Bright Matrices

Writings & musings of Mike Zavarello (a.k.a. brightmatrix), a "red mage" web developer.

Category: Observations (page 3 of 4)

The Mystery of the Silent Partner

Social media produces some interesting and downright curious behaviors. Over the past few months, I’ve noticed a rather compelling relationship that’s popped up in my social interactions. It tends to manifest in two similar fashions:

  • Someone chooses to follow or friend you. They’re active within their own network; it’s not a spammer or automated account, but a real person, just like you. No matter what you post, write about, or discuss, they never talk to you, retweet you, or share any of your links. And yet, after weeks or months of time, they’re still a follower or friend of yours.
  • You choose to follow or friend someone, and they then follow or friend you back. You like what the person posts, writes about, or discusses. You retweet them, comment on their activity, and try to engage with them. No matter what you do, however, they never respond (except, perhaps with invitations to be their friend on other social networks).

I call this relationship the “silent partner.”

For those watching at home, there are key subtleties to the “silent partner.” First, they are always connected to you by their own will. They chose to follow or friend you, not the other way around. And, for Twitter, it’s not always an auto-follow, either. Second, they’re not the New York Times or Mashable accounts; big names or key influencers in their respective fields who post and share content but don’t engage with specific individuals, even if you make an attempt to do so. They’re personal or corporate accounts who are otherwise talking and sharing with others, just not you.

What mystifies me about the “silent partner” is, well, their silence.

For me, I’m curious about the value you bring to their network. After all, they’re connected to you for a reason. You couldn’t possibly be that boring, chatty, or annoying to them, otherwise, they would have severed the connection long before now. And it’s not because the “silent partners” have massive numbers of followers or friends, where my posts would be small ripples in their community pool. Some of the accounts I’ve studied have very manageable numbers, and my chatter would be noticeable. Not to mention, I regularly engage with accounts with thousands or tens of thousands of connections; they’re talking back to me.

Based on these assumptions, it seems that neither the content you produce nor the size of the partners’ communities are clear, straightforward causes of their silence. So, what could it be?

For the “silent partners” who follow but never engage, my guess is that they pay attention to only a core piece of their community, using either Twitter lists or groups within Facebook, for example. Perhaps they desire the status of having a large number of friends or followers and focus only those who matter to them. Or, maybe they’re reluctant to let go of those they’ve attached themselves to and simply put up with you. In any case, they tend to fit the classical profile of the “lurker”: the person who simply reads and consumes without contributing back.

As for the “silent partners” with whom you try to engage with but never get a response back, that’s a trickier assumption. It could be the same thought as above, but they’re obviously ignoring you for some reason. Maybe what you say isn’t worth their time. Maybe you haven’t passed some sort of litmus test to be “worthy” of their engagement. Maybe they’re just watching to see what you’re all about.

Overall, the concept of the “silent partner” is one I want to examine further.  I’m considering directly contacting some of mine to see if my assumptions are correct.

What about you, my dear followers? Do you have similar experiences? Or are you yourself the “silent partner” of your community? I’ve love to hear from you. That is, if you’re willing to break your silence…

Update (10-25-10): After a few additional months of observation and some excellent feedback from my fellow twitternauts, I wrote a follow-up post to this entry. I’ve introduced three additional theories on why “silent partners” exist.

Auto-Following and Mutual Follows: A Circle of Obligation

There have been a good amount of discussions recently that focus on influence vs. followers on Twitter, as well as how you decide whether or not to follow a specific account. I’ve also be reading posts and comments about perceived notions of “Twitter etiquette” with regards to following, specifically auto-following and mutual follows. I have some thoughts on these two specific interactions that I’d like to share, based on my personal observations and perspectives.

Auto-Following

“Auto-following” is, as you would expect, a process where a Twitter account starts following you automatically. This usually happens when you mention a specific word or phrase, or start following that feed (see the “mutual following” section below). There are two basic reasons I can see for why someone would choose to auto-follow: a bid to get more followers themselves or to monitor what’s being said about them, their business, or a specific topic in Twitter.

