Ambient Intimacy, Collective Musing, Intellectual Doodling


Leisa Reichelt coined the term “ambient intimacy” to describe the genre of social computing apps led by Twitter, Jaiku, and Pownce. She was interested in the constant sense of closeness users feel with their circle of friends, no matter how far-flung, through technologies that informally reveal us to each other.

Jyri Engeström, co-founder of Jaiku (and newly minted Googleplexian), called this phenomenon “peripheral vision”, your ability to informally or even unconsciously know what’s going on in your social circle.

Recently, however, I’ve noticed that my Twitter stream contains a lot more than just what people are doing. They’re starting to use Twitter to express their emerging ideas and to begin tentative conversations about things they are thinking about.

In fact, even as I enjoy the ambient intimacy of having the incidental knowledge about what my friends are doing, I’m finding that the sharing of ideas is the most valuable part of Twitter. My Twitter friends send links to interesting sites, they announce their latest blog posts, and they talk about the new ideas they are reading about and hearing about, usually at the moment they first experience the idea. Or they’ll ask a provocative question (“Does anyone use friendster anymore?”) and see what it generates.

But most exciting of all is when someone shouts out their own half-baked idea (in 140 characters or less), and the rest of the group piles on to shape the idea further. Spontaneous “collective musing” occurs. This whole process is over in only a few minutes, and then the whole dialogue fades away into the ether. The ideas, however, live on in our heads, and eventually some even take more concrete form.

The Twitter medium allows these informal and impromptu communications to occur in a way that, for example, posting to a mailing list, publishing a blog post, or posting a question to a Q&A social site can never quite do. It’s something just a little bit less than a conversation.

In the same vein, Bruce Nussbaum today quotes Roger Martin from the Rotman School of management, who says “Blogging is intellectual prototyping.” If that’s the case, then Twitter is intellectual doodling.


6 responses to “Ambient Intimacy, Collective Musing, Intellectual Doodling”

  1. That’s a great observation. It’s actually a lot like how Bill Moggridge defines “sketching” vs. “prototyping” in his book. One of the key things that makes something a sketch is its disposability.

  2. Interesting that you mention Friendster… they must have almost preempted twitter with their profile “shout outs”… same sort of idea, very short messages… completely different platform however 🙂

  3. @Andrew: I was alternating between “doodling” and “sketching”, and chose “doodling” because, to me, Twitter musings are not only disposable, but there is also a very low expectation of your tweets being practical or actionable — or even coherent.

  4. Jeffrey Taylor includes microblogging/twitter/etc in ‘Organic Conversations’, he also devotes a blog to it, a very good read: