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Suddenly: Lightning discussion

Some days ago I tried Twitter. I was signed up for a few minutes, tweeted a few times and then knew microblogging was not for me. I didn’t know exactly why. One day I had a quick conversation with an IRC buddy, and I realised why I didn’t need microblogging, and why it did not work for me.

What is microblogging about?

From what I’ve read, seen and thought, I conceive microblogging is all about sharing and in the best of the situations, benefitting, cooperating and creating something new. Who you follow and who follows you is much about who you respect and think is worth listening to, and vice versa.

While microblogging is also used much to share something that’s happening in your life, I don’t really think you’ll get the most out of it like that – and so doesn’t your followers. Of course, you are free to use microblogging for this as well, but I think other utilities, like Facebook statuses, are better for that.

Jim Campbell has actually written a pretty good article about how to write a good tweet at a conference, but I think those guidelines work with pretty much anything, if you use common sense to adapt them to said situations.

Bring the micro of microblogging to IRC

While IRC is a place of long-term discussion sets, there is no reason why it could not be a place of microdiscussions or lightning discussions, as I humorously nicknamed the concept.

It stroke me that I’ve been doing these kind of short-length discussions with various people for years. I did not know them all before bumping into them in IRC and with some, these lightning discussions were almost the exclusive way for communicating. This was my way to microblog before microblogging existed!

Later on, I realise now, when working in Open Source communities, a big part of the communication is a series of lightning talks between two or more people. While development should be as transparent as possible, it doesn’t need to be as upfront as possible. Logged and web-published IRC channels are as transparent as possible, but they are not overwhelmingly visible. From my point of view, this makes IRC a perfect place for communicating inside the developer community and demonstrates, how the micro of microblogging actually takes place in IRC.

It’s funny though how #xubuntu-devel is still not logged and published correctly to the Ubuntu IRC logs on web.

Does this prove anything?

I really like to avoid overhead on anything, and so do many people. Why would you need yet an another tool to be able to accomplish something that you can accomplish with your current tools? What’s the benefits of microblogging and IRC in relation to what I’ve covered earlier?

Okay okay, real microblogging can present the timeline of discussions better. Microblogging exposes you to a far wider possible audience. Microblogging is made comfortable to do even with your phone (so is IRC, though). Microblogging also reaches people better, considering they know how to subscribe to RSS feeds (because without those, microblogging appears as useful and lively as a real life bulletin board for the follower).

However, microblogging does not scale as well as IRC, when you need or want a broader discussion. Microblogging also does not deliver the same kind of feelings of connection and belonging to something as IRC does. While IRC does not reach a wide audience, it pretty often reaches the desired audience at least in Open Source communities. This is also as often enough, and it does provide a safe feeling that everything you say is not evaluated by the whole world. (Even crazy ideas and painful facts need to be said.)

Summa summarum

While microblogging is a new, powerful way to communicate, it’s not for me. IRC has served me microdiscussions for years, and that’s the way I’ve learned to quickly sort things out and announce things. In addition, the discussions in IRC can easily be extended to as big as I need. If I need something to stick around for a longer time, I can always update my proper blog.

Go have a lightning discussion.