Personally, I think auto-following is highly inefficient. I once likened it to “shooting at a moving target, in high winds, blindfolded.” Nearly all of the auto-follows I’ve observed that come from keywords are totally off the mark. I once tweeted to ask for music recommendations, asking for “anything except country.” I immediately got followed by an account for a country musician. I never again tweeted anything about country, nor had I done so until that moment. Um, you’re doing it wrong!

Think about how many false positives and missed marks you could end up with if you decided to auto-follow in this manner for the purpose of monitoring. It’s much more effective to use some basic mention tools like Topsy, socialmention, Hootsuite, Google Alerts, Twitter’s search engine, or enterprise tools like WebTrends or Radian6. That way, you can check for instances where your brand is mentioned, in context, and reach out to specific accounts appropriately and intelligently.

Let’s go back a moment to the misguided exchange with the country musician. This could have been turned around had the musician engaged with me. They could have said something like, “Hey, I read that you don’t like country, but why not check out Song X from my new album?” Sure, it would have been a sales pitch, but that personal touch might have swayed me to at least give it a shot.

Mutual Following

The act of “mutual following” is simple: I follow you, you follow me. Most often, this is triggered automatically. What I don’t like about mutual following, particularly when dealing with individuals, agencies, or small organizations, is the expectations that come with it.

I don’t feel any obligation whatsoever to start following someone just because they started to follow me, and neither should you. I use Twitter as an information aggregator and professional networking tool. I purposely pick and choose which feeds to follow. I don’t have the time or the patience to wade through irrelevant or unrelated tweets simply to honor a “return the favor” agreement. That said, I also never expect anyone I follow to start following me in return. I’m quite certain that I’m not interesting to everyone, and that doesn’t bother me one bit.

You may notice some interesting behavior when accounts try to solicit mutual follows from you. They’ll start following you, then, when they don’t get the “expected” follow back, they drop you. Tools like Qwitter can send you updates on who unfollows you; most often, it’s the accounts that started following you randomly.

Now, I do see one solid use for mutual following from a customer service or issues management perspective: exchange of private, direct messages. For example, say you post a question or complaint to the Twitter account for your bank. They may ask you to follow them; when you do, they’ll follow you back. Once you’ve mutually followed each other, the bank can send you a direct message to discuss personal information about your account or give you contact information to get ahold of a representative. When the exchange is over, both parties can unfollow each other, if they choose.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I think both auto-following and mutual follows, with the exception of the customer service interaction I described above, are rather pointless and don’t contribute to the value that can be derived from using Twitter. You’ll get much more out of this channel by directly choosing the accounts you want to follow, using proven and effective tools to monitor comments and sentiment, and pursuing focused, helpful engagement.

Don’t contribute to the circle of obligation that surrounds these interactions, and never feel that you’re doing your followers or colleagues a disservice by avoiding them. Good relationships, whether in Twitter or in real life, should not be based on guilt or expectations.

Eat More Dog Food

In the information age, specifically its latest iteration, social media, it’s easier than ever to slip the rails and get off track. I’m not talking specifically about poor online behavior or being a bad social neighbor, but practicing what you preach and taking responsibility for your actions. To use a well-worn adage, you need to “eat your own dog food”.

Here’s two very basic points I want to express, both for all the netizens and twitternauts out there, as well as myself:

  • Follow your own advice. Sounds simple, right? I’ve found myself in many situations where I fail to follow my own advice, and I tend to prove myself right when things don’t work out. Be consistent with your convictions, but don’t be unwilling to shift or change them should you find a better way or gain an better perspective. This is doubly and triply important if your words are captured in the printed word, blogs, podcasts, videos, or other media. People will notice and call you out if you get off track.
  • Own up to your mistakes. Again, a simple concept, but one I fail to see more often than I’d like. Your words and actions are your creations and therefore your responsibility. If you make an error in perception or judgment, admit it, learn from the experience, and move on. I’ve found that people can be far more understanding and forgiving if you accept and own up to your faults. If it’s an argument or dispute that you’re involved in, and you’re in the wrong, be the better person and swallow your pride.

