4 : Twitter and the Micro-Messaging Revolution
The Power of Ambient Awareness
Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos.com, first learned about
Twitter at the SXSW (South by Southwest) conference in
2007. He right away found it useful for discovering after-
hours parties at the event. But he was surprised when it
turned out to have power in his day-to-day life. “I used
it personally with 20 or 30 friends and saw that it was a
great way to stay in touch, he says. “For people who are
local, it’s great for meeting up at night. But for my friends
in San Francisco who I see every six months or so, it’s
great for keeping up.
Many, many people hear about Twitter and think
it sounds frivolous, at best. But then they try it. After
following a few people for a week or two, the ambient
awareness kicks in, and they begin to feel more con-
nected to those people—without having made much
effort. Comments like this are typical:
I didn’t really get Twitter at first and I thought that
it represented all the worst things about blogging
(navel gazing, echo chamber)…. Eventually, I came
around. My family, who are generally far away,
have a much better sense of what is going on in
my life (even though sometimes I forget to call).
—Randy Stewart (comment on
I thought Twitter was the stupidest thing I ever
spent time exploring when I first started. (I didn’t
care what people were having for lunch or the
weather in their towns!) However, I found that
once I got to know” people, learning mundane
details…interested me!
—Miriam Salpeter (comment on
Of course, not everyone gets addicted, and as we discuss
later, a significant challenge for Twitter is that lots of
people stop by the site to try it and can’t figure out how
or why they’d use it. But for those who stick with it, many
discover a deeper layer to ambient awareness: when a
user sees in person somebody they’ve been following on
Twitter, they find they have a lot more to talk about than
ever before.
Tony Stubblebine, an early user (and partner of report
author Milstein), puts it this way:
I have a teenage sister. I used to see her once a
month, and when I’d ask her, What’s up?”, she’d
say, “Not much.” Now that I get updates from her
three or four times a week, I know that she goes
out for cappuccino at lunch, or that she saw Joe
Biden drive by the other day. And she knows that
I’ve been playing tennis and that I saw a double
feature of the Godfather movies. So when I see
her, we get right into a conversation.

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