More thoughts on Ambient Intimacy and Twitter

After several months of Twitter usage, Leisa Reichelt’s characterization of Twitter as Ambient Intimacy still resonates with me. I have some more thoughts on ambient intimacy in the context of Twitter, and I’m going to take them in the reverse order of the catchphrase.


2. a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group.
3. a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of a place, subject, period of history, etc.

For me, the intimacy comes from the fact that I choose whose Twitter streams to subscribe to, and the fact that the content that people are putting in their Twitter streams tends toward the more personal. So there’s a technology part (subscribe to people) and a social part, the content of the streams.


1. of the surrounding area or environment:
2. completely surrounding;

It seems to me that the ambience is largely a function of which modality you use to access your Twitter stream.
I run an odd Twittering confguration (at last I think so). My Twitter following is multi-applcation and multi-modal. I have the Jabber Twitterbot in my Adium contact list, I’m running Twitterific, and I use the Twitter web page. My Twitter posting is similarly multimodal, with me using the closest Twitter input box, and also a QuickSilver action. If I use the web page, the degree of ambience is low. I don’t sit there with a Firefox tab focused on the page. Usually I go to the page when I am trying to catch up after being away from the computer for a while. I also used it from my cell phone, since a days worth of tweets would blow my text messaging plan. If the IM bot didn’t die so much, or if Twitterific saved an arbitrary amount of history, I probably wouldn’t use the web page at all. When the IM bot was working, I liked it because it showed the full text of all the tweets. Usually I didn’t care that I got the the tweets in real time, and most of the time it was annoying to have Adium making the event message received sound all the time. The only time where I really cared about getting Tweets in real time was when I was using Twitter as a real time back channel. At the moment I’m relying on Twitterific, but I don’t like the fact that I can only see one tweet or the limited tweet history. It appears that the next version will allow you to see the text of multiple tweets, which would be a big improvement.
Twitter interfaces
In an ideal world, I’d like to have a single app (on my computer, anyway – mobile devices are something else), which would allow me to deal with tweets at a degree of ambience that corresponds to my mental state. I’m not sure that this is possible, although it might be fun to play with some heuristics related to how many messages were received recently, perhaps with some measure of burstiness. That might be interesting or it might turn out to be worthless. I’d like a “shut up for the next 3 hours while I work” type of button — and of course, I want to be able to see what I missed without switching to a different app.

There’s also a set of features unrelated to ambience:

  • Another feature that I’d like is a personal Twitterbuzz, so that I could see what my friends think is important. The problem that I have with a lot of social aggregation sevices (, digg, and so forth) is that someone else controls the group making the recommendations. I’d like a way to specify that group myself.
  • Something else that would be useful is streamlining the situation where I am conversing with someone — it’s a pain typing @name all the time during those moments when you are using Twitter in an IM like fashion. Maybe I’d even want to be able to start an IM or Skype session with that person.
  • Quite often I wish that I could search my Twitter stream. A good client would have a way to do that without forcing me to the web page

A major way that I’ve noticed my computing environment changing over the years is the introduction of more and more ambient data of various kinds. Perhaps there’s more understanding to be had by looking at various technological changes through the lens of ambience…

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