So, bust out the can opener, grab a spoon, and get ready to chow down. Eat more dog food. You’ll be glad you did.

Crafting Your Project’s “Vision Quest”: Thoughts on Jared Spool’s “Turning Back to the Future” Presentation

The closing presentation at this month’s UIE Web App Masters Tour in Philadelphia was “Turning Back to the Future” by Jared Spool. In this session, Jared shared how “successful teams learn about what they should design from their future” by having a shared vision. He laid out several guidelines for crafting this vision: identify who’s involved (the “design agents”), conduct your research, craft your personas and scenarios, script and produce how the final product should appear and/or function, and, finally, impress upon the team the vision of the project itself.

One key point Jared made was that the true goal is not the product itself, which he calls the envisionment, but the overall vision of your product: a shared story and a unified perspective. You should be able to ask every member of your team about your project and have them give the same details of your project’s story: its purposes, aspirations, and triumphs. They should be able to describe the current experience of how your product or service is used, the “aspriational experience” (its next stage of evolution), and understand the research that supports both.

This concept of a shared vision, what I’ve been thinking of as a “vision quest” of sorts, has resonated with me the most since the Tour.  I’ve collected some thoughts, based both on my professional experiences and aspects of Jared’s presentation, on what a “vision quest” needs to succeed.

First, you need a knowledgeable and passionate leader. It could be a C-suite executive who serves as the sponsor of the project or the project team lead, but they must have both attributes. They have to be knowledgeable to indicate the overall direction the team needs to travel in, which milestones need to be achieved, and how to motivate the team to reach their destiny effectively and within a reasonable project schedule. They have to be passionate, so that when they rally, guide, instruct, approve, direct, or correct, they are doing so in a way that inspires the team to attack their work with gusto, learn from the challenges they experience along the way, and feel the surge of delight that accompanies a successful project launch. Oh, and they need to be honest; no buzzwords or business speak. Leaders who speak from the heart and are transparent about their efforts are far more compelling to me.

Second, you need a motivated and inspired team. As a team member for my own projects, I am far more compelled to complete a task with flair when it’s something I enjoy, believe in, and feel holds a higher purpose for the users (whoever they may be). Of course, not every facet of a project is going to be candy canes and sunbeams, but that’s where the aforementioned leader can lend their knowledge and passion to motivate and inspire. Keep rallying the team. Keep them informed of their goals. Congratulate them when they’ve achieved their milestones and counsel them through their inevitable challenges. Give each of them the opportunity to research and develop their own innovations by channeling their individual passions and strengths. Think Google and its policy of allowing their developers to pursue their own interests. By giving them the space to explore and expand their own skillsets, it gives them the ability to bring these feats back to the core project and apply their knowledge to the overall vision. Plus, it keeps them happy, which is always key.

Third, you need a clear and ambitious vision. I’m fully aware that most folks don’t think of the words “inspiration” or “destiny” when working on quarterly strategic objectives and their ilk. But they can and should. This is where the concept of a vision can be stilted or stunted. You hear about corporations issuing mission or vision statements that are supposed to outline their direction and their goals. They’re more fluff than fervor. You can say you want to a “leader” in your line of business, but that’s way too obvious. Of course you want to lead; that’s why you’re here in the first place, isn’t it? To me, it doesn’t serve any purpose to state what’s assumed; we should all strive for excellence. Think about it: you wouldn’t say, “Our mission is to never be mediocre, second-rate, or ordinary.” That’s assumed, too, but you don’t trumpet it to the world. Jared fully acknowledged this in his presentation by citing how specific, measureable goals in a vision stand a far higher chance of succeeding and inspiring the team to action than vague or generic ones. This is where the secret recipe of knowledge and passion come together to make the perfect menu. The specific goals cited in your vision should be crafted in equal parts knowledge (research, personas, etc.) and passion (the user’s experience and your envisionment). Be ambitious. Get it done, and do it right.

