UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

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Evidence of Personal Usage Of Social Web Services

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12 Jan 2011

Gathering Evidence on Personal Use of Social Web Services

A recent blog post on “My information consumption habits or how having a smartphone changed the way I work” by Aaron Tay alerted me to tools which can be used to provide an insight into personal usage of various collaborative and communications tools. As the title of Aaron’s post suggests such analyses can help to confirm, or perhaps identify, changes in personal working practices.

Evidence of My Use of Twitter

We may think that we know how we use various tools, but might we be mis-remembering? The MyFirstTweet service tells me that I posted my first tweet on 14 March 2007 : a boring post about filling in my expenses – just like everyone else, I had no idea of what Twitter was about and what benefits it might provide. However I might like to think that I quickly spotted Twitter’s potential and have been a regular user since then. However the Tweetstats service gives a different picture:

Interpreting the Evidence

It seems I made little use of Twitter during 2007 (peaking at 25 tweets in August 2007). It was only in January and February 2008 that I made significant use of Twitter, with 105 and 130 tweets. But this was not sustainable and there were no tweets in the following three months (although this, I subsequently discovered, was incorrect due, I suspect, to a failure for the tweets to have been archived).

Ignoring the uncertainties of my Twitter usage over the missing period it seems that regular Twitter postings began in July 2008 – and from the archive of my tweets on the Backupmytweets service I discovered that this seems to have been when use of Twitter at events and event hashtags was starting to take off in the JISC environment: “AT the JISC Innovation Forum, Keele Univ., listening to Sarah Porter. #jif08“.  And looking at the Twitter statistics for my colleague Paul Walk I see a similar trend, with little usage in 2007, but growth beginning in February 2008, around the time that I started to make significant use of the service.

Incidentally there was a gap in the data for September – November 2008 which made me suspect that my apparent lack of usage from April – June 2008 was due to a glitch in the system, and this was confirming by looking at my Twitter archives from which I can see that I had posted to Twitter during these months. Indeed April 2008 was the month I attended the Museums and the Web 2008 conference and first started to make intensive use of twitter at and event, as illustrated by my social tweet after arriving at the conference. So having started writing this post based on an assumption of the importance of gathering evidence I’m now having to flag the fact that evidence can be flawed (I assume the missing data might be due to the teething problems Twitter servers experienced due to growth in usage).

Since 2008 I have tweeted every month. But this evidence suggests that for over a year after first using Twitter I hadn’t found a particular use for the service. Perhaps this is likely to be the case for other social networking services – there is a need for there to be a significant user community before the benefits can be appreciated. Or, alternatively, perhaps there was a need for better Twitter tools to be developed. Initially I made use of the Web interface, but in July 2008 I was mainly using the Twhirl desktop client and by November 2008 TweetDeck was my preferred desktop client (and, from the archive of my tweets I found that on 8 July 2008 I commented thatTweetdeck 0.15.1 beta is much better than 0.15 :-)“).

Reflections on Implications For Use of Other Social Web Services

The above graph suggests that in the case of Twitter it was only after two years of first using the service that it became embedded in my working practices. I wonder if this pattern will be reflected in my uses of other Social Web services. And if this pattern is replicated across other early adopters of services what might the implications be for the service providers? Perhaps such patterns will demonstrate the importance of building a critical mass of users quickly and the need to ensure that funding from venture capitalists is available to fund the service while its usage if still low?  But what of developments funded in the public sector? Is a two year funding cycle which may be typical long enough to build up sufficient momentum to demonstrate the value of services whose effectiveness may be dependent on large numbers of users?

9 Responses to “Evidence of Personal Usage Of Social Web Services”

  1. Hi Brian,

    It looks like you beat me by a month to post first to Twitter. Of course, at the time it was useless for anything useful, so we all waited until it became fashionable and tried again. A bit like blogging really – in the beginning, having a blog at all was so cool that posting the results of whatever web-quiz-survey-pirate-thingy was good enough. Later, we had to actually write something.

  2. Re: “a boring post about filling in my expenses – just like everyone else” – actually, no, not like everyone else! :-)

    • Well your first tweet (posted at 08:26 on 8 June 2007) was “just cut myself shaving – bollox (no, that’s not what i was shaving)“. OK, not boring, but not an example of engagement with one’s peers that we might like to use to demonstrate the professional benefits of Twitter :-) BTW I’m also not surprised you cut yourself shaving if you were tweeting at the same time :-)

  3. Oddly(?), I used Facebook for about a year and then found I had no use for it ;-)

  4. Matt Ewens said

    Hi Brian,

    Well not long after attending the Maximising Online Effectiveness, JISC course in London – I helped to setup our social network (ning: I also setup Slideshare, Vimeo, and Twitter accounts and started adding resources. What I have noticed after only using Twitter for a couple of months is that I am finding a huge range of resources and links from other educational enthusiasts – so I retweet these and our followers are slowly increasing daily. I found out about – now when I sleep creates a publication from my twitter lists, it seems quite good and a new one is published everyday – which is kind of a more visual way of digesting hopefully some of the most useful twitter chunks from our ‘fresher’ Twitter account. Hopefully the hash tags I am starting to add to our tweets will help to add more of our own content to the publication. Well anyway I just wanted to point out that the benefits of social networking are potentially very good indeed, I am imagining our Twitter account after a year of working on it, including all the other services, which I have RSS fed (although I don’t think people still realise the benefits of RSS) The other point is that in fact our quantitative impact has more than doubled since I have introduced these services, including help from my colleagues at the RSC SW. Thanks again….p.s I never knew who won the pitching competition at the event – I think I ended up contradicting myself! Matt

  5. It took me about 6 months to reach more or less steady state as far as I can tell from my tweetstats summary:

    so rather different profile to yours. I’m not sure which of us is typical – probably neither.

    Interesting that it clearly shows me as a primarily work-related tweeter (weekday mornings mainly).

    • I suspect there isn’t a “typical” Twitter user – but there may be a number of clusters of usage patterns. I suspect you and I are intensive Twitter users at conferences (whether we’re attending or participating remotely) – but that won’t be a pattern of usage used by many outside our environment. For me I feel it can be beneficial for users to be able to understand their usage patterns based on evidence.

  6. […] January 2011 in a post on Evidence of Personal Usage Of Social Web Services I described how use of the Tweetstats service provided me with evidence of growth of my Twitter […]

  7. […] in January 2011 a post on Evidence of Personal Usage Of Social Web Services described the long gestation period for services such as Twitter. As I concluded “in the […]

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