I joined Twitter in March of 2007. In the five thousand four hundred and forty-six days since then, I have tweeted nearly 19,000 times. That is a lot of words to put out into the world. The question you might ask yourself is, “Why?”
What is it about Twitter that continues to hold my attention? Why have I invested so much of my precious time on this earth in writing a few words or sharing a few links with a seemingly indifferent internet populous?
Even though much of Twitter is wholly uninteresting, hateful, or even toxic, I can honestly say that the reason I keep coming back to the service after all of these years is the community that I find there. I can say this without a hint of irony about the same Twitter that empowered much of this country’s worst instincts. I can say this because I mean something very specific by Community.
For me, Community is not a hashtag to be thrown around or painted with a broad brush. A community serves a function.
- Provides value to its members (although not the same value for each member).
- I laugh frequently after reading what others have posted. I am inspired and I am angry. I am moved to action. I read and learn about new ideas. I get outside of my own little bubble of the world. The value I derive on one day is not the same as any other day. My value is not universal. It is personal.
- Is made up of a diverse and ever-changing group of people.
- I have mass-unfollowed everyone a half-dozen times over the last 14 years. Each time, I build a new group of individuals, sometimes political, sometimes personal, and sometimes professional. With as many types of people there are in the world, I have yet to find the end to the variation. It is incredible.
- Receives contributions from its members based upon their varied lived experience and cultural backgrounds.
- I want to learn from others who are different than me. Collectively, we know far more than we could ever know individually. I will likely never live in Paris nor will I ever know what it means to grow up Black in a Southern state. On Twitter, I can learn from both experiences. And that is the contribution they give to the community: the gravity of their own lives.
- Has a common language that is always adding new words, memes, and touchstone moments.
- We didn’t always have retweets, hashtags, or @ mentions. We didn’t always know how to thread conversations together. These things have grown up because we needed a reason for them to exist. Their reason is community, and that shared understanding of the platform helps to build deeper connections.
- Has a shared self-selected purpose, even if that purpose only lasts for the duration of a single afternoon.
- Many of us use twitter to comment on the world around us. When we are in a shared moment (a major world event, a political movement, etc.), we can engage in the same conversation. We amplify and build upon one another’s voices. This is a shared purpose, even if it is just a 3 hour football game.
- Contributes to a larger public conversation.
- One of the most important aspects of Twitter is that Tweets (for the most part) are publicly available and publicly searchable. It is the opposite of Facebook groups and pages because those spaces let anyone hide behind the garden walls. When people share on Twitter, they are speaking in public. And, that let’s us learn from anyone.
And yet, the same things that make this Twitter community so strong are the things that make it amorphous and often unfulfilling. The concept that “anyone can tweet” presents a challenge for maintaining long-running conversations or building deeper bonds within a community. Ideas can be co-opted or hijacked in an instant, and until now, Twitter has lacked the tools to fight against the base instincts of an internet mob.
But, that may be changing.
Yesterday, I was invited to take part in the Twitter Communities beta. This means that I can now have a space (exactly one, actually) with a set of community rules and a shared understanding for what should happen there. These are the ones that I came up with:
While these may change over time as the community grows, these were my first instincts for how to create a space that is only the best of what Twitter has to offer. And when I finally created the “Regular Progress” community, it felt like I was getting back what it felt like to scream into the void in 2007 and have a dozen or so strangers respond.
I wonder if you might like to join me there. Maybe you too would like to help “Chronicle the Regular Progress we are all making, whether that is in parenting, politics, or personal growth.”
We aren’t just going to share #wins, but also what we have learned from our losses. We are going to be real, whole, human beings in this space, and I would love for you to take part. And I hope, after spending some time there and sharing your progress, you will come to believe what I do about Twitter: Community Rules.