If you use Twitter and think it is a valuable service then you’re probably tired of the steady stream of your friends who tell you it’s just a fad and they don’t feel compelled to join. They “don’t care what people ate for lunch.” They’re fine on their existing social networks, which these days mostly means they’re happy with Facebook. I think they’re missing something.
I’ve covered Twitter topics much in the past. I’ve talked about how Twitter is a new form of RSS (curated RSS), it’s a a new form of IM / SMS, it’s a place where business is conducted and it’s a place where advertising will drive leads due to the link sharing nature of Twitter.
But Twitter is different than Facebook because it’s more open and it’s asymmetric. Traditional social networks are more restricted to people whom I already know and information and updates are less discoverable. And as a result Twitter Networks are currently different in my mind than many other social networks. Twitter Networks allow you to build open and serendipitous relationships with new people where social networks do not.
Let me give you some examples:
Tristan Walker: I first met Tristan online when he was merely human (e.g. before having 300k followers!). He had followed me on Twitter and sent me a nice message about my blog. I always look at who follows me on Twitter. I can’t follow everybody back because I feel that this would clutter my Twitter stream and make it harder to hear from people I really know or from whom I want to learn. But I do like to follow some random people that I don’t yet know. Usually people that I think I might someday get to know. I tend to to look at their bios, sometimes click on their links, read a bit of their Tweet stream and make a quick decision whether or not to follow. If over time I don’t find any value in what they say I just unfollow in the future. So when I saw the merely mortal Tristan with a normal sized Twitter following I clicked through to his link, saw his blog, saw that he was a second year at Stanford and just thought, “hey, he seems like an interesting guy. Maybe I’ll follow him for a bit.”
The day after I first heard from Tristan I was coincidentally in Palo Alto and had a series of back-to-back meetings in one day. I had a lunch meeting scheduled with Gadi Shamia, whom I love spending time with, at Shabuway on Castro Street in Mountain View (I only mention it because if, like me, you enjoy Shabu Shabu it’s a great place to go).
But I had an hour to kill before lunch and I was on California Street in Palo Alto. I sent out a Tweet saying, “I’m in Palo Alto for an hour, anyone want to grab coffee?” Within 2 minutes I had 5 responses to meet me for coffee. One of them was Tristan. So I agreed to meet him at Printer’s Cafe. We spent an hour together. I instantly loved the guy. Great life story. Energetic. Ambitious but not too full of himself. He had just finished a project for Twitter and was doing some side work for a small 5 person company called FourSquare. If you follow them you’ll know that they’re now on fire and Tristan is now VP Business Development. It wasn’t always so. We’ve talked on the phone a few times and trade Tweets but we still only met that one time in person. Somehow he still feels like an old friend. Strange, huh?
Brad Feld: I first learned of Brad Feld like many of you – through his blog. I was raising money for my second company and having been burned by term sheets on my first company I was eager to get myself knowledgeable before signing up to take VC again. I started reading Brad’s “term sheet” series. If you haven’t read it and you’re thinking about raising money, it’s a must read. So when I first signed up for Twitter I naturally subscribed to Brad’s feed.
One day Brad Tweeted he was going to be in LA with his dad. I generally try not to stalk people I don’t know when they announce they’re in town, but as a fellow VC (and a partner in Southern California’s largest fund), I felt we had a legitimate reason to connect. As he wasn’t following me at the time I wrote to him with the @ sign as you can do in Twitter. His father, Dr. Stanley Feld, who writes his own blog and covered the encounter in this post,
“Mark Suster twittered Brad on Saturday and asked if he could meet us for breakfast on Sunday. Brad did not know Mark. Brad googled him on his Iphone. He then twittered him a yes at the Mondrian Asia Cuba at 8.30 a.m. It is an instant world out there folks.
The breakfast meeting was wonderful. Again I learned how things are done in the New World.”
It was a great breakfast. I obviously enjoyed meeting Brad, but I also really enjoyed meeting his father. Brad was originally from Dallas and his father is still a practicing doctor there. So is my uncle, Dr. Neal Sklaver. So I played the usual game of “do you know” and it turns out that they used to have practices in the same building and knew each other well! Small world.
A few weeks later I was in the Bay Area and I saw another Tweet from Brad that says that he’s traveling with the governor of Colorado who’s in town to meet with VCs. I sent a message to Brad saying that I was in town and he invited me to the meeting. This is back when Brad wasn’t disappointed with the governor Anyway, another nice, serendipitous encounter.
Ozumo Sushi: Final story – a few weeks ago I was traveling to San Francisco and had pre-booked every imaginable hour of every day for the full 5 days I was there. But I was flying in late on a Sunday night and never like to overbook the first night in case the plane isn’t on time. So when I arrived late at my hotel I decided to try an experiment. I sent out a Tweet that I was going to Ozumo Sushi in San Fran and if anyone was around they were willing to join me. This was obviously more open than my Palo Alto Tweet because I actually named the location.
What a pleasure the night was. It was late but three people still turned up: Justyn Howard (founder & CEO of Sprout Social), Jamie Quint (founder of a YCombinator company), Saumil Mehta (product lead at Kosmix). I had known Justyn for a while and he was fortuitously in town from Chicago but I had never met Saumil or Jamie. We (I?) had a great evening talking tech and startup. We even had a pretty funny end to the night. I just spoke with Jamie again today on the phone, which is what made me think to write this post.
The world is now wired, connected and open. I believe you need to be careful with your public whereabouts more than many other people seem to feel. But in a controlled way I like to get to know people through my Twitter Network in ways that other social networks don’t do it for me. I get @ replies from many people I don’t know and I try my best to answer most of them. If people have meaningful things to say, share good links, participate in the comments in my blog and introduce themselves at events, I look forward to getting to know them over time. It’s the aspect of my job I love the most – meeting new people, hearing their stories, learning and building enduring relationships. I find this new, open world very encouraging indeed.