Find 100 things to say

by Andrew McAfee on January 26, 2009

I lost a bet recently, and soon it’ll be time to pay up. I bet my friend Amy Senger that she couldn’t go a week without using Twitter. She’s such a prolific tweeter as @sengseng that I thought there was no way she could give it up, even temporarily.

But she did, and since turnabout is fair play she gets to dictate that I do something outside my comfort zone. According to the terms of the bet I have to tweet 100 times in a single day. This daunts me; I’ve posted to Twitter fewer than 800 times since opening my @amcafee account, so 100 sounds like a lot. I really have no idea what all I’ll tweet about, so this post is an appeal for help on that front.

What territory should I cover in my forced march of tweeting? According to the terms of the bet, my #andyasks question and ensuing replies count toward to the total, but they won’t get me close to 100. There’s a lot of room left; please leave comments with your ideas about how to fill it.  I’m all ears.

And I have to add a postscript to this post:

The one thing I won’t be tweeting about is the minutiae of my day. I’ve felt the urge to do so, and have succumbed to it a couple times, but I’ve promised myself not to do any more such tweets. Because I can’t see how they’re anything except blind and bland narcissism, and therefore simply without value.

As I unfortunately demonstrated, I understand the lure of using Twitter and the other 2.0 platforms to talk about oneself. After all, don’t we all consider ourselves to be deeply interesting people? But look at the following tweets, which were pulled with very little effort from the recent Twitterverse:

Waking up mid-afternoon FTW”

my head hurts.”

just sittin here… watching a little tv

pretty much ‘cleaned up’ my facebook”

Getting dressed for a wedding”

Honestly, don’t these sound like dialog from one of Sartre‘s less optimistic plays? Don’t they fail the test of “Does the world need or want to know this?” The response to this argument, of course, is “Just don’t follow people whose updates are not interesting to you.” But I follow a lot of people because I’m hoping that many things they say will be interesting. Since Twitter is inherently oriented around people rather than topics, I get all tweets from those I follow. And their narration of their own lives clutters up my “All Friends” column on Tweetdeck.

No one stops by my office, calls me, emails me, or texts me with updates like the ones above. Nor have I met anyone who’s confessed to emailing or texting their entire social circle every x minutes with “here’s what’s going on with me now” updates. So I’m really puzzled about why this is an acceptable and popular use of Twitter. If someone could explain it to me, I’d really appreciate it (and I don’t mean that facetiously). My guess is that this behavior arises mainly because it’s so fast and easy to compose and send a tweet, but if there’s more going on please explain it to me.

Am I wrong that just a little self-policing against narcissism would increase the value of the Twitterverse immensely? I think all of us fans of this technology would do well to keep in mind Voltaire’s insight that “The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” Admiral Hyman Rickover, the father of America’s nuclear navy, quoted the admonition of an ‘unknown sage’ that “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” So what kinds of minds discuss themselves?

At its best Twitter is a novel and unparalleled way to meet, connect with, and share good stuff with other people. At its worst, it reminds me of the great story from the evil geniuses at The Onion: “Women now Empowered by Everything a Woman Does.”

If you see me confusing narcissism with empowerment, citizenship, helpfulness, or useful sharing during my day of 100 tweets (the date of which will be announced in advance), please call me on it. And if I’m being blind or unkind with these thoughts, please let me know.

Peter Kim January 26, 2009 at 8:37 am

Sounds like you're still learning how social technologies work. A good place to start would be to start responding to people who message you – it's asynchronous conversation and will get you to 100 quickly. Good luck learning from the exercise.

Chris Bucchere January 26, 2009 at 8:41 am

Perhaps all the narcissistic navel-gazing in Twitter might be a consequence of Twitter's premise, as indicated by the text above the input box that reads, “What are you doing?”

Perhaps it should be changed to read, “What's interesting enough to share with thousands of people right now?”

As far as barriers to entry are concerned, the first question is so much easier to answer, isn't it? The pressure to be “interesting” could slow usage, but perhaps that would be welcome by all.

Kristian T January 26, 2009 at 8:52 am

Andrew, I think the clue is to add some (does not have to be much) value to the mundane or trivial. Sometimes this happens automatically with Twitter. E.g. sharing information about the weather at your location might be of interest to some of your followers going there. Same goes for other “traveller services” like how do you like the hotel, restaurant, café, bar where you are right now. Telling about your dinner could be of interest to a foodie like myself.

