Tech Etiquette or Using the Right Tool for the Job

Imagine you have a house party and you invite 25 people you’re friendly with. They don’t all know each other, but there’s a good cross over. Interesting connections are being made and lively chat is spontaneously popping up all over the house.

Then something strange happens. Someone you met fairly recently, who seemed pretty cool, throws open the window. He sees your neighbors having a conversation in their backyard. He listens for a few minutes, then starts chiming in… loudly… while still in your house. It sounds like he’s having a conversation, effectively with himself, from the side of your living room.

This wouldn’t fly at a house party, right? Social etiquette would preclude this from happening. So why is it acceptable on Twitter? This is exactly what it is like when you join a conversation using a #hashtag instead of engaging in conversations with an @reply at the beginning. (See #lrnchat, #journochat, et al.)

Prefixing your tweet with an @username makes your conversation completely opt-in. The only people who will see your conversation will be someone who also follows the person you’re replying to. This greatly increases the chance it will be relevant or at least interesting to them. When you use a hashtag, it strips this functionality from the system, punishing all your uninterested followers… who will likely be the majority of your followers.

What this is is the misapplication of a tool. It’s an endemic problem with new technology. Many people want to hop aboard the latest, most popular tool and do so with the best of intentions. But tools are about solving problems. You must ask yourself what problem you’re looking to address and what the most effective way to do so is. You might want to create a new wiki to store all your information for a project, but in some situations a simple paper handout might be the best tool for the job!

You have to look critically and objectively at the characteristics of the tool and ask yourself if they really assist you in solving your problem. Wikis are a fabulous tool for collaboration, group documentation, and group curation of digital assets, just to name a few. But if your project requires you to provide a quick-access job aid displaying data unlikely to change frequently… a piece of paper might be the best technology to have. Perhaps upgrade it with a piece of Scotch™ tape to adhere it to the side of a computer display. There you have it, fast, easy, recyclable.

Tools are rarely free. People often have to use a tool because it’s available, not because it’s the best for the job. That’s reality. However, if you can master proper application of technological tools, then you can also maximize the available budget for them. If you become known as someone who makes the most form the dollars they’re given, you’re more likely to get them in the future. Don’t waste your company or organization’s resources on something just because “That’s what the kids are using these days.” Make sure it passes the sniff test.

People don’t care if you’re using the most popular, buzzword-worthy tool. They care that they’re able to get things done. Help them with that, and you’ll be a hero.

[If this is your first visit to this blog, you may notice it's a bit dormant. Please visit to see links to more active content by Brian. I hope to get this place hopping again soon.]

  • Beau Colburn

    Good post. I completely agree with the hashtag conversation idea. It seems to (maybe) be getting a bit better? Or I may have just stopped following those that abuse it. As far as @replies, if people really need to communicate about conference X, I always wonder why they can’t just set up a @confx account, and then have everyone follow it. Reply to that account and the people that want to see it will see it, and others won’t. It’s sort of a work-around, but it would help. I just wonder if half of it’s not a “Look at me! I’m at this conference!” type of thing. Twitter’s not a mailing list, there are a lot of people that use it for a lot of reasons. I tend to try not to post all about the Red Sox, or all about Phish, etc. etc. because it’s a wide group of people who have different areas of interest. Anyway… nice post. Totally agree.

  • foveros

    This kinda fits in here as a response from people who don't get it (the #lrnchat types):

    I read their reaction to a comment they had and I did not know if I should laugh or gasp ;-)