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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