Originally written for the YouthNet blog.
Earlier this afternoon, I attempted to clean out my inbox. I didn’t get very far. Old newsletters could be deleted easily; so could old invitations to events, sales emails, and spam. However, I found myself distracted by an emailed link to this half-forgotten YouTube video, entitled The Machine is Us/ing Us.
The video is from 2007, and of course, the internet has moved on over the past two years. However, I was struck by the continued relevance of a question which appears three minutes and one second into the animation: ‘Who will organise all this data?’ And the answers, ‘We will… You will.’
Last week, I was invited to get involved in a Twitter chat about using social media for social change (using the ‘#4Change’ hash tag). While I’ve been using Twitter since mid-2008, this was the first time I’ve participated in an organised, on-Twitter event – and another opportunity to reflect on this ‘who will organise all this data?’ question.
Earlier in the year, I went to Twestival, and in a crowded, dark and noisy warehouse in London, I commented to a fellow attendee that it was so much easier to find people on the internet. Back then, in the distant days of February, I was talking about finding them via Google or perhaps through using the Technorati blog index. I meant by searching for people or organisations based on the words they’d used on their websites or other online content. I still do that.
But, increasingly, Twitter itself is becoming one of my major communication tools. It’s often where I hear breaking news – both on the world stage and in the lives of my contacts. It’s where I can ask questions, get advice. However, with millions of people now twittering, and even with only 200 of those people on my personal follow list, it’s often a case of too many people speaking at once. To make sense of it all, I’ve found that I need start categorising my contacts, using tools like TweetDeck. There’s my ‘all friends’ list; then there’s those I talk to on a day-to-day basis. There’s another column for direct messages, one where I can monitor updates relevant to work, and so on. Often it’s just as important to say, ‘What can I ignore, what’s not important for me to know right now?’
The #4Change hash tag is another way of organising/filtering information – a way of bringing together information on a particular topic: in this case, information how people worldwide are using social media for social change. However, it’s not just the # that makes things happen. It’s also us. It’s Tom Dawkins from Ashoka, who had the idea, defined the hash tag, recruited regional organisers. It was setting a time when people worldwide could join in (even if this was between 10pm and midnight here in the UK!) It was sending @ messages to particular contacts, in the hope that it would make the tweet about the chat stand out amongst all the other tweets they received – and the excitement of, later in the day, seeing some of those people join in the discussion.
Twitter is another social media tool. It might be the next Facebook, it might never really catch on. That’s not important. What seems increasingly important though is how we individually make sense of the data we receive, how we filter this information, what we chose to trust and why. As representatives of charities and other not-for-profit organisations, we also may need to consider how we can reach out through this barrage of information to raise awareness and support for our cause. It’s something that I’m sure will continue to be discussed in future #4Change chats.
For now though, it’s back to my email sorting. Who will organise all this data? Much as I sometimes wish I could give others the responsibility of adding ‘okay to delete’ tags to my inbox, that’s just not practical. So, who will organise all this data?
In this case, I will.