A sad, tear-jerky story about how a socially-inept, stay-at-home shut-in, SQL expert gets a new lease of life and finds he really does have friends out in the big world after all. LOL. Not. I'm definitely not socially-inept – managed to persuade Kimberly to marry me, right? Well, that was really down to the classic pick-up line "Hey baby, wanna hear about some undocumented DBCC commands?"
Ok, enough nonsense. I wanted to make some comments about Twitter and Facebook and how they're actually really useful to me.
I must admit, I was a vociferous opponent of Facebook until the start of April. Kimberly caved first under peer-pressure, then I ridiculed her for several days before succumbing to temptation myself. I've heard Facebook called the 'adult MySpace', and I have to agree. Why did I take the plunge? First off I was curious, and went through the phase of trying to read everything and post contrived funny stuff, but then sanity took over (and I had to do some work) and I realized that Facebook is a very useful tool for staying social while not physically seeing anyone.
As anyone who knows me knows, I *hate* telephones with huge passion. I mean, I really really dislike talking on the phone. I only turn on the ringer on my cell phone when Kimberly and I are apart, and that's not very often. Even when I'm abroad, I'll use Skype to talk to people. Really, phones are evil. They interrupt your life when someone *else* wants to talk to you. There's a reason we have a PBX in the house – so that it answers the phone and sends us email with the voicemail in (very handy for travelling as much as we do too). If I ever have to talk on the phone I like to schedule it. Now all this is quite weird, because in person I'm chatty and sociable. I just hate phones.
I digress. My point with the phone rant? I don't stay in touch with people over the phone, and most of the people I know are spread around the world, and socializing over email just sucks and isn't practical either. How do you keep up with hundreds of people on email? Most people struggle to get through just the work email they get every day, especially all the tech-folks that I'm friends with. Facebook solves that problem. None of the people I'm friends with on Facebook are the kind that have verbal diarrhea and update their status every time they sneeze or drink a glass of water. However, people post photos of places they've been, their kids, gardens; links to their blog posts, and other people's interesting blog posts; and generally stuff that their friends might find interesting. And the best thing is that it's like a blog – I don't have to read it if I don't want to, and nothing clutters up my inbox. And I post stuff they might find interesting. People I know only through work get to know the non-work side of me better without all the tedious small talk. It's like getting to know someone from a distance. Kind of weird I suppose. Best of all, I don't have to talk on the phone.
Now, Twitter. When I got on Facebook I saw all these status updates with #s and @s and thought what the hell is all that nonsense? Why would people type to each other with a 140 character limit? No way I'm getting involved in that. Then some people started badgering me to get on it (I-won't-name-names-Jason Massie-you-know-who-you-are, oops), and others warned me my productive life would end and we'd end up living in a trailer park eating baked-beans. So, of course my curious, addictive personality got the better of me and I joined. And yet we're still here in our house in Redmond and I still don't like baked-beans.
After the initial spend-all-waking-moments-reading-everything phase, things have settled down and I now believe that Twitter is very, very useful. It's a different crowd from Facebook (although there's some obvious cross-over) – and it's kind of like instant messenger with lurkers. I hate instant messenger. Just as bad as phones. As soon as Kimberly or I log in to IM, we're inundated with people wanting to talk to us. So we don't – ever. We actually have private IM names that no-one knows apart from us that we use when one of us is travelling alone (not since last December) just so we can IM without people butting in.
I digress again. So why is Twitter useful to me? Everyone on Twitter (in my circle) does something to do with SQL Server – so it's a kind of SQL-late-night-party-line (but not the kind you see advertized if you ever turn on TV at 3am). I'm able to keep in touch with other MVPs, people I know from conferences, and people I've never met – and learn about problems, ask questions, answer questions, and generally be active and social in the community – more than I would be able to do without Twitter. Without Twitter, I'd be limited to forums, classes, and conferences – none of which make for really being long-term *social* in the community, just active in it. And, to be honest, there's the real work aspect of it too. If more people know who I am, more people are likely to want to attend a conference session, workshop, or class that I'm teaching (the trick though, is that I have to be interesting or funny or both – not marketing crap). The more people I know in the SQL world, the more I find out about issues that I can use for blog posts and in magazine articles. It works both ways, as Kimberly has her blog title – "Improving my SQL skills through your questions!" – people get lots of info from me, I get info from them, and we all have a nice, happy, shiny community.
So yes, I was a serious detracter of both of these tools, but now I'm a serious proponent of them. If you use them the right way, not trying to read everything the 500 people you're following say, or tweet every time your dog barks or your wife is sick (like I did today), then they can be really useful. And I think people like to see something more personal than "conference Paul".
Brent Ozar (who has the distinction of being the first person I followed) has some great posts on Twitter on his blog and everything he says is true. I won't follow someone unless it looks like they're saying interesting/funny things. I don't care how many people follow me and I don't try to post stuff to get more people to follow me – I have plenty. If you don't like what I post, don't follow me, I'm not changing.
This has been a bit of a ramble, but I wanted to get a bunch of stuff off my chest. Has Twitter and social networking really changed my life? Honestly? Yes. In a big way? No, but in a way I wasn't expecting.
It's actually made me more social.
PS If you too want to risk living in a trailer and eating baked-beans, I'm on Facebook (search for email@example.com) and Twitter at http://Twitter.com/paulrandal. Kimberly's also there on Facebook (search for firstname.lastname@example.org) and Twitter at http://Twitter.com/kimberlyltripp.