In Twitterville, I quote co-founder Ev Williams as observing, "people are pretty much clueless when they first get to Twitter." He said that back in December 2008, and since then the company has introduced all sorts of features and functionality so Twitterville newbies will be able to find their friends and popular accounts when they first join.
I was absolutely clueless to the value when I first got there. After a few days, I had posted only once, had no picture showing and 45 folks following me. Why were the following me; I wasn't going anywhere? A couple of months later I was in Boston and posted that fact. My friend, and California neighbor, Jeremiah Owyang turned out to be in Boston as well and ping me. We had dinner and fun that night, and that was the first time I discovered that Twitter can make things happen that otherwise would not have occurred.
That was only a couple of years ago. I could write a book about what I've seen on Twitter since then. In fact I just did.
Last week, I went to Kansas City, where I met with the sales team at Five Star Speakers, my new speaking agency. I was there really, so that they could better understand the product that I wanted them to sell--me. I found it more than a little difficult to figure out what it was I should say to them.
But the night before Steve Gardner had taken me out for legendary Kansas City ribs at Jack's Stack. Steve and I found each other through Twitter, and I knew that he saw the value to his organization, yet it was also clear that many on his team were new and, as Ev Williams had put it, "clueless" to how Twitter really worked. At dinner, Five Star, bizdev executive had complained at how fast the stream moved when she got there. The next day, when I presented to the sales team, heard the same observation and saw other heads nod.
It seems that as Twitter newbies my Five Star friends had been dipping into the public stream where the post of millions of people from all over the world go up in rapid succession. Until this morning I had not looked at the public stream since my first days in Twitterville. It isn't at all like dipping your toe into a stream. It's more like immersing your head into Niagara Falls.
The public stream is neither useful nor interesting to most people using Twitter and they usually learn this after a short while. It is your personal stream that matter. This stream contains the content of the people you choose to follow. I like Andrew Lih's observation that who you follow is more important than who follows you. If you follow lots of people then your personal stream will have lots of content. You regulate both the quality and quantity of what goes past you, by choosing wisely who you follow.
Your personal stream is really what will determine the quality of your Twitterville experience. Mixing metaphors, your personal stream becomes you customized, conversational newspaper. What flows there is the value you will take into real life and the conversation that start there are likely to be the most valuable to you in using Twitter.
Besides, it's a lot easier and safer to dip your toes into a little stream than a thundering waterfall.