Twitter is a powerful tool for Kabissa and the people and organizations we are working with. I just had an exchange with Beth @Kanter about a new Twitter feature that exemplifies this: Twitter lists. She then challenged me to write a blog post and I am realizing that I've been putting off writing about Twitter generally for a while because I am excited about it and wanted to do it properly. 

So here goes. If you are not familiar with Twitter yet, now's a good time to learn about it and get started! If you do use Twitter already, read on and you may learn something, or have something to add.

When we get to the lists I have a suggestion to make so we can try out using Twitter to strengthen our ties.

What is Twitter?

According to Twitter help pages:

Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent messages.  People write short updates, often called "tweets"  of 140 characters or fewer.  These messages are posted to your profile or your blog, sent to your followers, and are searchable on Twitter search.

Twitter Fail WhaleYou can do this via http://www.twitter.com, twitter programs on computers and handhelds, or SMS on your mobile phone. There are also lots of third party services and websites out there that let you use your twitter account in various clever ways, such as shortening links and adding pictures. Your account can be private (you approve who follows you and can read your updates) and your tweets can be selectively sent publicly or privately (direct message). It's not possible to take back a tweet once you have sent it, like email.

Beyond the twitter help pages, I recommend a fantastic quick primer on Twitter and how to use it properly.

Simple tips for a better Twitter experience
by @tedchris of TED = Ideas worth spreading! 

What is all the fuss about?

Personally, after a few months of working with it, I have come to appreciate the four following key needs twitter serves in a revolutionary way, especially for those in places with broad access to SMS and only occasional access to traditional Internet.

Twitter lets you:

  1. Express appreciation for and pay attention to likeminded people
  2. Stay abreast with what is going on in your world about people, places and issues you care about
  3. Remain connected with people and organizations you care about
  4. From time to time, reach out and influence precisely those people you want to influence

I myself only realized the importance of twitter for people like me who are using ICT and social media for social change this past summer at the Soul of the New Machine conference at the Human Rights Center in Berkeley, California. During the sessions (when they weren't speaking) my friends like Ken Banks (@kiwanja) and Erik Hersman (@whiteafrican) were all leaning into their mobile phones much of the time. It turns out they were not rudely texting their wives back home but were "live tweeting" the event.

They were keeping an ongoing stream of "back chatter" going about the sessions we were participating in, talking not just to others in the room but expanding the conversation to a wider community of friends and associates around the world through short 140 character messages via Twitter. Holy twit! 

Just following people who are twittering from events is immensely exciting and educational. Now imagine all the other who are responding from their desks, sharing their insights, linking to their blog posts and news sources, and the full power starts to become apparent.

Kabissa on Twitter

According to the brief bio on Twitter, @Kabissa is: 

Network of people and orgs working online & on the ground for positive change in Africa Tweets by @tobiaseigen on Africa SocialMedia Tech Entrepreneurs Charity

As you will soon learn, punctuation is extraneous on twitter - it has to be because you only have 140 characters per message. Many organizations have multiple people twittering from the same account (e.g. @nabuur @BBCHave_Your_Say), or have different accounts for various departments or areas of focus (e.g. @ashokatweets and @ashokatech). Currently I am the only one twittering from @kabissa from Berlin but that may change in the future.

On Twitter, I spend most of the time (usually 20 minutes at a time several times a day when I can) reading tweets by those I follow and following links to see what they are writing about and taking interest in. In this way I am keeping myself incredibly well informed. I then very often "retweet" or share tweets with my followrs that I think are interesting or important.

Only very occasionally do I use my twitter account to try to get people to do something on my behalf. This may change but for the time being my priority with my own tweets is to express appreciation for others, to spread useful information in the community, and to maintain and strengthen the relationship of Kabissa with the most relevant people and organizations working with ICT and Africa.

Increasingly, we do let @kabissa followers know that there is interesting new content on the Kabissa site. Usually we share it via the Kabissa frontpage, RSS feed, our fan page on Facebook and twitter.

Kabissa's Twitter Lists

What topics am I twittering about, then? When the Twitter Lists feature became available to me last week, I created a handful of lists that immediately came to mind for categorizing the people and organizations on twitter that I think are of relevance to Kabissa. I am still very happy with the lists I came up with:

Of these, my favorites are:

Want to join/leave Kabissa Twitter lists?