Jared had many other key pieces of advice and several clever examples in his presentation, but the “vision quest” is where I wanted to focus my attention with this entry. So, here’s my closing question: have you had a “vision quest” with any of your projects? What led you down the path of inspiration and brought you to victory? When have you seen just the opposite occur? Let’s share and discuss.

Update (6-20-10): Made a correction to one of my opening paragraphs to fix my paraphrasing of Jared’s vision/envisionment, which I had gotten backwards. See the comments for an excellent follow-up by Jared on how team visions can flourish and succeed at lower levels of management and in smaller chunks of an overall project lifecycle.

Confessions of an Occasional Introvert

For 95% of my daily existence, I consider myself to be a fairly chatty, reasonably extroverted type of person. Those who know me well always comment on “how quiet” things are when I’m not around. It never seems to border on the excessive or annoying (at least, I hope), save when I’ve had “too much of a good thing” with regards to coffee.

Every now and again, though, I prefer not to talk at all. Consider me an “occasional introvert”.

This is hard for folks to understand. I’m not mad (as in “angry” vs. “insane”). I’m not ignoring anyone. I’m perfectly content to communicate from behind the electronic walls of e-mail, Twitter, etc.; I’d just prefer we’d leave it at that for the time being, thanks. Sometimes the back-and-forth rituals of conversation are not how I want to be that day.

If we must bring psychology into play, I suppose it’s some leftover remnant from being an only child. You get used to being a “lone wolf”, and that sticks with you, no matter how old or seemingly well-adjusted you’ve become.

So, bear with me, folks. No offense intended, and you did nothing wrong. I just need a little quiet time.

Some Lessons Learned from Live-Tweeting the UIE Web App Masters Tour

I was lucky to attend the User Interface Engineering Wep App Masters Tour in Philadelphia this week. The event, arranged by Jared Spool and his talented team at UIE, starred luminaries such as Stephen Anderson, Jason Fried, Luke Wroblewski, Hagan Rivers, and Bill Scott. Since I’m a prolific user of Twitter, I decided to tweet throughout the two-day event to share quotes and key points from the presentations with my followers.

I learned a lot during my tenure as “citizen journalist” and would like to share some of my experiences and a few “lessons learned” that I picked up along the way.

Folks familiar with on-the-ground Twitter reporting call it “live tweeting”. You’re basically giving your audience a taste of what’s happening at the event; this can be quite helpful for those who were unable to attend in person. You may also decide to share your own opinions on event proceedings, give instant feedback to the hosts, or share related topics and links with anyone else watching your feed. The critical piece that connects these posts together is a common hashtag. This is either issued by the event organizers or crowdsourced into existence by the attendees. In this case, the hashtag for the App Masters Tour was #uiewamt.

On Day 1 of the event, I hit the ground running as soon as I was seated and hooked up. I let my followers know I would be tweeting from the Tour and blazed ahead. There was a lot of really good stuff the presenters were sharing; I estimated that, at some points, I was tweeting as frequently as once every 40 seconds. I got some complements on my reporting, both from folks at the event and those watching from afar.

Before lunch on Day 2, though, I was made aware that it was getting to be too much for some. One of my followers made a helpful comment asking those live-tweeting from events to use the conference Twitter handle at the start of each post to “reduce noise” in his account. It was a simple solution to put into play and I started to use it immediately. Those already following the conference hashtag could continue to read what I was posting, but my followers were now freed from my Twitter frenzy if they weren’t interested in the Tour. It was a great compromise.

