An Economist’s Twitter Experiment Begins

I promised to give Twitter a real randomized trial.  And so today, it begins. I woke up, flipped a coin, and it came up heads.  Which means that today I’ll be tweeting.  You can follow me @justinwolfers.  What I do tomorrow is up to the coin.

I announced this experiment here three weeks ago, but wanted to spend some time getting used to this new medium. Here are eleven things I learned during my pre-experiment trial:

1.      Twitter is fun. And addictive.

2.      Information really does move at light speed.  I find myself reading tomorrow’s newspaper, today.  (But remember: tomorrow’s newspaper will be here in the morning.)

3.      As a Twitter-virgin, I hadn’t previously realized how much more it is about sharing links than making glib statements. Hive-mind curation can be extraordinary.

4.      It’s also a conversation. It is oddly intimate to sit in your PJ’s balancing the iPad in bed, engaging folks on the issue du jour. At midnight, you know they are doing the same thing.

5.      There’s enormous variation in how people produce for Twitter.  Some tweet dozens of times a day; others a couple of times a week; some tweet in flurries; some never sleep.

6.      It’s a neat sandbox for trying out new ideas.  If an idea starts to click, you’ll read a more fleshed out version here.

7.      I’m not entirely sure I like myself on Twitter.  140 characters encourages glibness.  And sloganeering. Also, partisanship.  My comparative advantage isn’t in yelling “yay, my team,” but Twitter seems to encourage it.  As tweeting starts to come more naturally, I’m finding it easier to defeat these darker impulses.

8.      Tracking the debt ceiling debate on Twitter was discouraging. About the debt ceiling debate, not Twitter.

9.      Google+ really is a better technology for everything Twitter does.  Over the next year, we’ll learn whether network effects really do create lock-in on the weaker technology. Feel free to follow me on G+, if you believe in the good equilibrium.

10.   I think Twitter may have impact beyond my productivity. I’m now also convinced it’s worth tracking my anxiety (yes, that damn debt ceiling debate), as well as my feelings of being engaged (ditto).

11.   I’m convinced that Twitter is essential for journalists.  I remain skeptical that it is important for economists.

And will Twitter make me a better economist?  I don’t yet know.  Stay tuned.  You can follow my coin by following #twitexpt, or follow (and help improve!) my own short missives @justinwolfers.  I’ll report back—in more than 140 characters—when the data I’m collecting have something to say.

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  1. Jason kernan says:

    The law of averages would suggest that over a period of time you’ll be tweeting the same about of days that ur not. So this experiment will have the added advantage of seeing does the law of averages work!

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  2. Nikki says:

    Last night’s tweets from you & Co were more like “boo, my team” than “yay, my team.” I question your argument about long-term unemployment being the fault of the political system — people sitting and waiting, for 99 weeks, for somebody else to create jobs for them? In the 1st world in the 21st century? What happened to America’s entrepreneurial spirit? — but the debt ceiling debate between you guys was fascinating. Without that (and Tim Harford’s handbag story and http://havoconthehill.com/) way fewer of us here across the ocean would even know what that whole story was about.

    Glad you are there. Somebody should mint a coin with heads on both sides for you.

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  3. Evan says:

    I detect violations of the assumption of independent data points in your control trial. Though I suppose it might depend on the data you’re collections.

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  4. The Regular Joe says:

    good luck man
    If you need any help during so reach out @theregjoe

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  5. Jaime says:

    I should point out that twitter has become an essential part of my work (where I will spend 20-40 minutes each day without fail) as an engineer in R&D. If you follow the right people you can have a vision of the field one is researching and developing that can be literally months in advance of conventional sources.

    Working within the Transport industry I can follow laHood, the European Comission and its transport bigwigs, any DOT (or DFT in England), Transcore, ACS and other private companies all on one screen. Not to mention the few but very talented specialized journalists within my field. Its complete, fast and well condensed.

    That being said, I do not use it outside work…. wonder how many people there are that only use twitter for work and not social purposes.

    P.S: A little tip for those of you that use public transport much, add your state’s DOT to your feed, you can get updates on any road/public transport incidents or delays normally in under 15mins of it happening.

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  6. Andreas Moser says:

    I would actually prefer journalists to go out and speak to people instead of twittering.
    I still don’t need a Twitter.

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    • Jaime says:

      I think you will find that even mediocre journalists find time for both… particularly since twittering can be done in minutes and its only real purpose from a journalism professional’s point of view is facilitating the ease and access of information to the masses.

      What you are saying, really only makes sense from a generalized anti-social-technology point of view and in that case allow me to delight myself in the palpable irony of discussing about that in forum over the internet.

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  7. Carlos E says:

    I consider twitter very useful in the stock market; e.g. we already knew about the downgrade before the official announcement

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