Sunday, 11 April 2010 00:00

ITSuccess TweetJam

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TweetJam Picture

Last Monday Mitch Lieberman invited me to a TweetJam on ITSuccess. My first reaction was, "What the heck is a TweetJam?" Google was of no help. All I could tell was that two of most prominent authorities on IT project failure were at the center of the meeting—Mike Krigsman and Phil Simon. The invitation was an honor. The result was summed up in my closing tweet, "@mjayliebs, that's one of the fastest hours I have spent in my life. Thank you very much for the idea and the invitation." It was one of the most educational and exciting events I have seen in years.

What is a TweetJam

Mitch arranged the ITSuccess TweetJam for his Systems Design and Analysis class (SWE130) at Champlain College. The idea came to him from a similar event by Dr. Natalie Petouhoff (@drnatalie) and William Band (@waband) called the CRMJam. The premise of a TweetJam is that people tweet on a given subject at a prearranged time, all using the same hashtag (in this case #ITSuccess). By monitoring that hashtag participants can track the conversation (TweetChat helps significantly with this).

I am still trying to figure out the most valuable aspect—the content or the event. Mitch asked only three prepared questions. The hour was a barrage of answers, questions, and secondary thoughts. As twitter is impossible to moderate, it was predictably wild. With a new message every nine seconds (see stats below), it took a few minutes to get the hang of reading different streams and differentiating the threads. It was as if drinking from a fire hose of thought.

#ITSuccess TweetJam
General Data
Maximum Age: 62
Minimum Age: 18
Average age of group: 32
Average age existing Twitter user: 39
Average age new Twitter user: 21
Under 25 (only students)
With existing accounts: 6
With new accounts: 16
Average Followers: 12
Average Tweets: 184
Over 25 (one student, all had accounts)
Average Followers: 1202
Average Tweets: 3167
Professor: 1
Students: 22
Other Participants
United States: 22
United Kingdom: 4
Canada: 1
Denmark: 1
France: 1
India: 1
Scotland: 1
South Africa: 1

TweetJam stream thread, click for readable PDF version

My fascination with the event took me down a very separate path. Do not get me wrong, the content was great, but the medium attracted my attention. I wanted to re-read the information and see the threads I missed. I decided to recreate the conversation in three dimensions—tweet, order, and thread. Some tools, like HootSuite, help with the thread; others, like TweetChat (see Mitch's capture on TweetDoc), help by filtering the hashtag, but none pull the data all together. My first problem was that for threads to be maintained people need to use the "reply to" function and applications must be thread aware. The manually created result required a little interpolation of data. However, it captures a majority of the connections. The resulting PDF, zoomed to 800%, allows you to read the actual conversation.

Social Behavior

That is all fun and cute, but what is the value? The first thing that struck me had nothing to do with project failure or success. By generating the flow chart, I could see the conversation and how it meandered, merged, branched, and dead-ended. Just like an audible conversation, there were people that were not heard. Like herd animals, people flocked to certain questions or comments. "What about role of consultants in organizations?" and "What happens when you start to disagree with a CIO? How can you get the project back on track?" got no response, while the question "Do small companies have a smaller threshold for failure than larger ones?" started a lively conversation. Looking at the threaded transcript is an education in itself.

Then there was the audience. Most of college students had to create twitter accounts for the assignment. What happened to that stereotype of twitter being a kid's toy? The average age of the new twitter user was twenty-one, for experienced users it was thirty-nine, and for the group as a whole it was thirty-two. A little research showed that Twitter started with the thirty-something crowd and spread out from there. The result is an amazingly even distribution of users by age. I assume our conversation, was low on the twenty-five to thirty-four year-olds since Mitch was looking for experience.


For Mitch's students this should have been a windfall—great brainstorming and industry contacts. The easy access to industry experts allowed them to tap into a plethora of industry knowledge. They could learn from the real life experience of others and have a series of IT professionals to draw on in the future.

Slightly refined, with a way to track threads, could make this a nice tool for initial brainstorming with remote teams. Everyone's thoughts are captured and, with the 140-character limit, it is difficult for people to pontificate or monopolize the conversation. Highly facilitated meetings are good to allow everyone a chance to talk, but some people are lost in that process of waiting for their turn, forgetting what they were going to say or are too shy to jump in. Here unanswered questions are logged and can be revisited and personalities are tempered.

Making it Better

In seventy minutes, fifty-six people sent 420 tweets—about one every nine seconds—a little over 6,900 words on one subject and a dozen threads. That is an abundance of information to absorb in an hour. To make this concept ready for prime time, tools need to include the ability to capture the threads. Being able to follow a conversation topic and revisit the history would be invaluable.

The biggest problem was that some tools dropped tweets. I could not see any of Phil Simon's tweets until I searched specifically for them after the session. Many people had the same issue; there are comments in the stream to that effect. To make matters worse, the occasional tweet was dropped. Missing an entire person is better than omitting the random tweet, since in the former you know you are missing something. This made a few people's responses, including my own, incorrect since the context was lost in the ether.

Even with this, I would join again. I will also promote it to a number of schools that I work with to create another venue to educate students and connect them to the business world.

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