There are two key advantages I see for the “quiet approach” to live-tweeting:

  • You spare others from being bored. If you’ve been chatty on Twitter, you’ve probably accumulated a decent collection of individuals over time. Not everyone may be interested in reading a blow-by-blow transcript of something that isn’t as near and dear to their hearts as you. If you become too boring to them, even for a few days, you might get dropped.
  • You reduce noise pollution. If your followers include you among others they enjoy reading for a diverse source of news and information, suddenly seeing nothing but you in your timeline could become annoying very quickly. I’ve stopped following people who seem to do nothing but retweet all day, every day.

The only thing you stand to lose with this method is the “discoverability” that would be gained from your followers seeing something at random whenever they tune into your posts. That could be fixed, however, by giving them a heads-up on upcoming proceedings (see the third bullet below).

Besides the “quiet reporting” concept, here are some other thoughts and suggestions I came up with for live-tweeting at events:

  • Monitor your frequency. See how often you’re posting once the first presentation of the day is done. If you’re pushing out updates more frequently than once every five minutes, it may be too much for your stream. Consider toning it down, or, if the information is too good not to share, switch to “quiet” reporting.
  • Take feedback, and graciously. Look to your mentions to see what your followers or others are saying about your reporting style and adjust accordingly. If they love what you’re putting out, or getting annoyed by the chatter, they’ll let you know either way. Whatever you decide to do, be prompt and polite about it.
  • Remind your followers about your “quiet” reporting between breaks. If you decided to run “quiet”, give your followers a heads-up on the next session. Drop the event handle so the tweet shows up in their timelines and share some details about what’s coming up next. That way, if they’re interested in that topic or presenter, they can pick up the hashtag and follow along at their own pace.
  • Check in with the event hosts. I haven’t heard of a situation where you’d run afoul by posting comments at an event, but checking in is probably a good courtesy if you’ll be running at full speed. I realized halfway through the first morning’s proceedings at the UIE Tour that I was tweeting two to three times more frequently than another person who represented UIE. If that person had been designated as the “official” source of information at the event, I might have diluted their efforts. Thankfully, the good folks at UIE were very gracious about the added contributions.

I’m looking forward to the next opportunity to live-tweet an event, and hope my suggestions will make the experience pleasant and informative for everyone. I’d like to thank the folks at UIE for, as Jared Spool likes to say, encouraging my behavior.

Have you live-tweeted an event and have helpful suggestions to share as well? Let’s hear about them and discuss; I’m always up for alternate perspectives. I also welcome feedback on my thoughts as well.

Update (8-3-10): Since I wrote this post, I’ve done further experimentation with live tweeting. I followed the advice of either an article or tweet I read earlier this year (and for the life of me can’t remember which it was) and stood up a unique Twitter account to handle live tweets: @noisymatrix.

My strategy so far is as follows:

  • Prior to the event, I’ll announce on my primary account, @brightmatrix, some basic information about the event and when I plan to start posting.
  • Once the event is underway, I’ll shift over to @noisymatrix and start tweeting. My tweets use whatever hashtag has been chosen for the event or seminar.
  • When the session is over, I encourage folks who enjoyed my reporting to follow my primary account.
  • Finally, I compile all of my tweets into a blog post and publish them within a day or so of the event. This way, folks can read the entire recap at their leisure. I’ll announce the blog post on both accounts.

I’ve only done this once so far (for a July 30 Radian6 event on open leadership in social media), but I think this method will be more successful. Stay tuned!

I Had More in Common With 37signals Than I Realized

This week, I was fortunate enough to hear Jason Fried, founder of 37signals, talk from “behind the curtain” about his work philosophies at the Philadelphia UIE Web App Masters Tour.

