfather used to say “can’t never could do anything”

So, Beth’s comment hit home – hard. I didn’t want to lose the “can do it” attitude – but I wanted to respond why it wasn’t there – at least on that day. And blogs and IM’s didn’t seem to cut it. I didn’t to respond in the same system by which the comment came. I wanted to Twitter that it was due to “unclear directions and whiplash priorities, just a typical day in paradise”. (it would have been a particularly bitter twitter – but that really was a tough meeting)

But I couldn’t – because I didn’t twitter.

So I started twittering. (with far more fun things, because the meeting was over and done, and we had new things to focus on)

And it turns out, and as our team’s quote page suggests – there is a certain allure in completely random, pithy one-liners. It’s therapeutic – kinda like making silly comics. I don’t know that it’s the culmination of my belief in presence. I imagine that I’ll dump twitter when they come up with a business model that starts tweating me ford commercials or something. I’ll probably tweat like I blogged – in fits and starts – probably more fascinated by how to see how the development of the tool itself could be applicable to projects that I’m working on.

But for now – I’ll enjoy the fun – staying up with the colleagues – exercising the brain reading between the lines in tweats – and maybe even watching tweats of strangers – but only when they write incredibly funny things

But mostly, it’s about making Alice’s Restaurant references when doing OmniGraffle flowcharts of your data flow processes. No more, no less.

But really – isn’t that what life’s about? 🙂