But most importantly – do not be afraid. It is not your responsibility alone to judge the relevance of your tweet, as it is when you write a book or give a lecture. With Twitter, the criteria of relevance are governed by your followers. We are free to follow or unfollow you at will, and even when following, we can skip as many of your posts as we want to (the same behaviour would probably be most unwelcome at your lectures)

This non linear form allows for many (nearly unlimited) parallel and independent narratives from your hand.

I for one is looking forward to see how you will spend your 100 Tweets

Kind regards,

Kristian (@KristianT)

jedc_mercury January 26, 2009 at 9:23 am

The quick and easy way to do it would be to compile a list of 100 recommendations, quotes, insights, etc. from your work on Enterprise 2.0. Then post them individually throughout one day.

digiphile January 26, 2009 at 9:47 am

I look forward to your experiment, Andy. When I first came across Twitter, I categorized it as a status message 'on steroids.' I think those accustomed to IM culture treat it the same way and Twitter's critics call that use out; we're all often involved in life's small banalities. Even cleverly chronicled, that sort of tweet doesn't add much to the conversation.

I've clarified my thinking a bit in the years since, learning from those who tweet about what they are reading, what they're working on or respond to others doing the same. Given that you're working on enterprise 2.0 case studies, reading about them and a myriad of other topics, I imagine you could find a way to tweet about that all day, asking and answering questions about your research.

You could also put on a journalist's hat and walk around to other profs at HBS to find out what they are working on. You could involve your class in a group tweet session, organized around another hashtag, perhaps focusing on a solution to a particular business challenge or concept. DRM, tethered appliances, outsourcing, social proof in the enterprise, using Twitter for business, etc.

Hashtagging around a #deepestdive or #longest ride to capture your hobbies might be a good use case too. #andyasks has been great.

Regardless, I look forward to your experiment. There are *much* worse bets to lose, after all.

AVD January 26, 2009 at 9:51 am

A suggestion as to what you could twitter without descending into personal minutia, why not choose a day when you’re attending an event that may be of interest to some of those who follow you- a professional conference seems most likely, but it could be a concert, trip to a museum, book signing – and live micro-blog it along with your impressions?

As far as thoughts on the value or lack thereof in the actual minutia descent, I understand where you’re coming from and have shared some of those thoughts, but after several months of allowing myself to play freely with twitter to see what happens, I don’t fully agree. I initially resisted trying twitter at all, then spent a good amount of time observing without saying much, kept my account private for several months, and finally made my account public recently, and I will say that the majority of my tweets are mundane and without specific value in and of their individual 160 characters. So why bother?

When I think about twitter, I picture a matrix of people and purposes. I imagine the “what” along the one axis: formal updates- about software or book releases, questions/answers/feedback requests, sarcastic one-liners, a band’s announcement of where their playing tonight, an inspiring link or quotation, a friend announcing where he’s headed for happy hour, what some expert on such-and such is having for lunch, and the “who” along the other: dear friends, acquaintances, weak ties, experts in an area of interest, favorite authors, colleagues, businesses/organizations, groups I belong to. The potential love/hate of twitter is that, as you say, it’s driven by people. For example, I can’t select “sarcastic one-liner’s,” “happy hour plans,” and “inspiring quotations” from dear friends but only “formal updates” from weak ties, however logical that might seem. And I’m glad.

On the one hand, as someone recently reminded me, following someone on twitter is essentially given them a direct shortcut into one’s brain, which, depending on who and how many you choose to follow, can lead to a lot of unwanted mental noise. However, twitter IS people driven, and individuals, with all their inherent day to day facets, aren’t so easily filtered according to value. By eliminating the noise regarding that software expert’s lunch plans – which I could care less about but his close friend in the neighborhood may be very interested in – also eliminates that link to the application that makes my week easier.

So why not relegate the lunch plans to instant messenger or email? Because doing so would eliminate twitter’s group broadcast value. Sure, the software expert could instant message a friend about lunch, but then he would miss the opportunity to connect spontaneously with a weak tie who just happens to be at an appointment around the corner.

