Twitter and Inclusiveness

The unique ways in which Twitter is being used as a communication tool are simply amazing. The use cases go far beyond simple status updates, from customer support to conference feedback. And the Twitter universe keeps growing, with new users and apps on a daily basis.

What still amazes me though, is how many people don't care about Twitter. Denver - where I live - is not New York or parts of California, where I assume the ratio of Twitter-user per capita must be more substantial. And the same is probably true for the tech industry in general, at tech conferences, meetups, barcamps etc. But when I'm around friends, many tech-savvy thirty-somethings, none of them care about Twitter. It's not something they use as part of their job or for networking purposes and they use Facebook to keep up with friends - so why bother updating another social media site? And they are just one example of many groups that are generally not on Twitter, and most likely will not be in the (short term?) future.

This has a serious impact on the effectiveness of using Twitter as a channel for feedback or dialogue. The hashtag sign is probably one of the most straight-forward, immediate discussion boards on the web and mobile - a wonderful back-channel at conferences or venue for chatter during TV shows. But it's limited to the Twitter audience while leaving everyone else wondering about the strange # sign. I've been to a few non-tech conferences that embraced a Twitter hashtag for conference communication and the Twitter conversation barely included a handful of people.

As someone working in the realm of civic engagement, I love the opportunities Twitter offers for public participation. For example to have a message board at events to collect instant feedback or ideas. Or to host a mobile dialogue, using a hashtag to discuss elements of a proposed masterplan right on-site in the neighborhood. Technically, Twitter allows us to do that. But using Twitter would leave the majority of voices out of the conversation, without even talking about the fact that plenty of Twitter users don't tweet from their phones.

With Twitter not only being a great communication tool, but also a wonderful exchange format with an open API, the question is: Can we use other channels of communication to broaden the user base while taking advantage of Twitter's unique ease-of-use and interactivity?

Text messaging has reached widespread adoption, with 65% of users 50 years or younger texting, up to 85% of those in the group between 18 - 29 years old. Twitter is not anywhere close to that. (I have experienced the unexperienced-ness of the 89% of those 65 years and older who don't text, but let's ignore that for now...).

Would adding a mobile option that is integrated into Twitter make those #hashtag conversations more inclusive?

That's what we would like to explore further. We built a prototype of such a platform at It allows users to mobilize Twitter accounts and hashtags, while participants can text in responses without the need of a Twitter subscription or smartphone. It's a second step towards inclusive, mobile dialogues (with Twitter's hashtags being the first one), but far from the last. And we'd love to hear your feedback and ideas. 

Building Social Media Infrastructure to Engage Publics: Twitter Vote Report

pmfr2Great in-depth analysis of Twitter Vote Report, the first election monitoring of its kind:

This field report traces how a committed group of volunteers harnessed the micro-blogging tool Twitter to create innovative public media 2.0 experiments—first to actively engage users to report on their voting experiences in the 2008 U.S. election, and then to document their experiences of the 2009 presidential inauguration. Along the way, these two projects demonstrated how journalists and advocates can effectively leverage a range of both commercial and open source social media tools to organize, publicize and implement citizen reporting projects, creating infrastructure for related future projects. Organizers have since worked to archive and repurpose the code and collaboration materials from these efforts for use in 2009 election monitoring initiatives in India and Iran.

Read the full report >>

We also feature this case study in our upcoming paper "Promising Practices for Online Engagement". 

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