14 September 2013


I signed up for a Twitter sometime in 2007, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I understood its utility. Now, I use it to discover interesting strangers and share ideas that I am passionate about.

Twitter lets me discover people I would want to meet in person

I was on Twitter last week, trying to figure out if I knew anyone who was coming to an Illumina event I was attending a few days later, and ran across this tweet by Jaime Heather:

That led me to his his blog, and after reading a few entries I realized that we share an interest in bioinformatics and immunology. A complete stranger, turned into someone worth grabbing a beer with. The encounter made me realize that I wasn’t giving people the opportunity to randomly come to the same conclusion about me, so I started blogging again. I can’t think of any other social platform that would have made that interaction possible.

Twitter provides a direct line of communication to whoever you might be interested in: rockstar scientists, master chefs, best-selling authors, and further down the long tail of Twitter stardom, where the real connections happen—those that live in your city and that also think salsa is more interesting than baseball, or the ones who, like you, are flying to Rio de Janeiro a week before the conference and want to meet fellow attendees.

Twitter lets me share what I’m passionate about

You don’t have to wait until The New York Times offers you a front-page column to tell others what you’re interested in. There is a ton of people out there with a legitimate interest in how you see the world. You just haven’t met them yet, and Twitter is the perfect platform for that.

A tribe is any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea—Seth Godin

I belong to the tribe of people interested in biology and programming. I also happen to work at that intersection, but your tribe is not defined by your job. You might be more interested in connecting with people who share your political views, or those who spend their weekends haggling at flea markets, or those who like to organize hiking expeditions.

Celebrities, marketers and political pundits are used to reaching audiences every day, but most of us can’t help feeling a pang of guilt at the though of publicly sharing our interests. What if people find me boring? Of course, some won’t have any interest in what you have to say, others won’t be able to get enough of you.

You won’t know if you like it until you try it

If you think Twitter is stupid, you haven’t really tried it. If you think it’s a waste of time, that only depends on how you use it. I check my Twitter stream once in a blue moon, I click on a few links, I read messages that mention me. Whenever I want to know what an interesting stranger is working on, I check out their Twitter profile. Total time invested: 5 minutes a day.

Signing up is good enough. If you don’t feel like tweeting, follow a few people you find interesting, and don’t worry about it. You might pick it up two months later and discover that the guy that was sitting beside you at the last Meetup you attended is having lunch with your future boss. Tweet.