To me twitter is a magical hive mind that sometimes proves inaccurate the junk in junk out rule, where what I put in can, on some days, be transformed by individuals beyond the mundane in ways I never expected. The real value I’ve found online has always come somewhat unexpectedly and been manifested in deeply personal relationships at some level, and twitter has proved no different in that respect.

blm January 26, 2009 at 10:01 am

I should like to add one of my favourite twitter apps here:

In Wim Winders “Wings of Desire”, the angels can hear the thoughts of the people they are near. Watching the messages scroll by with comments of love and hate and other thoughts is a bit like that.

And yet in many of the messages, the most common of things are said.

Thomas Otter January 26, 2009 at 10:51 am

Now that I work from home, twitter has become my coffee corner. Sometimes it is about work. Sometimes it is about the state of my dissertation. Sometimes it is about the weather. Sometimes it is about where I live now. Sometimes it is about where I grew up. Sometimes it is about cycling and cricket. Sometimes it is blind and bland narcissism.

Perhaps I'm reading your post wrong, but you seem to wish for a twitter where everyone is either Dorothy Parker, P.G Wodehouse, Peter Drucker, Cicero, Sartre, or perhaps Theo Epstein on baseball but only when they are really on form.

Kind regards


Dag Blakstad January 26, 2009 at 11:17 am

Well Twitter reflects its user base. No more, no less. There is really nothing yoy can do about that. That said twitters will grow up, and hopefully stop tweeting that much nonsense.

Todays Google homepage Woute of the day was:

You never know when chitchatting suddenly turns interesting, funny or something useful or just teases your brain cells.

Anonymous January 26, 2009 at 11:23 am

I think you should consider what Tim O’Reilly does. He in some sense acts as a router/filter and retweets lots during the day. Not 100X perhaps, but alot.

As for the the banal commentary, I find value in them. One thing I like (or liked) about twitter is that it gave me an extended or virtual presence. It’s like bumping into people and asking them “how are you doing”. They may say such things as well as say: I learned this or I heard this.

You learn alot indirectly from the small things people say, as much as the important things that people have to say. In fact, it’s tiring to get 20 tweets a day from people saying: read this, read that.

And when I do run into those people, I can say: yes, JetFuel is a great place to have coffee or yes, I had to shovel alot of snow on the weekend, too.

One last thing. Alot of commentary I see from younger people will fall into that space. Part of that is a rejection of having to be smart and behave in institutions and families. Taking stupid pictures and saying stupid things is a way of rejecting and pushing back on family, school and other instututions. As a middle aged guy, I may feel I have to be responsible in what I communicate using social media. If I was a teenager or in college, I might think and communicate just the opposite.

a32b January 26, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Good point, Kristen. Providing the “why” along with the “what” makes any writing more valuable

To Andy – a helpful bit of advice: Make active use of you can start chambering “Tweets” for a few days leading up to your marathon, so that you won't actually have to sit in front of a computer or stare at your iPhone all day.

Also, I have to disagree with you about “mundane” Tweets. My favorite example of why I like this stuff comes from the time I had put together a dinner for five couples in SF, and at the moment that one couple bailed, a friend of mine wrote: “Just landed in SF – I'm back baby!” It's a trivial bit of info, except that I knew it meant he'd just arrived permanently back SF after years away, and that he and his wife would probably love to join a group dinner. It became a welcome party.

While Twitter is free in terms of money, following over 100 people can become time consuming, and most people consider their time valuable. Viewed in this context, a Twitter user is “worth” following if their updates add more value than the time they take to read. A person writing a lot, better be pretty interesting (e.g. insightful comments on tech, hilarious musings on pop culture, great music/restaurant/movie tips, etc.), but a person posting infrequently (e.g. 1-3 times per week) is free to tell me that they had Cherrios for breakfast. I'm probably following them because I know them personally, and just want to keep in touch.

Kelcy January 26, 2009 at 5:32 pm

One way to be narcissistic without getting personal is to blog about your experience throughout the day and send the link out in multiple tweets. You should be able to send at least 5 tweets about the same link that you wrote without it being too obnoxious.

Chary Izquierdo January 27, 2009 at 12:21 am

Agree with both last comments. It doesn’t have to be all about you. Responding to the tweets of those you follow shows you listen, absorb their missives and care enough to acknowledge them. It’s analogous to active listening — the more important skill in being a good communicator. I think tweeting is like conversation with those you are “with.” How many times a day do you speak to someone next to you? Tweet only what you would bother to say to them. (As one of your interested followers, thank you for saying no to junk tweeting. Maybe you and @sengseng can meet somewhere in the middle.) – @charyis

Andrea Nadosy January 27, 2009 at 3:34 am

Someone already suggested something similar, but what about if you did a list of the top 100 inventions of all time (or similar top 100 themes). You could start with the wheel, end with E2.0.

Paolo Galli January 27, 2009 at 7:35 am

I agree with Peter Kim. You have 1.881 followers, ask a question to your followers e maybe you'll double your target, if you answer all.

DonnaM January 27, 2009 at 9:51 am

Andrew, As part of a geographically dispersed team, I am as pleased to hear about their experiences of the weather and their trip between our shared sites as I am pleased to follow posts linked to breaking news or relevant blogs. With you, an otherwise stranger, I'm surpised that 100 posts would be difficult. After following the tweets of you and a couple of other “mavens” of social networking, I found that my personal acquaintences were buried by the volume of your posts. Since I am most interested in your academic content and the debate of the issues of E2.0 and thus now primarily follow your blog. That said, how is the weather up there? I love watching the radar and thinking about the folks under that big blob of green, blue or pink. The universe rules doesn't it! @Donna519

sengseng January 27, 2009 at 10:32 am

Andy, I look forward to your 100 tweets and am willing to bet the value will be in the journey, not the destination. However, in my typical fashion, I challenge you on your categorization of minutiae.

M_E_Mangelsdorf January 27, 2009 at 10:36 am

Andrew, I'd suggest you choose a day where
a) first you spend much of the day reading lots of different types of material relevant to your expertise (articles, blogs, etc). You can tweet on those and add lots of unique value.
b) then you attend a presentation, discussion or other event that really interests you — and tweet throughout it. Again, you can add value whileavoiding the mundane tweet.

Best wishes,
Martha E. Mangelsdorf
Senior Editor
MIT Sloan Management Review

SilkTies January 29, 2009 at 1:11 pm

btw another few might be dieting, health, relationship/dating – always good ones. Go to digg, isnare, reddit, etc to get more ideas!
Have fun!
Silk Ties

sengseng January 31, 2009 at 7:05 am

maybe you should sign up for a BLIP.FM account…enlighten us all with your musical stylings.

teda144 February 4, 2009 at 8:37 am

good outlook

WDavidStephenson February 20, 2009 at 7:48 am

Missed this one at the time (& surprised I didn't notice @sengseng's absence, since she such a pillar of twitter). I differ on the personal stuff, although I was originally put off by it: I've got much richer biz relationship w/ several folks because I found out they share similar interests & burdens (nothing like having family member going through cancer or dying to strengthen the bonds, unfortunately). Makes sense to me: work is what I do, life is what I am!

And we would like to know your musical tastes (@sengseng is a bitchin' dj as well!)

Stuart French March 9, 2009 at 5:07 pm

Hi Andrew,

In regards to the lame, narcissistic pasts, I actuall see a lot of value in them.

If all you want from Twitter, is the meat, then I find the Microplaza app which shows all links in tweets I follow to be handy.

The key is it is contextual information. You mention other mediums and the answer for me is yes! When I talk with a loved one or close friend I do talk about the fact they just had a coffee at Joes, or I am about to have lunch. If I want to ask a specific question of send specific information I will email and phone call, but Twitter allows me to learn the little “life” things about co-workers and KM colleages I would never find out until I lived with them or worked in the same office.

At work we use Yammer for this exact reason. It doesn't replace email and many of the posts are of little use, however the serendipitous nature of these little work-day activities has saved us a lot of rework and several potentially large project clashes between our US and Australian offices.

I think a twitter with all function and no intimacy would be missing out on a large part of it's value to me.

Stuart French
Melbourne, Australia.

…Now I need to organise the hairdresser for my “Shave for a Cure” day Thursday. Would you like to sponser me to support Leukaemia research? :-)

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