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A MSc research on the one thing Twitter asks; what are you doing?

What am I doing
What are you doing? Is the simple question twitter asks you

In July 2007 Edward Mischaud (at that time student Politics and Communication) asked me – and other random selected users – a few questions about how we use Twitter. His goal was to find out if Twitter users actually answer to one thing Twitter asks ‘What are you doing?‘.

65% of his focus group didn’t answer this question. What they did write about is in the graphic below.
Results from the question what are you doing on Twitter

These findings correlate with the theoretical foundation presented which is based on the understanding that technologies are not neutral objects that operate apart from society’s influence. Technologies are flexible devices. People often extract different meanings and uses out of a technology – applications that are not always factored into its design. In some instances, however, inventors, or shapers, of technology can themselves determine how a technology is to be used and therefore limit and restrict its ‘interpretative flexibility’.

Download the MSc dissertation by Edward Mischaud *.pdf

What are you doing?
I think the question itself is very important for Twitter. It’s the step that makes it easy to join the conversation. You don’t know what to do, just answer what you’re doing.

With this you start the storytelling. Eventually you start connecting with friends or try to start a discussion. You see people talk about other people and start following them or they start following you. This is how your network grows.

Twitter probably wouldn’t be equally successful without this question. With a simple and personal question that everyone in the world can answer Twitter really lowered the barrier to join the application.

Twitter is more a network than an application. If you ask around you will notice that most people are using different interfaces on different platforms and clients. Because of the API connecting to the network adapts to your preferred way of working.


  • Is easy accessible

  • Is live

  • Forces you to focus

  • Is broken conversation

  • Is open conversation

  • Is spam free, like RSS (subscription based)

  • Is a network

  • Is synchronous / asynchronous

  • Is a black hole

  • Is a time capsule

  • Is a centralized network

  • Changes public / privacy

  • Is a knowledge base

  • Is very unstable

  • Is making it very difficult for search engines

  • Is platform independent

The best part of twitter to me is the live/buzz effect. What is happening right now. You just turn it on like you turn on television. There’s always something going on, and if it isn’t you can always start it by saying what you’re doing. The two graphs below show how twitter is being used during live events. The same thing happens in the Netherlands during live sport events, news or television shows.

Twitter during the Superbowl
Twitter during the Superbowl

Twitter during Super Tuestday
Twitter during Super Tuesday

Twitter as a backchannel during conferences
Some conferences have used Twitter for a so called backchannel. A live (sometimes moderated) screen behind the speaker that allows the audience to discuss and ask live questions via Twitter and SMS.

Gvenk Daily
Every morning @gvenk presents the Gvenk Daily. Gerard is a programmer and knows what’s going on in the tech scene. Every morning around 7.30 he scans his RSS feeds and drops the highlights in the Gvenk Daily, a series of tweets about tech news.

What is breaking news in a Twitteruniverse
Last year I wrote a post about @BreakingNewsOn, it’s a newsservice that posts rumors to Twitter and confirms them live. Building the story as it happens.

Twitstat Twitgeist
The Twitgeist is a hourly updated cloud of the most popular words used within a group of twitterazi. It tells you what’s going on.

These examples are just a few spin-offs. Like the conclusion from the dissertation. Twitter has just one rule, a maximum of 140 characters. The people using it are experimenting what they can do with this network.