by Ellen Brandt, Ph.D.

If you’re a Linked In fan – but aren’t that sure about Twitter – the Twibes application provides a bridge between the two services, their audiences, and what each wants from a social networking site. It’s early days yet, but the signs are hopeful.

We all know the drill: Twitter attracts large, eager audiences drawn in by the hype. But once there, many users become disenchanted; stay away forever; and possibly allow their inactive accounts to be taken over by monster botnets, which foment riots in obscure republics or let 13-year-olds in Taiwan make billions from affiliate marketing schemes.

Among those Twitter Don’t-Wannabes are some of the most sought-after Linked In members – serious, senior business executives, who can’t be bothered with the pressures of “Tribal” culture and its arcane and arbitrary rules and customs.

Yes, there are several Twitter-related interest Groups at Linked In itself and social media mavens who like both services. But many Linked In members are still quite wary.

That’s because Linked In is perceived as being at the opposite end of the social media spectrum from its flashier rival. Linked In aficionados tend to use the site for professional, rather than purely social, purposes. They’re there to make lasting, rather than fleeting, connections with people who share business interests, career pursuits, research goals, or political common ground.

And the heart of Linked In is its interest group system. Linked In’s intricate and at this point quite massive Groups facility allows members to get to know their fellow Linked In-ers by posting news stories they’ve written or find interesting and posting or participating in Discussions, which tend to reveal one’s opinions, concerns, and basic character. Reading and taking part in these Discussions lets serious Linked In-ers decide whom they’d like to connect with and get to know better.

While there are some “open networkers” at Linked In, who will take anyone into their networks, often for the purpose of building a mailing list, they tend to be somewhat suspect within the more serious Linked In community. I know I suspect them!

The rest of us tend to build our networks slowly and carefully, connecting with those we find truly simpatico and would gladly have as friends or associates. In fact, numerous people have made valuable and serious business or personal connections through Linked In. They’ve found jobs, gotten funding, connected with political backers, or vetted research partners.

“Valuable and serious” is the key phrase here. Many gung ho Linked In members look at Twitter as being exactly the opposite: a time-waster and frivolous, a site where you’re bombarded by affiliate marketers trying to sell you things or where teens and slackers talk about what they ate for breakfast or exchange gossip about their favorite comic books or rock bands.

As my loyal audience of readers already knows, I had some serious – albeit amusing – problems with Twitter when I joined the service early last summer. (See “We’ve Sent You Black Roses – My Life With a Dastardly Twitter Stalker” http://wp.me/pycK6-L ) But I decided to stick it out and have found Twitter at least somewhat helpful, despite the difficulty identifying those with whom one wants to connect.

Twitter guru Seth Godin and his acolytes think that Twitter users naturally form themselves into “Tribes,” large groups of like-minded members whose “Tweets” – or 140-character posts – will somehow magically be relevant and welcome to those who read them.

I happen to think the entire “Tribes” concept is incredibly elitist, anti-intellectual, and culturally retrograde. (See my now-prophetic article, “Will Boomers and the GOP Save Twitter?” http://wp.me/pxD3J-K )

But beyond that, in practice, the “Tribal” concept is unworkable. Twitter users do not naturally find each other and form themselves into cohesive networks. It’s hard to figure out who shares your interests, your outlook, or your purpose for being there based on occasional and sporadic posts, many of which seem to be “canned” quotations, not original thoughts – and many of which were posted by robots, not people, in the first place!

(The “bot problem” at Twitter is extremely serious and has far-reaching implications, including geopolitical ones. It will be the subject of a future article in this series.)

Many Linked In members I’ve talked with are decidedly cold – if not hostile – to the “Tribal” concept. They may be willing to give Twitter a chance. But once there, they find they miss the useful and engaging Groups which form the heart and soul of Linked In.

That’s where Adam Loving’s “Twibes” comes in.

