(Re-post of an item written in June 2008)

Many people ask the question, “Why use Twitter?”  It sometimes seems the future is too fast for many of us, and we stop to question why, when making these declarative decision tree choices.  My friends ask me why I would ever use Twitter, because nobody wants to hear about when you use the bathroom or stub your toe.  But the reality is that from the moment we get up in the morning until the moment we go to bed, thousands of social network users are engaging in the neural network conversation that is the future of media.

The tricky part to why social networks work has a little to do with the question, “What are you using it for?” and “What do you want to accomplish with it?”  Much like helping someone decide what computer they need, you don’t want to talk about processors and RAM; instead you want to ask, “What will you us the computer for?”  A social network is simply a framework for interaction – a set of tools, options, system calls.  It is useless without the focused intent of thousands or millions of users.

For me I use social networks for different things.  I use LinkedIn for managing work and professional related contact.  I don’t update or check it often but it’s a quick reference for me to look up work, track, and and host work related contacts.  I know I can always google a name + “linkedin” and will get back the work history of anyone.  I also use Facebook for managing social contacts, and work contacted in a social setting.  It’s the equivalent of hitting the bar after work.  I can see what people are up to and where their interest lie.  Sometimes I can tell their political affiliations, see photos, and track their social connections.  But even this is still a static medium.

I use Dopplr to track my travels and correlate them with those of my friends.  It’s also nice, as my schedule changes, for others to see and reflect those changes.  It’s a static site that I don’t visit often, but like many other networks – does one thing, but does it well.  I also use Flickr for storing my photo lifestream and keeping up on others.  This provides me an insight into their travels and whatever they find interesting at the time.  Dopplr nicely ties into Flickr allowing people to see my photos per trip.

Finally, I use Twitter to keep hourly tabs on the lifestream updated of my friends as well as my contacts.  It takes very little time to type out or key in 140 characters whenever I am doing something of note or interest.  It enables me to know about the more mundane aspects of the lives of my friends.  The things you forget in the day to day and would not bother to mention even in daily conversations.

But all this socializing sounds like nothing more than XML tagging of your life.  The key is that social networks rely on the participation of many people.  If I joined each of these networks as the only member the information I stored there would be of no use.  The reason I care and even engage these systems is because they change with the input of others.  I can watch, monitor, and even search through these for ways to leverage the collective mind share of others.  On LinkedIn I can read feedback people have had in working with others.  On Facebook I can see who is connected with who.  On Twitter I can search for events in a city or place I am visiting.  We use these systems because any one person can leverage the collective stream of data from the others.  The more we add the more any one person can take away.