Retro Hour

Some of us had a conversation on Twitter last night reminiscing about 2008 and how we used to have lots of purely social banter on the platform. The feeling was that a lot of this has been lost in the intervening 5 years. After a while, the hashtag #retrohour was appended to the discussion, so you can see some of the tweets here.

One of the conclusions about how things have changed was that people have “stuck their necks out and had them chopped off”. We talked about a number of cases where people have lost their jobs, or been threatened with such, for injudicious tweets. I won’t repeat any of them here as that might just give these incidents more exposure. This has led to people being more guarded on Twitter and to the platform being a more serious place to be. And, at one point, a spammer joined in the conversation, which kind of proved the point about another way in which Twitter has changed.

So, what have we lost? In the early days of Twitter it did seem there was a lot more excitement, and a lot more playfulness. Its growth has rubbed a lot of that out. As I said in my session at the Learnpod13 event last week, I remain convinced that playfulness is the best way for anybody to learn, whatever their age. So, that means we must have lost something. Personally I think that the discovery of Twitter by the mainstream media did a lot to eliminate much of the playfulness as it meant that any tweet could be picked up, quoted out of context, and be used to make the author’s life a misery in unexpected ways.

Do you agree that we have lost a lot of Twitter’s playfulness, and is this a bad thing? Is there anything we can do about it?


12 thoughts on “Retro Hour

  1. It doesn’t just happen on Twitter – I’ve had a friend lose her job by what she posted on one of her Live Journal posts (years ago), I’ve just got majorly burned by a ‘friend’ forwarding an email to one of his contacts and ‘forgetting’ to edit it. I’d vented my spleen about something to do with this other contact – and you can imagine the rest.

    I’m judicious about what I put on FB having been accused of saying something that I hadn’t on FB – so that it can’t be misconstrued. Although sometimes I do use Twitter & FB to vent, (FB is locked down to friends only but even then…) as sometimes I just have to let it out some way – although even then I aim to be opaque about what I’m venting about 😉

    Its a difficult one. People complain much more about the written word rather than what people say – and that horrifies me because I’ve heard some people act and say things that are totally unprofessional / unkind / uncollaborative but have not been subject to the harsh consequences that would follow if the same things were posted via electronic media – why the diffrence?

  2. I have thought about why I’m much more careful on Twitter and Facebook now, and feel much more constrained by what I say. I tend not to write things about people that I haven’t already said to them, or would be prepared to say to them (albeit in a more tactful way sometimes). So it’s not usually worry about my comments spilling out to more public view than I’d intended that constrains me.
    A lot of it is due to being aware at times of journalists following me. Some of them are totally fine & 2 or 3 are people I know in real life. Occasionally, I see one starting to follow me who makes me wonder why they want to follow me. I’m very conscious that anyone could be searching online & come across my tweets etc.
    I get lulled into a false sense of security that everyone ignores everything I write until I make some fairly trivial comment that gets retweeted a few times.
    When someone pointed out to me that I’d been quoted in the Times of India, I realised that I have no idea what may get picked up and how far it will go. If only the things I consider really important would spread as widely as the relatively trivial observation on that occasion.
    I think that Twitter felt safer & more revolutionary until about 2010 when more of the mainstream started to use it. It had felt more like a club for geeks, including the geekier public sector people, till then – or, at least, my Twittersphere was. I used to enjoy chats with well-known comedians, writers, politicians, amongst others.
    I think it’s inevitable. It’s also harder to have conversations when we follow so many more people

  3. Really interesting post. My view is that social networks , and your digital communities, are as playful as you make them. I first used Twitter in 2008 and gave up on it as I felt , possibly unfairly, that it was a bit cliquey. When I returned a year or so later it felt much more vibrant and accessible.

    I do agree though John that the discovery by the mass media has resulted in a lot of people and brands feeling they have to join Twitter. This has fuelled broadcasting and made Twitter more of a place people go to sell rather than engage.

    There are also a lot more lurkers , people who don’t contribute but watch the activities of others (sometimes for negative reasons).

    The fact people have “stuck their necks out and had them chopped off” to me says more about the lack of a social business culture in many organisations than it does about social media.

    It would be a shame if people felt they had to leave and develop smaller micro-communities when the priority is tackling those employers and organisations who , frankly , just don’t get social media.

  4. I tend to use the different platforms in different ways. FB is social and seeing as I don’t have social life I don’t use it much. Twitter is about fun and what’s new and the thing I like most about this is how funny it can be. Linkedin is for jobs. WordPress I use to get my thoughts out of my head. I aslo do stuff on our internal site.

    What we can do is make sure that we keep posting amusing, interesting and challenging posts but without defaming anyone.

  5. Interesting, I’ve been having similar conversations also but less about the impact on employment and more about the culture-shift in the way Twitter and blogging is being used. For example, the conversations I used to have on other people’s blogs, and also on my own, used to be more about discovery and sharing tips and tools. Back in the day I think this was in part because there were far fewer journalists using the platforms so I think we huddled together for comfort often in the face of cynicism from colleagues. Now, blogging has been adopted all over the place but largely as opinion, almost like a columnist putting up a viewpoint precisely to fire up opposing views. Likewise twitter has moved from being a conversation to be a broadcast medium. It’s an interesting evolution, but perhaps the conversational aspect of these things just can’t stretch to multi-thousand followers? One sure thing – there’ll be something else along to answer the need any time soon.

    • For me, that’s it exactly – the conversational #asktwitter nature is dying and Twitter has just become a broadcast / news feed / customer service platform, along with whatever people remember to share there from Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram etc.