Among the Chaos, A Safer Haven

In simplest terms, Twibes is the best attempt yet to bring a viable Groups concept to Twitter. Before its introduction about ten months ago, the only way to find like-minded individuals in the vast sea of Tweeters was via various “list” applications, such as WeFollow, which breaks out those users – and only those users – who sign up for the service into listings like Food, Fitness, Coach, or Basketball.

But all the listings give you is each user’s one sentence “biographical” description from his/her/its Twitter profile, which tells you – not much. Twitter’s own new Lists facility is even worse, since the Lists are arbitrarily created by individual users, who are allowed to list others without asking permission and can decide on categories essentially because they feel like it. Ergo, “Mary’s List of Fabulous People,” including Cousin Patty, Uncle Jim, the Jonas Brothers, and Oprah.

Perhaps it’s just my natural paranoia, but I also feel Twitter Lists have already become a Paradise for Script Kiddie hackers. To date, I’ve removed myself from 498 of them, but they just keep coming. It’s now a part of my early morning ritual on the Internet: sip coffee, check E-mail, yawn, remove self from new Lists.

So how and why is Twibes any different? Well, for one thing, it’s not in List format, and it’s a remote site, apart from Twitter proper. Developer Adam Loving, an experienced Seattle-based designer, who has been associated with Microsoft, IBM, and Ciber Solution Partners in the U.K., has set up easy-to-navigate message boards for each of the 20,000 or so Twibes which have been formed since the app’s inception. Founders of each Twibe can choose a design and colors for the board and post a detailed description of what its purpose is and whom they wish to attract as members.

If you want to see what a Twibes board looks like, click here for my BoomerNetwork Twibe – and join it, if you’d like! http://twib.es/HNK

When you post a Tweet on the Twibal board, it ends up in the general Twitter message stream about a nanosecond later. In that case, you’re restricted to the same 140-character limit as on Twitter. But you also have the option of checking a box which exhibits your message to the Twibe board only, which allows you to post longer statements or questions – nothing like the Discussion post essays we sometimes get at Linked In, but a start nevertheless.

As you can see from the BoomerNetwork example above, nobody much is posting on the Twibal message boards yet – except the Group founders, like me. I think that will change, though, as more Linked In people decide to try out Twitter and its accompanying applications.

One very useful new feature of Twibes – its “retweeting robots” – should encourage people, too. Although only a handful of Twibes – including mine – have requested them as yet, Loving will install a handy little robotic program for any Twibe that requests it. The robot scans all posts on the Twibal message board periodically, normally once an hour, and retweets them into the general Twitter stream. This essentially means that any acceptable post will be “tweeted” twice from Twibes – once when you type it in initially and later by the retweeting robot. (Non-acceptable posts, like those which are blatantly commercial or otherwise offensive, can be deleted by the Twibe founder.)

Palin-ites, Kiwis, and Pounds-Off Champions

Even without the retweeter or the ability to engage in the kinds of Discussions we have at Linked In, I believe Twibes is extremely useful merely as a way for people with like interests to find one another at Twitter.

Indeed, some of the larger Twibes, mostly founded by the application’s earliest initiators, are already thriving, attracting significant numbers of Twitter users and even getting some rudimentary conversations going – although again, not the lengthy conversations we are used to at Linked In.

For example, Lisa Graas’s Palin Twibe, one of four groups centered around the former Alaska governor and probable future Presidential candidate, has 617 avid members at this writing, who exchange messages about the Governor’s personal appearances, book signings, and other events. Graas (Twitter handle @LisaGraas or @PalinTwibe), a technically-savvy political blogger, has linked her Twibe to other facilities, like the TweetDeck dashboard and her own sites on Blogger and Blogspot at Google.

Brian Moore (@Kiwiartist) founded his New Zealand Twibe, which now has 587 members, to promote his country and connect other proud Kiwis on Twitter. New Zealanders, he told Adam Loving in a recent interview, have “a lot of nationalistic pride. They love to be able to announce themselves as a world-stage presence.” The New Zealand Twibe is Moore’s way of assisting that effort.

One of the most active – and possibly most unusual – Twibes is Weight Loss Surgery, founded by Michelle Vicari (@Eggface). An anti-obesity evangelist, Vicari lost literally one-half of her body weight after a surgical procedure in 2006 and now counsels others both before and after their surgeries. Like Lisa Graas, she has linked her Twibe to her blogsite, “The World According to Eggface,” where she presents recipes for maintaining post-surgery weight and health and other helpful information.

Michelle’s Twibe now has 502 members, who often make friends with one another and correspond apart from Twitter – much like people do at Linked In. So despite its specialized nature, Weight Loss Surgery is a model for what the Twibes service could look like as it evolves further.

The two Twibes I’ve recently founded, BoomerNetwork and Centrists (http://twib.es/I9C ) are still minute. In conjunction with the publication of this story, I’m initiating a brand-new Twibe, Ivy League (http://twib.es/JAU ), for one peer group which is well-represented at Linked In, but surprisingly invisible at Twitter so far. (As are alumni groups in general, one demographic Twibes should probably seek out.)

It is very early days for Adam Loving and his Twibal concept. Launched late last winter, Twibes didn’t really start to take off until this past summer, when the formation of new Twibes started to pop exponentially. I understand that there are now more than 20,000 mostly fledgling groups, many with only one or two members – names that are essentially being “parked.” There also seems to be a fairly high dropout rate, although nowhere near as high as Twitter’s.

But Loving is still enthusiastic about his “baby” application and expects it will continue to grow and thrive. “It’s funny how Twitter has ended up being used for so many different things beyond what was originally envisioned,” he said in a recent interview. “We still think Twibes is one of the most promising.”

Now that Linked In and Twitter have a more formal affiliation, via the Twitter links on Linked In profiles, Loving – and I – think substantial numbers of formerly cautious Linked In users will be willing to give Twitter a try in the months ahead. Joining and tweeting via Twibes may help keep them there longer and increase their overall satisfaction.

For this Twitter user, at least, Boo! to Seth Godin’s Tribes. But Rah! Rah! for Adam Loving’s Twibes.

Tell Us What You Think

*** Have you joined or founded one or more Twibes? Why do you like the concept?

*** Do you sometimes – or often – feel lost and abandoned at Twitter, without the Group anchors you have at Linked In? How would you compare the two services?

*** Are you in sync with Seth Godin’s “Tribal” concept, or do you believe, as I do, that it represents a major step backwards in social relationships on the Internet?

*** Does Twitter badly need more real human beings and fewer PR- or advertiser-run “script bots?”

*** Besides Twibes, what other Twitter-related applications do you favor? How have they helped you?

*** How do you hope Twitter might evolve in the future to become more relevant and useful to you?

For the Introduction to the Media Revolution series, “Is Big Brother Already Here? And Is He An Algorithm?” http://wp.me/pycK6-1Y

For Ellen’s very influential article, “Accused of Spam? It May Have Been a Political Attack?” http://wp.me/pycK6-21

For “Flame, Set, Match – Trounce Those Internet Flamers” http://wp.me/pycK6-25

For “Corpses, Mollusks, and Kinky Sex – How I Won the Blog-Off” http://wp.me/pycK6-2s

For Ellen’s signature series Baby Boomers-The Angriest Generation: http://angriestgeneration.wordpress.com

For her new series for and about political Centrists, The Rest of U.S. http://newcentristera.wordpress.com

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by Ellen Brandt, Ph.D.

Demographics is Destiny! While other business sectors seem to struggle like 80-year-olds competing in an Olympic sprint, the sector which caters to 80-year-olds – senior services – is accelerating steadily and strongly, way ahead of the pack.

Consider the following:

By 2030, all Baby Boomers (now aged 46-63) will be over 65. The percentage of the US population aged 65 and over will stand at close to 20%, with those 75 and over comprising almost 10% of US citizens.

The chances of becoming disabled increases dramatically with age. For the population 80 years or older, the basic disability rate is a whopping 71%, with 56% described as being severely disabled.

