Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Life in 140 bit bits

I've been not blogging for the last month. For most of that time, I've been not working, not writing, not doing much of the stuff for which I'm known in my professional community.*

On the rare moments during which I've tuned into my work/professional/writing life, I've done so through Twitter. I've followed several really interesting conversations about social media and social change. Watched Lend4Health go from personal passion to viable social enterprise. I've learned about efforts to launch a micro venture funding model in Canada, and become insanely envious of those who get to hang out at MaRS in Toronto (yes, even in January). I've been invited to comment on people's books, slide shows, and discussions, been offered condolences by people I've never met, had poems sent to me from friends in other countries, songs recommended to me, and conferences brought to my attention. I've been asked to participate in a radio program and a speakers bureau, invited to judge a business plan competition, and discovered that communicating with direct messages in twitter beats email hands-down for some conversations. I've also found that folks too hesitant about their writing to comment on blogs will opine away in twitter - being confined to 140 characters puts the Ralph Ellisons among us on the same footing as those who find pain in writing grocery lists. Because twitter feeds into my facebook page I've also reconnected with three friends from high school.

I've also watched as Twestivals took over the "airwaves." What is a twestival? It is a gathering of people, most of whom have met through twitter, to have fun and raise money for a charitable organization (charity:water). What is different about twestivals from every other fundraiser? How about the fact that more than 100 such gatherings are being planned, in 100+ cities around the world, all for one organization, all through the power of twitter. All the work is done by volunteers, all the money goes to charity:water projects. You can participate in person or online. You can donate, publicize, organize, attend or all of the above.

Why is this noteworthy? Maybe it isn't. Early adopters of twitter** won't find any path breaking insights in this post. But I've found twitter to be a remarkable source of self-selected, customized-to-me news. My twitter feed is like my very own stock ticker. The conversations are useful, archivable, inclusive, and funny. They also serve as sort of a weft to other media and conversations - pointing to interesting blogs, flagging people and thinkers with ideas worth considering, indicating interesting ideas as certain tags and content wax or wane in attention.

What will it mean for philanthropy? Twestival shows how quickly adopters will push to a new horizon for fundraising. The twitter model offers a new way to organize activists, donors, supporters, protesters. The very idea of transparency takes on a degree of new meaning - every conversation you have may be "tweeted" with or without your knowledge - how will you handle that? What does it mean for your organization, your foundation, your communications department, your message?

What does it mean for me? I don't know yet, but I do know this, For the last year or so I've been thinking about shutting down this blog. Why? I feel like my blogging is taking away from "long-form" writing - the articles and books I want to write. This is ironic, since I set up the blog to advance that work. Conceptually, blogging should complement the longer form - in reality, given the limits of time - it distracts from it. So, what about twitter? If blogging made book writing seem long form, twittering can make it seem like an insurmountable endurance effort.

My challenge - find how these tools strengthen, deepen, refine my thinking and pull me toward book and article writing. This is, in some ways, the same question any communicator or institution needs to ask itself about how it uses different media - press releases, radio, blogs, annual reports. It a similar question to ones discussed on a recent panel on film, philanthropy and social change, sponsored by Give2Asia in conjunction with a showing of Tongzhi in Love. It has implications similar to those experienced by the Oscar-award winning director of The Blood of Yingzhou District, whose movie wasn't officially shown in China but was available in bootleg DVD on the streets of Beijing, was widely discussed on the internet and which led to a public meeting between the Chinese Premier and the children from the film. You couldn't see the movie in China, but once it achieved success abroad the Chinese couldn't escape its message.

All of which seems to boil down to this - different media forms feed each other, they are ears to the ground or tools for spreading ideas in ways that overlap, complement, fill gaps, loop back onto, and ooze into many different conversations. The more tools that are used, the more feedback and ideas an idea searcher or sharer can find, and the more noise one will have to filter. We can't accurately predict (I don't think) which tool will work best for which idea at which time to which audience. We also can't necessarily predict which give you the "best ear to the ground" - it depends on what you want to listen for, what you want to say, and how and with whom you want to discuss the ideas. Some of these tools are low cost, but, to be useful, none of them are "low time." Fitting them in to one's writing, thinking, communicating, learning, activating, doing takes both planning and the willingness to take chances. Metrics to assess idea sharing, attitude influence or (gasp) behavior change will need to be attuned to the many pathways by which ideas now move.

Sounds like fun. Time to write.

* Thanks to everyone for your support during this past month. Thanks for reading, for waiting, and for encouraging me to come back to the blog.
**(I was not an early adopter, in fact, I was a bit of an early skeptic. I owe my twitter conversion to SoCap08, @abenamer @socialactions, and @kanter)


Anonymous said...

First of all, welcome back! Your thought-provoking posts were missed. I must say that you picked up where you left off with a post that “make ya go hmmm...” There is much here that I’d like to comment on but what rises to the top of the random jam of thoughts is this beautiful, high velocity, and even poetic metamorphosis that philanthropy is going through after so many years of business as usual and “doing this way because we’ve always done it this way….” I once heard someone say that the best innovation comes from the customer…” and it behooves practitioners to use “listening” as the purest form of R&D. Twitter is quite apropos to this notion as its use by the people to become more aware about social issues, meet some of effective practitioners, and find creative ways to “give for social change” is exerting pressure on the seams of what we have come to know as “philanthropy”. I only wonder if the mass of experienced philanthropic practitioners are listening. After all it’s called “Twitter” – what does that have to do with philanthropy? Right? While business-as-usual philanthropy operates in a silo with major worries directed toward dwindling assets (due to a recessive economy or the Madoff types), Twestivals (Microsoft Word thinks that I spelled this wrong) and other micro-philanthropy activities are rebranding what it means to give for change. What other Twilanthropy will follow? Hmmm...

Anonymous said...

Welcome back. Thanks for this thoughtful post about Twestival. I am working on a follow up post about this - quite a few interesting comment threads of the post I wrote about it

Will be interesting to see where twitphilanthropy goes - there are definitely issues to resolve though.

Unknown said...

Hey Lucy, MaRS is an amazing place and do drop by next time you are in Toronto. Above is a link to a blog on Twitter and fundraising. It offers some observations on what we are seeing and possible implications. Hope your readers enjoy it and offer their opinion

Amanda Crowe said...

Twitter is a great tool. Post informative and entertaining post in your Twitter updates. Follow people who interest you, and keep twittering.