      I’m not sure *why* it changed, but it definitely has and it saddens me as I always preferred Twitter over Facebook, but lately Facebook has become a much more engaging place on a personal level to share / chat with family & friends and Twitter appear to be better for news and information…

  6. Really interesting area. I admit, I used to enjoy Twitter a lot more when I had an anonymous account (save for a select few who knew my secret identity). I was encouraged to set up a professional account but it’s been a failed experiment as a) I just don’t have the content and b) it’s restricted my more enjoyable interactions.

    In some ways, social networking has become more about the networking and less about the social – a case in point being how some professionals reasonably new to Twitter spend the whole time talking to each other purely about how great it is to be on Twitter.

    For me, most of the interesting conversations/developments happen away from the ‘aren’t we social media types cool’ interactions. So, I’m going against the grain and trying to compartmentalise my online presences to allow me to wear two hats. Also, I just really miss swearing.

  7. I am certainly aware of being careful: I have been called by journalists many times because of things I have said on Twitter. But I say nothing I wouldn’t say to somebody if I was speaking to them face to face. We have just had an interesting experience where we live; weeks of bullying, gossip and accusations from neighbours about the fact that, with other families, we wanted our children to play in the street. That constant, largely behind-our-backs bullying was apparently fine. Me talking about the issue on Twitter wasn’t! It highlighted for me that people are still really scared of the open nature of Twitter.

  8. First of all, great post. Second, it’s sad but unfortunately true. I got told to separate my business and personal accounts, but as a freelancer, I figure I AM my business. If someone doesn’t like what “me” says, then I’m probably saving myself a lot of hassle later on by putting them off before working with them. Most people know exactly how to take my dry wit and wordy humour. I’ve spent most of my life working with blokes, so banter is second nature and something you only do with people you like and respect – you have to fight back twice as good if you’re a girl!

    The thought that you can no longer “be yourself” online because someone can use it against you and take your Tweets out of context is sickening. I discovered someone at work had been monitoring my Tweets when they followed then immediately unfollowed me one day. My suspicions were confirmed the day I had been sent home from work, pending a redundancy hearing, and a friend told me that this person (who happened to be having a “work at home day” which for some reason involved checking my Twitter account(?)) had sent a text message to another friend which read something along the lines of “Have you seen what Nicky’s put on Twitter? I think she’s twisted.”

    At first I became very guarded, but then I thought, why should I have to change who am and what I say or feel just because one devious, office-politicking individual would use them against me? It’d be like saying everyone else is guilty until proven innocent. Especially when the ones that would pull stunts like that are usually the petty “mean girls” types who aren’t happy unless they’re destroying other people’s relationships. They spend their lives complaining no one takes them seriously, and desperately trying to convince the world that they are independent, grown-up young women, when they are clearly still stuck in that shallow, high school mentality where they use the unfollow or unfriend button as their primary means of resolving conflict. I refuse to unfollow back on principle.

  9. As I was one of the ones (@watfordgap) in the “good old days” conversation on Twitter last night, I thought I should chip in my bit. Also thanks John for putting up this post on your blog. It’s really valuable to have these spaces to debate and formulate thoughts.

    I’ll be coming up to 6 years on Twitter soon and there have been many changes I’ve noticed. I’ve been through the same cycle as Paul T. Must join this new social network, Oh what’s the point of this, OK I’ll give it another go, Sigh, I’m tweeting but no-one is replying, Let’s make this work etc.

    Just like in face to face conversations with colleagues and friends, relationships take time to build and to get something out you have to put something in. The art of conversation.
    I think some people have lost this on Twitter and see it as a way to do quick and lazy marketing – a large audience hanging on the word of every celebrity-tweeter. It’s no longer a conversation they are after, it’s all just #SoMe. (OK Twitter haven’t helped by moving the goalposts around, fiddling with the API and having Promoted Tweets etc).

    When I’m talking to groups I tell them a small network of engaged followers is much better than a massive network where no conversation *really* takes place and I still think (as I did 6 years ago) that the “Following” & “Followers” numbers are the worst feature of Twitter!
    Twitter Lists can help here, I find it easier to listen, be Social and join in with conversations of small selected Networks and groups than the main feed.

    I think there is also an element of ‘busyness’ in what we do now that may not have been there in 2008 meaning every tweet has to count. This is something that also applies for the reader too, who may not be as tolerant of tweets about daily routines or that the 8.10 is running late again. But to me these are important social insights into the worlds or of people I’ve grown to know, care about and work with over the years.

    Of course it’s not all gloomy as I still see the banter, the #pointlessverylonghashtags, the tweets about Foursquare check in rivalry (@ladylowe!), TV show tweet-alongs and the beer & cake related tweetup’s.

    Twitter is different things to different people and that’s it’s beauty. Let people sell and promote themselves, but I’ll be following the people who enter into those playful conversations, who have inspiring content to RT, who don’t mind me asking them questions so that I can learn from them and who reply to both the silly and serious @ tweets.

  10. Pingback: Twitter, Threats and High Horses | Pam's Perambulation

  11. I use both FB and twitter for work and personal stuff. Strangely, FB seems to have way overtaken twitter in the amount of response I get for work stuff I put out, yet my organisation has over 4000 followers on twitter and only 300 on FB.
    On a personal level I get a few more interesting conversations with people I wouldn’t get to speak to otherwise through twitter, but I keep anything too personal off there. I’m also a lot more careful about what I put on FB now. I don’t have a good place to vent safely online now, so I have to do it another way – in conversation with friends face to face.

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