The other day I had a conversation on Twitter with Ryan Singer of 37 Signals fame. Ryan is a world-class expert in product design and had just posted an article on his excellent blog. The thing is I am a nobody in product design or in the tech scene in general. I’m not saying I’m dumb or anything, just that nobody knows me. And yet I was still able to have a great and stimulating conversation with an expert who’s email inbox is presumably very full, lives thousands of kilometers away from me and doesn’t know anything about me. This was not the first time I’ve been amazed by the power of Twitter, so I decided to blog about it.
140 characters Enable Improbable Conversations
That length constraint compels people to get straight to the point. There is no fluff. No awkward openings, no pompous endings, no walls of text. People expect direct questions and answers and wouldn’t have it any other way.
This magically enables you to talk to some people you would never have sent an email to. And busy people that don’t know you at all, that might be thought leaders or experts, will answer you if you ask an interesting question. Because the constraint also works for the response: they don’t have to send you a long well thought-out answer, they don’t need to get context to answer, they can just type 140 characters.
I have asked questions to succesful entrepreneurs, or VCs, and almost always gotten a quick answer. This is incredibly cool and powerful. And these people don’t know me at all.
No Social Pressure or Awkwardness
The Twitter feed moves so swiftly that conversations are extremely ephemeral. I think this is key to enabling these kinds of improbable conversations. The fact that it moves so quickly reduces the social pressure: few people will see it, it will not mark your Twitter profile for a long time, and nobody will assume that the two people conversing are great friends or anything. Twitter enables conversations in a vacuum, without having to build up a relationship. There is no pressure for the expert to become friend with the person he is talking to.
When you try to email or talk on the phone to an expert, you always want to be super apologetic, respectful and you don’t really focus on the content of the conversation you’re trying to have but instead you focus on the asymmetry of the relationship and that makes you uncomfortable. Twitter makes all these concerns vanish.
I love Twitter for these opportunities.