Tag Archives: instant_messaging

Microstreaming in the Middle

monkeymiddleI noted, in a post titled Shifting Sands, last week that I am twittering far more than IMing these days and gave the key reason why – it’s about us, not you or me.  I still think that’s the most important reason, but I have also discovered another:

Twittering is neither synchronous nor asynchronous; it lies somewhere in between.

“Whoa!”, you say.  “That’s impossible.”  You are correct from a technical standpoint, of course.  Twittering (and microstreaming in general) is an asynchronous form of communication.  There are delays between tweet publication, reading, and response.  Those delays could take days or hours, but they are most often measured in minutes or even seconds.  It is this broad range of possible interaction time with tweets that leads me to say that microstreaming lies somewhere in the middle of real-time and asynchronous communication.

Let me explain this further by contrasting two other forms of online communication — instant messaging and e-mail.  As the name clearly states, IM is instant or synchronous.  There are slight delays between message and response, but those are generally measured in seconds.  If it is believed that there will be a significant delay in response, most of us would choose to send an e-mail instead.  On the other hand, we may quickly receive a response to an e-mail (i.e. in a minute or two), but we don’t have that expectation when we use the medium to communicate.  We clearly classify e-mail as an asynchronous communication vehicle and IM as a synchronous one.

Microstreaming seems to have a different, flexible set of expectations for communication time associated with it.  In some cases, we hope for a nearly immediate response to a tweet.  Other times, we really don’t care how long it takes to get a reply.  In fact, we occasionally tweet with no expectation of any response whatsoever!  We merely communicate a thought or feeling to the collective just to get it out of our head.  These varying expectations for microstreaming communication time are what leads me to say that the channel is neither synchronous nor asynchronous, but somewhere in between.

Is temporal flexibility the secret sauce of microstreaming?  Please let me know what you think.


Social Software: The Unemployed Knowledge Worker’s Best Friend

layoff-headlineReading headline after headline announcing new job cuts has sparked some thought regarding what’s different between this nascent recession and the last economic slowdown of the early 1990s.  Several things, to be sure, but the most important one may be the ability of the unemployed knowledge worker to connect with others to mine employment and new business opportunities.

I predict that we will remember the the 2008-2009 recession as the time when the public availability of free social software proved to be the unemployed knowledge worker’s best friend and savior.  And, perhaps, the global economy’s as well.

When I was laid off in 2003, after the Internet bubble burst, I had several tools with which to stay connected with my professional and social networks.  Telephone and e-mail were the primary communication vehicles, of course.  Instant messaging wasn’t as pervasive then as it is today, but I used it to stay in touch with a few people in my network.  The best method to network was — and still is — by meeting with someone face-to-face.  In fact, it was an in-person conversation that triggered the chain of events that lead to my employment at IBM in 2004.

Knowledge workers in this economic downturn have all of those tools available, plus several more.  Online profiles (LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace), blogs, microstreaming (Twitter, FriendFeed), content sharing (GoogleDocs, Box.net), bookmarking (Del.icio.us, Digg), and other species of social software have greatly increased our ability to stay connected and work with others in our professional and social networks.

As I’ve noted previously on this blog, we rely less and less on employers to provide the communication and collaboration tools needed to connect and work with others.  That’s great news for those who have, or are about to, become unemployed!  Knowledge workers in 2008 have so many more ways to mine their contacts to find regular or contract employment compared to those who lost jobs five years ago.  The ability of unemployed knowledge workers to explore business ideas and start new ventures has also been increased by the public availability of free social software.

I am optimistic that the current recession, as painful as it will be, will breed the kinds of opportunities that will leave all of us better off in the long run.  There is one caveat to my optimistic outlook though.  If you haven’t been maintaining and building your professional and social networks all along, your ability to leverage them to find employment or start a business will be very limited.  It’s not too late to start building networks now via social software, but don’t expect to harvest immediately from a plot that you’ve just sown.

Shifting Sands

sand-dunesI’ve noticed a pronounced shift in my synchronous online communication activity lately.  In this post, I’ll share details and then ask whether or not you are experiencing a similar shift and why.


I began using Twitter and IBM’s internal equivalent, BlueTwit, about three months ago.  I know — way late to the game, but better late than never!  Since then, I have found that tweeting has replaced IMing as my preferred method of communicating virtually in real-time.  That’s true both behind and beyond the IBM firewall.

There are probably several reasons for this shift, but in retrospect I believe they can be summed up in one statement:

It’s about us, not you or me.

In the Twittersphere, communication is generally addressed to the collective rather than to an individual.  You can post a question to no one in particular and quickly get an answer back (or, more likely, several answers!)  Conversely, information can easily be shared instantaneously with several people.

Twitter expands real-time communication to a one-to-many model, as opposed to IM, which was created to facilitate person-to-person, synchronous communication.  I explained this difference to my wife just last night, when she asked me with whom I was twittering.  When I explained how I interact with the Twittersphere, she looked at me as if I was a crazy man talking to thin air in public!

Isn’t it more productive to share what you know or what you are learning with everyone, rather than just one person?

The belief in the verity of the affirmative answer to that question has driven me to nearly stop using IM altogether and communicate almost exclusively via Twitter and BlueTwit.  Perhaps I’ve had an epiphany much like my colleague, Luis Suarez, had regarding the use of social software instead of e-mail (chronicled here.)  More likely, it was my non-techie wife’s innocent question and disbelieving reaction that made me realize that my online synchronous collaboration channel of choice had changed, probably irreversibly, and why the shift had occurred.

How about you?  Has tweeting begun to occupy a larger percentage of your real-time virtual communication activity, at the expense of IMing?  If so, why?  If not, why not?  Please share your thoughts in a comment below.  If the accumulated feedback is interesting enough, I might create a short, quantitative survey on the topic!