Microblogging Inside and Outside the Workplace

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Kate Ehrlich and N. Sadat Shami have written a paper (accepted to ICWSM 2010) that compares IBMers’ use of Twitter and an internal micro-blogging tool (with the unfortunate title of BlueTwit). The paper analyzes tweeting patterns of 34 people over a four month period. The authors found that people in their sample tended to use both system more for question asking/answering and dissemination of information than for status updates, which contrasts with Namaan et al.’s finding that “meformers” (i.e., people who tweet about what they are up to) out-number “informers” in the sample they analyzed.

Ehrlich and Shami’s study found that people used these tools to improve the social status: internally to manage their reputation, to be seen as a source of useful answers rather than just of questions, and on Twitter both to promote their company and to develop their professional status.

In addition to similarities between the two systems, they found differences as well. People used Twitter more to provide information to others, whereas BlueTwit was used more for asking questions and for directed posts. This disparity of use is likely due to different social groupings (colleagues vs. the public) represented by BlueTwit and Twitter, but more conversational use may also be attributed to BlueTwit’s having a 256 character limit for each message compared to Twitter’s 140 characters.

There was also an interesting comment that relates to my interest in managing Twitter search results. Ehlrich and Shami write that

Although BlueTwit contained mostly work related posts, possibly because of being an internal tool, some users had concerns about spending too much time wading through various pieces of information. Finding intelligent ways of filtering information in microblogging tools such that only relevant information to an individual user is visible is needed for widespread use of microblogging in the workplace.

We describe one way to help people be more efficient at making sense of moderate collections of tweets in a position paper we’ll be presenting at the upcoming Microblogging workshop at CHI 2010, including structuring search results by person, by conversation, and by document, and by allowing people to pivot among these facets. It would be interesting to deploy this kind of an interface on top of BlueTwit to see what the differences in use are between enterprise and public microblogging tools.