People 65 and over made an astounding 230 million visits to physicians’ offices in 2005, the last recorded data point, plus an additional 16.5 million visits to hospital outpatient clinics and 17.2 million trips to hospital emergency rooms. Over 16% of US GDP now goes to healthcare.

I became part of the senior services sector a couple of years ago, when I established a business called Lifestories Limited to videotape the autobiographies of “ordinary” – actually extraordinary – elders, either living independently or in assisted-living, nursing home, and other healthcare-related venues.

I’ve since branched out with a service called Recollections, conducting periodic generational history activity groups for residents of nursing homes and assisted-living sites, and another called Commemorations, which, in conjunction with mortuaries, videotapes reminiscences of recently-deceased loved ones as part of the bereavement and healing process.

Despite the fact that my business is a bit out of the senior services mainstream, I feel the sector has welcomed me with open arms. Other fields may attract more young employees. But senior services is young in its thinking and its willingness to accept talent and creativity at face value.

That’s partly because there are actual shortages of employees – in some niches, quite serious – throughout the sector. The misconception is that such shortages are occurring only at the entry- or unskilled level. And indeed, basic home healthcare workers continue to be in short supply.

But serious shortages exist at the highest levels, too. There are simply not enough geriatricians, geriatric nurses, geriatric social workers, and academic gerontologists. Even elder law, an often quite lucrative specialty, continues to attract far fewer practitioners than trendy legal specialties like securities law and corporate law.

The senior services community includes all of the above professionals, as well as owners of homecare agencies, government and non-profit aging specialists, geriatric case managers, long-term care insurance and other financial products purveyors, pharmacists, bereavement and hospice experts, and providers of specialty equipment and services geared to the elderly.

What I have found most amazing about this sector, compared to most others, is how cooperatively apparent competitors behave with one another. Homecare agencies routinely refer cases they’re too busy to handle to peers, for instance. And there is extraordinary openness to cooperative joint ventures of every kind.

So Why Are We Still the Rodney Dangerfield of Sectors? Growth, labor shortages, cooperation, openness to innovation. But still, from some, senior services gets no respect!

I think it’s just a matter of time and the recognition of changing demographic realities.

Let me finish with a brief anecdote.

I’m an Ivy Leaguer, and all of the Ivies have been staging near-constant alumni programs dealing with this financial crisis. There’s a pervasive sense of disbelief that our over-dependence on financial services as The Place That Employs The Best and Brightest might finally have come to no good.

I’ve attended a few of these events in order to network, despite the fact that listening to laid-off investment bankers, Wall Street lawyers, and hedge fund managers whine and moan about how they may only be making a zillion dollars a year from now on, instead of the ten zillion they’ve become accustomed to, is slightly surreal.

At one such event, the organizers staged a panel discussion that included a Distinguished – especially in his own mind – Journalist, who continually talked through his nose. When the floor was opened to comments, I stood up and briefly summarized what I’ve said in this piece: That senior services was a vibrant, creative, growing field and that more Ivy job-hunters should consider it fertile ground for employment.

“No, No!” broke in the Distinguished Journalist. “Those jobs are uninteresting and too low-paying, simply beneath the notice of We Who Rule the World.” Or words to that effect.

“But back in the ’70s when we were in school,” I interjected, “they used to say the exact same thing about Computers and the poor, misguided nerds who were pioneers in that sector.”

Well, I just couldn’t convince the Distinguished Journalist. But after the event, everyone crowded around to give me their business cards.

About This Story: Recession? What Recession? was originally printed on March 30, 2009 in the Community Marketing Blog. Although my own circumstances have changed since its original printing – I am now more involved with media ventures than senior services – since I retain the legal rights to this story, I’ve decided to “bring it home” to EllenInteractive.

Readers who liked this story might also want to read “Summer Camp for Seniors” at: http://wp.me/pycK6-t

Also read about Ellen’s idea for a “University for Elders” at: http://wp.me/pycK6-v