The talented folks at the Chicago-based web application firm run a tight ship. They work in teams of three to five, depending on the nature of the project (two developers and one designer for standard projects; one extra each for “stack” projects). They work in iterations, with each lasting about two months; at the end of each iteration, the work is either finished, or it isn’t. The teams are reassigned after each iteration so everyone gets to know everyone else’s skillsets (avoiding the “hit by a bus” scenario). Many times, the teams get to choose how and on what they’d like to work. There’s no paper prototyping, sketching (beyond broad, simple strokes with Sharpies), or Photoshop mock-ups; they dive right into interactive wireframes using HTML. There’s no user testing before a new build is launched. 37signals accepts feature requests, but they typically scrap them; most times, it’s only when a specific request or complaint keeps popping up that it gets attention. Overall, it’s an amazing and eye-opening process, particularly for those of us working in larger organizations, where such a culture would be challenging, if not impossible, to institute.

But the true take-away for me that day was this: I had more in common with 37signals than I realized.

For seven years, I worked for a medical publishing firm. I was part of a four-person web team: a director, two database developers, and me: a web designer and front-end coder. We worked on online versions of medical journals and image databases. Our process was generally effective but very informal: no product documentation, no project management, no user testing, no multi-year projects, and maybe two to three formal meetings a year. We knew what was expected, came up with our own solutions, and make fixes and improvements organically. Since there was only four of us, we developed overlapping skillsets so there would be coverage for vacations, sick days, etc.

I never really gave the work philosophy at my old job much thought, but this week it hit me: I’ve had a similar experience to the 37signals model.

I’ve been here before. This was an interesting revelation.

The organization where I work now has a much larger workforce and stronger hierarchy than 37signals. Meetings and project management are part of daily life. Much of what Jason preaches resonates deeply with my colleagues, who can feel burdened by day-long kickoff meetings, rounds of conference calls, and chains of e-mails. They see an austere, agile, and geographically-agnostic workplace, with its stream of consciousness projects and “meetings suck” mentality, as Nirvana.

OK, so I had a variation of their experience at my old job, but I’ve since moved on. What about now? Is the 37signals philosophy scalable in large organizations like mine?

Yes and no.

Sure, meetings can and do suck, but in order to get things moved along at my office, it’s often a necessary evil. You have budgets that span several years and strict accounting rules to follow. You have to be wary of risks to security, reputation, and authenticity. You have to play well with multiple teams from varied disciplines and management structures. It’s not that these things don’t exist in some form or flavor in the 37signals plane of existence, but they’re magnified significantly when the people, roles, and responsibilities carry the weight borne by large businesses. My organization can’t run on 2-month iterations or release new features and services without user testing; there’s too much at stake.

The key word here is the “organization”. The business model we follow is too massive for the 37signals way of life, but not the individual teams within it. That’s where the fast-and-loose lifestyle of the agile development firm can take root. I’ll take one example from Jason’s presentation to show how some of their attributes could be applied effectively and painlessly.

During the 37signals session, one trait quickly became clear to me: there was no e-mail between his teams. None. The folks who work on iterations don’t use it during development. Instead, they use an in-house product called Campfire that allows for efficient and swift teamwork. It’s a threaded, collaborative interface, where comments and features for a unique project are posted in a chronology. Team members can upload images and give feedback; everything exists in a proper order and context. There’s no “hey, did you get my e-mail?” nonsense chatter, crossed wires from team members sending messages over one another, or overflowing inboxes (which people don’t often keep well organized anyway). It lets the 37signals team get changes done on-the-fly, in real time, and with great speed. If individual teams in my company were to adopt Campfire or something similar, it could save countless hours of time spent wondering where everyone was in the development, review, and release of our projects. It would help my boss stay on top of our projects and simplify approvals. It’s less burdensome and not as obnoxious as typical help desk ticket systems. And, since every post is captured and recorded, there’s an automatic paper trail created as you work (which should satisfy the auditors).

Think about it. Wouldn’t that make your day so much easier?