Twitter lists are still new, and I am still trying to understand how best to take advantage of them to strengthen the relationship Kabissa has with people and organizations that share our passions and goals. You are welcome to get engaged.

To join one of the Kabissa Twitter lists above, send a tweet containing something like the following. (For other lists, replace "kabissa/advocacy" with the list name)

I tweet about Africa. Please add me to the kabissa/africa list.

Weirdly, there is no way to opt out of Twitter lists right now, so if I have categorized you incorrectly, let me know via direct message:

d @kabissa I have nothing to do with Africa. Please remove me from your list kabissa/africa

My current feelings about Twitter Lists

OK, now having gotten all that off my chest, let's come to the conversation I had with Beth Kanter (@kanter) about Twitter Lists. To show you how twitter can be used for conversations, I will repeat it here word for word:

Kanter: @kabissa what's ur take on Twitter lists?
Kabissa: @kanter I am moving beyond the puppy love stage with twitter lists. Still enamored, but starting to feel insecure.
Kanter: @kabissa can you unpack insecure? I played with Twitter lists, but found myself looking at other people's lists.
Kabissa: @kanter Twitter lists plus: I love being able to recognize people without following them. I love generating lists.

Kanter: RT @kabissa Twitter lists plus: I love being able to recognize people without following them. I love generating lists. (me too)
Kanter: @kabissa yes, reminds me of everyone wanting to make their own list of blogs or links - redundancy.
Kabissa: @kanter Twitter lists minus: Lists are not double opt-in like email lists. Management becomes a nightmare (for lister and listee)
Kabissa: @kanter Twitter lists plus: Lists create powerful new ways to acknowledge & celebrate relationships and admiration between people
Kabissa: @kanter Twitter lists minus: Functionality is not transparent. I have now idea how and where lists appear and are used.
Kabissa: @kanter Twitter lists plus: full support is promised in twitter clinets like @nambucom - I am excited about the possibilities
Kabissa: @kanter Twitter lists minus: Too many questions about it - what actually happens if I follow a list? Do followees know? Can I unfollow one?
Kabissa: @kanter OK, I'm done now venting my feelings about twitter lists. Thanks for listening! :)

Kanter: @kabissa thanks for sharing! Now, have you written this up in a blog post?

So here I am. :)

The long and short of it is that I like Twitter lists, and in particular was very excited as I saw them being rolled out and people I admire like @whiteafrican began promoting their very meaningful lists. When I finally got permission to start creating my own lists, I also saw how they could fill a natural need that I had already to categorize the people and organizations on twitter that I follow, take interest in myself or want to acknowledge as important to follow. It makes sense for this to be a public list so that others can benefit from the time I have put into creating the lists, especially if they are already following me and trust me as list "curator". 

I see some terrific opportunities with Twitter Lists, especially as all the twitter clients (my favorite is @Nambucom, sadly only for Mac OSX) start to support it. It will be great to be able to for example focus attention on only one list at a time, and add/remove people to lists on a running basis while reading tweets. I also am looking forward to the time when clever people create tools to for example filter via two or three lists at a time so that I can see what "africa+entrepreneurs" are talking about, and to use twitter lists to crowd source who the most influential or well connected people are on given topics.  

The main difficulty, however, is that the lists functionality is not transparent and it is not clear exactly how lists work now or how they will work in the future. I did not realize as I was making lists that they appear all over the place - not just on my account but in the accounts of all the people I added to the lists and in the accounts of people who are following my lists. I also don't understand list following. If I follow someone's list and then unfollow an individual account on their list, what happens? 

I am also concerned that there is currently no way to remove yourself from lists maintained by others, as there is with email. I am starting to see @kabissa listed all over the place. Usually it makes me feel honored and appreciated, but other times I scratch my head (e.g. why is @kabissa in the BarCampAfricaUk/attendees list? We didn't attend!), or worse am wishing I were not on that particular list. This generally makes me feel uneasy, especially since it takes work to scroll through all the lists I am on to see how Kabissa is being represented or categorized.

To "curate" a list takes vigilence, but it is so easy to create lists and add people to them that we will end up with thousands or millions of poorly curated lists, rendering them all useless. Just today I came across @africainfo which has a compelling username, icon and bio, which is probably the reason why thousands of people follow it and 20 people had added to their "africa" lists. I then thought about adding it to my own Africa list but then realized on close inspection that it was a spam account.

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