Geeks vs. Early Adopters on Twitter (and elsewhere)

In the month-or-so that I’ve been on Twitter, I’ve gotten the impression that a lot of people on it are geeks, a lot of them are early adopters, and a few are “regular folks.” And I wonder if some of the angst I’m feeling is that I’m more of an early adopter than a geek.

I define geeks as the people who create the latest technology and early adopters as the first people to use it. I have read geeks’ writings and conversed with them on the Internet, such when I participated in the newsgroup comp.infosystems.www.authoring.html in 1996. I learned HTML and CSS by reading, asking questions, and eventually answering questions. I became one of a handful of people in the world to publish a web page in HTML using CSS in August 1996. Yet I didn’t become a professional Web developer. I didn’t become a recognized “expert” in the field (unless you count being interviewed by Wired in 1998). Why? Because I’m not a geek. I don’t take well to sitting for hours in front of a computer screen hacking code. I don’t know any of the languages it takes to write CSS that can render properly in any web browser; i.e. I can’t use JavaScript to insert “browser-sniffing” code that delivers CSS written for each browser’s idiosyncratic (read “faulty” or “noncompliant”) way of rendering CSS… But I digress.

My point is: I’m not a geek; I’m an early adopter. And it causes me angst, because I’m a lot more geeky than most people, yet I’m not geeky enough for the geeks. It’s sort of like my IQ: my intelligence is above average, but I’m not a genius. I’m smarter than most people and not as smart as the geniuses I admire.

Twitter seems to be a place where geeks and early adopters collide. Or maybe collude. Ha ha. I guess you have to be a little geeky to spend any real time on Twitter; you have to be interested in being on a computer or mobile device for a longer period of time than the average person. You have to be interested in taking a couple of minutes out of your life every once in a while to tell people what you’re doing and thinking. You have to be interested in how people use new media to communicate with each other. But you don’t necessarily understand why so many people write “FAIL!” or “WIN!” And you might feel intimidated or confused by the way people tell “in” jokes. At least I do…

It’s late at night now, and I’ve stayed up late because this is bothering me a lot. Without going into too many details, I had an experience today of being told that something I found extremely offensive was merely a reference to a source of humor for Internet geeks for over a decade now (I don’t endorse the site, but if you’re curious, it’s timecube.com). Some geeks thought it was funny to place a link to that site in the guise of a “Terms of Use” hyperlink at the bottom of every page of a website I stumbled upon the other day. For them, it was a big joke. For me, it wasn’t.

This experience made me think about the interesting mix of geeks and early adopters on Twitter at this moment in time. (Of course, there are also a huge number of “Social Media / Social Marketing / SEO Experts” on Twitter too, but don’t get me started.) It got me to thinking about who’s talking to whom. I’m currently reading The Cluetrain Manifesto in book form (it got too hard to read on my T-Mobile G1 with Google), and it talks a lot about how markets are conversations– conversations among consumers, conversations among corporations, and conversations between corporations and consumers. Basically, the book says that both consumer markets and corporations are composed of people and people need to speak with each other in a human voice. (At least that’s what I’ve gathered so far; I’m up to Chapter 3.)

So, where is the human voice on Twitter? Some would say it’s everywhere, but I find too often that the voices I “hear” on Twitter are not speaking to me. Too often, they’re trying to sell me something. Too often, the “tweets” I read have nothing to do with me. They’re either over my head or about things I don’t have enough context to understand. (This is especially a problem with @replies. I read a blog recently that said – and I paraphrase – “if you don’t understand them, either follow the people they’re replying to, unfollow them, or stop complaining.” I’ve searched for 10 minutes to find this blog, but it’s almost midnight and I can’t find it. Sorry. Leave a comment if you know the URL.)

Even the marketing strategy people say you should figure out who your market is, who you’re targeting. Are you targeting other geeks? Then continue to speak geek. But if you’re targeting regular people, then you might want to be less arcane. Take it from this early adopter, we’re smart, but not “brainy.” We’re cool, but not cliquish. And if Twitter keeps expanding, which I think it will, there aren’t going to be as many of us “early adopters” and then you’ll really need to stop speaking geek and start speaking human.
This is not a monologue; it’s a conversation. What do you think? Please leave a comment. I would like to hear your perspective on these social and marketplace issues, whether you’re a geek, an early adopter, or (to quote The Cluetrain Manifesto), “Joe Six Pack.”

Author: Daniel Greene

I facilitate communication between Deaf and hearing people, and I teach people American Sign Language (ASL) and interpreting. Apart from doing the work I love, my greatest joys are family & friends, entertainment, food, photography, and travel.

3 thoughts on “Geeks vs. Early Adopters on Twitter (and elsewhere)”

  1. I am TOTALLY an early adopter. I call myself a 'geek' because it's just easier. But, honestly I'm not quite geeky enough. I don't quite know enough, and am not quite 'with it' in all aspects of geekdom.I've found that for myself I'm tweeting to emote. Happiness, sadness, joy w/ a link attached, or pure self-pimpage. I tend to not read other twitters, I'm just too exhausted by the amount of information laid out before me./shrug/ I aspire to be geekier, but I'm not sure I'll ever get there. My interests are just too varied.

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