We can’t all be like Jason Fried or 37signals. Obviously, not everyone or every organization can or should work the same way. However, there are a gold mine of innovative and efficient practices in their philosophies that, taken in smaller chunks, can translate into your universe. Replacing e-mail with a system like Campfire, for example, could be an easy victory, and one that I hope to discuss with my peers.

Do you work at a mid-size or large company? What could you take from 37signals that would work for you, or have you already done so? I’d love to hear your thoughts, findings, and stories.

No Good Tweet Goes Unpunished

I want to share a rather curious exchange I had recently that evolved into a discussion on Twitter etiquette.

This May, I helped manage an annual conference at my company that brings together over 100 digital communicators from across the country to discuss topics related to the online world, such as content strategy, user experience, and social media. We decided to stand up a unique Twitter account this year to allow attendees, both in-person at the event and those tuning in remotely, to stay connected, share their thoughts, and let us know how we were doing. On the second day, I noticed a negative post by one of our attendees about our speakers. I wanted to do right by the comment, so I responded to them publicly from our event account, acknowledging their dissatisfaction and encouraging them to complete our conference survey so we’d know how to do better next time.

Within a few hours, I received an instant message from them asking me to never talk to them publicly and instead use direct messages. I was a bit confused by the request and its tone, as their feed was public. When I mentioned this, the attendee said they didn’t want that comment to be read by us. “Why post then?” I asked. “It’s for my friends only,” they replied. After asking me again not to respond to them in public, I repeated my offer of completing our feedback form and opted to end the conversation.

I sat there for a moment and thought, this is absurd. Why was this person getting offended that I responded to a public tweet they made, especially when, in my opinion, the response was handled in a professional manner? After thinking over the situation for a few days, I determined that the attendee hadn’t wanted their co-workers to know about their Twitter account. I had unintentionally “outed” them to anyone who was following the event feed.

So how did I find the complaint? During the event, I had noticed a reply to the attendee from one of our speakers, responding to a compliment given to them by this person. Curious to know what was said, I looked over the attendee’s feed, and that’s where I spotted it, a few posts down in their timeline. Now, this person said they didn’t want their comment to be read, and they did a good job not making it obvious. They didn’t mention our feed or use the unique hashtag we established, so it wouldn’t have shown up in our monitoring. I only discovered it because the speaker used our event hashtag in their reply and included the attendee’s handle.

I was pretty certain I had done nothing out of line, but the conversation was still nagging me a bit, so I did what any self-respecting twitternaut would do and crowdsourced a question: did I break an unnamed rule of Twitter etiquette? One of my followers said that there’s a fine line when replying to public posts, as it could be similar to someone randomly walking up to you on the street and commenting on a conversation you were having with a friend. When I elaborated that I was replying to a complaint, they replied that, in that instance, the response was probably appropriate. Another follower said “public is public” and I was not in the wrong. A third follower’s comment, which was my favorite, said that I “shattered the illusion that [the person] wasn’t talking to the entire world”.

After digesting these thoughts, here’s my conclusion: it’s all about intention.

Let’s use the person on the street analogy my follower suggested. When you’re in that sort of situation, you’re not intending the random bystander to be involved in your conversation, so if they suddenly come up to you and chime in, it becomes a violation of your privacy and it pretty unnerving as a result. With Twitter, however, if you make your timeline public, you’re pretty much intending to speak to whoever happens to be listening; that’s the whole point. Don’t be surprised to get a reply or a comment from someone whenever you tweet. Because their criticism of our event was made bare for all to see, the irked attendee shouldn’t have been irked at all. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t flag the post so it wouldn’t be obvious to find. It was public, so it was fair game.

So, what do you think? Did I cross a line and break an etiquette rule, or was I justified in my actions? I’d love to hear what others could add to the conversation.

Update (5-17-10): Two things I wanted to add: First, in order better balance the article, I decided to strike out two bits I felt strayed into “weasel word” territory. Second, I neglected to mention that the attendee promptly made their Twitter account private following our instant message exchange.

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