Running on Twitter

I’m signed up for the Wellington Round the Bays half marathon in late February so I’ve been following their Twitter feed at Wgtnroundthebay. They’re doing a great job of tweeting training tips and encouragement to participants, especially the new runners. They’re also getting active with heaps of other tweeters, both in the running and local communities.

One of the tweeters I came across thanks to them is seedouglasrun who’s organising a virtual #TwitterRoadRace. It’s a nice example of using Twitter to build a quick community around a one-off event, where participants sign-up online for a 5k race that they run anywhere on Saturday 21 January 2012. It’s similar to some of the virtual/real runs and events that Nike organise but without the taint of corporate backing. Details available at Doug Cassaro’s blog, I run because….

Something I’m keen to see from future race organisers is for them to collect Twitter handles as part of race registration and then live tweet runners’ preliminary results on race day. Would create a great online buzz for the event and give runners something to smile about while they wait for their official time.


It’s about three years since I started this blog with a post on the three things I hated that day. It’s not the most active blog, but nor the least: 60 posts over about three years is a bit more than one a month, and that’s probably about as much as I have to say.

So, in keeping with the threes:

1. Webstock ’10 (my third, as it happens), and as usual I cringed at the hype before the conference and then stumbled away afterward awash in its brilliance. Less technical this year, and more in the probably-intentional vein of TED talks, it was the big picture presentations I enjoyed the most; the presentations that remind us that what we’re doing isn’t really new, it’s just a new(ish) way of doing what society has always done.

Stand-out presentation was Adam Greenfield on the good and bad of the digital over- and underlay that’s weaving into reality – by us, and by others, but not always, or perhaps not even often, for us. Big challenge thrown out to reclaim and democratise the data that’s being “hovered into the network” (to quote Mark Pesce) .

Good talks too from Shelley Bernstein, Jeff Atwood and Regine Debatty with a common theme: make interaction meaningful or don’t bother making it.

2. Birds, and someone’s talk/book/podcast recently keeps coming back to me whenever I see a soaring or gliding bird. The idea is to always look beyond the obvious and find the truth underneath. What’s the connection with birds?

Once upon a time people looked at birds and saw them flap their wings and fly. So in an attempt to fly people took the obvious – the flapping wings – and attempted to do that with various contraptions. All failed. It wasn’t until someone stopped and saw how birds were really flying – by soaring and gliding on intricately designed wings sans-flap – that the invention of human flight through aircraft wing design became possible.

Who said it? If you know, please post the answer in the comments.

3. Introverts, a few things I learned today that they (we?):

  • tend to think vertically, or rather deeply into one idea or subject instead of more broadly across many
  • often don’t fill the spaces between words, so instead of an um and an ah, there’s this big gap between words just waiting to be filled (or interrupted) by an extrovert
  • don’t cope well with lots of stimuli and ideas coming in at once, and can often shut down when confronted by such a deluge
  • draw energy from solitude, unlike extroverts who tend to recharge through lots of interaction.

Interesting stuff, and (if true – I didn’t get the name of the psychologist – so, again, please post the answer below…) explains a lot about why introverts are seen as anti-social; they’re not but are simply processing things in a different manner, or indeed are baffled and unable to keep up with what’s happening in the now. Some other ideas from the same study suggest they think in the longer term, both past and future, and have poor short-term memory.

So, a joke about programmers from Jeff Atwood: How do you tell an extroverted programmer from an introverted one? The extroverted ones look at your shoes when they’re talking to you!

Art, media, rubbish

I missed the news last night for the usual reasons – helping with dinner, bathing the boy, avoiding the box lest we end up eating dinner on our knees – but couldn’t help notice something was up in the Art World (capital A and W) when I check Twitter later in the evening.

The story speaks for itself and 3news’s headline sums up the typically good and bad opinions of our media to an art story. It’s about losers and their complaints, yes, but as for the ‘rubbish’; you can’t quite tell whether they’re being literal – the thing is made of rubbish – or opinionated – do they think it’s rubbish?

What I found entertaining was a side dialogue on Twitter. First this comment from @CherylBernstein to @auchmill says so much about arts coverage in New Zealand: “When Art Hits The Headlines II: A Slow Day in the Media.” @circa1969 chipped in by pointing us in the direction of the Artist’s websites.

Circa1969’s lack of commentary spoke volumes, to which CherylBernstein nicely rounded out the story: “Fish in a barrel.

Anti-social media

Twitter’s been twittering a lot lately, to the extent that one of the Guardian tech columnists, Bobbie Johnson, asked How can Google cope with Twitter pollution? It’s twittered its way into my life over the last four or five months and it’s a good thing. True, it’s added hugely to the distractions I can find on a screen these days but I’ve probably read more, watched more, listened to more, maybe even thought more in the last few months care of a handy tweet than I have in a while. As one of Twitter’s most famous devotees says, “to hell with those who don’t get it” (Stephen Fry on Twitter – his emphasis).

The Companies Office started playing with Twitter and – rightly? – asked for feedback on how it should do so. Some public-spirited tweeters jumped in to tell them how, and were fairly brutal in their delivery. The original tweet from the Companies Office has gone but the responses start about here, and others can be found through Twitter search. The thread raises some interesting questions about how organisations – especially those in the public sector and, more so, those acutely aware of their public image – can work and play with, and learn from, the crowd.

One of the specific complaints about the Companies Office was that it started out with a policy of not following anyone. That raised a bit of ire: what are they doing using Twitter if they’re only broadcasting and not listening? Credit to them as they must have heard (how, I wonder, if they weren’t following?) and are now following their followers.

Broadcasting and listening, being followed and following. Both are useful tools for public sector organisations, but what about talking back, the @Replies of Twitter? This is a tricky one: how can an individual or two in an organisation talk freely on Twitter when what they say will be attributed to the organisation? Worse still, Twitter and social media in general is open to the sort of very public scrutiny that public sector communications teams work hard to avoid.

Broadcasting carefully written announcements, snippets, news and links when you have time to make sure what you’re saying is safe is one thing. Responding in a meaningful way in what Bobbie Johnson and co call the “real-time web”, without recourse to approval by the communications team or the policy unit, is quite another.

Possibly there’s only one answer to whether organisations can really talk on Twitter and it’s they they can’t. The twitterverse may just have to accept that there’ll be tweeters that only broadcast, and maybe listen, but won’t be talking. Likewise those organisations have to accept that some tweeters won’t like them for it, probably won’t listen, and might just shout back. But in both senses, maybe that’s no different to how society’s always been.

Communities – virtual, real, online, physical, imagined – can’t be controlled no matter what the ideals behind them in the first instance. One thing’s for sure though: if organisations want a part of this community, they should definitely be listening.

Find me on Twitter @talkingtothecan.