Now that Twitter’s growth has reached explosive levels, folks are concerned about the number of folks they follow versus the number who follow them. For example, if you look at my profile , as of today, I’m following 454 people and followed by 265.  454 is a lot of people; it’s a lot of tweets. Moreover, it’s a ton of relationships to manage. Some, like President Obama, have hundreds of thousands of followers; they certainly cannot follow back. At the same time, for those of us in everyday world, there’s a point where you feels as if you cannot possibly follow back. This is a challenge as the appeal of twitter is, in particular, it’s ability to allow for 1:1 as well as 1:many conversation. And most of us want to be polite and take care of our networks.

While I don’t yet have a firm rule, here’s how I approach it: I follow just about anyone following me with a reasonable profile, and particularly if they have a blog. I do look at each and every person who follows me and follow back where I think we can make a connection in terms of mutual interest or some other commonality, which includes entirely new things I want to explore. I avoid the scams or the clearly commercial things, though I will follow where there is a stronger connection – e.g. my local pizza parlor.

CONDUIT VERSUS COMMUNITY

Here’s what personal experience is teaching me: I value community – whether of interest, profession, background, or some other form of connection. Conduit – in the form of more information, yet another advertisement, or pure “look at me / this” is typically less valuable.

TWITTER WORKS BECAUSE IT IS A COMMUNITY ENGINE

Simply put – twitter *is* community. While the platform itself is 2-way and multi-way (both 1:many but also many:1 in the sense that any 1 can respond to any followed tweet), it is Twitter’s ability to foment community (this is particularly enhanced with the direct tweet feature – kind of a private call b/t otherwise public participants) that drives the growth and the value of the platform.

WHAT ABOUT CONTENT?

There is no content without community. Think about it. Unless and until someone perceives my utterances – whether written or spoken – they are nothing more than meaningless shapes, sounds or colors, just hanging out there in space. At the moment of perception, there is almost immediately meaning. In other words the reader and the text create the meaning just as a tweet is nothing without not only a follower, but one who cares enough to read it.

COMMUNITY MAKES CONTENT MORE VALUABLE

Twitter, therefore, has the power to enhance the value of content by enriching the community experience. The more you get to know someone; the more interrelationship there is, the more meaning, depth and richness you will accord their communication – their content. In a world overflowing with content, it is community – relationship – that defines the value of content. This is the power of Twitter.

COMMUNITY TOOLS

No one tool is good or bad in and of itself. Like content, a tool’s utility is determined by it’s use; by its relationship to the things it affects and needs it may or may not fulfill. In other words, how a tool relates with and among it’s environment determines its value. In that regard I find “Friend or Follow” a fascinating tool that seeks to serve the CONTENT:COMMUNITY value equation. It allows you to determine of those you follow who follows you back. It is, in other words, a tool that takes at least begins to measure how much community is possible among your Twitter community. Sara Evans recently wrote a good piece that goes right to the fact that we value COMMUNITY over CONTENT OR CONDUIT: “HOW TO: Build Community on Twitter“. She sees, intuitively, that community is the reason we’re on Twitter.


CONCLUSION: COMMUNITY NOT CONTENT, NOT CONDUIT, DRIVES VALUE

Community, which I define for purposes of this piece as the inter-relationship between individuals (or groups) with content via conduits (web, telecom, Internet), drives value. More deeply, content and conduit are the tools of community; they are the inputs. Accordingly, as this nation faces the question of how and where to invest in infrastructure, let us ensure that the money serves the highest value: Community rather than assuming that by pouring it into content or conduit, we have invested wisely.

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