An economist’s Twitter experiment begins

August 2, 2011

By Justin Wolfers
The views expressed are his own.

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 previous 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 tofollow 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.

This post republished with permission from Freakonomics.

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