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I’ve long had a theory that the easier you are to contact, the stupider the questions become.

For instance, how many times has someone sent you an instant message about a simple question, and if you answer the question right away, you get the same question from the same person again?

If instead you missed the message and waited five minutes to respond, and asked them what’s up, and their first response is, “I figured it out”, and then you never receive that same question again.

Should that person have IMed you instead of thinking?

In the early days of cell phones, I was highly resistant to getting one because of this theory (I’ve had it for 20 years). People had to call my office or visit in person to find me. It took some effort; and I rarely received simple questions – my employees did the work and found the answer in most cases. If it was difficult, then they would come and find me.

As soon as I had a cell phone, the number of phone calls I received went up 5x.

When I was on instant messenger, the number of questions I received went up 50x.

Now, I’m a big believer in the maker’s and manager’s schedules.  Essentially, if you are interrupted during a task, it takes about 20-25 minutes to attain your previous level of focus. If you are interrupted every 15 minutes – you will never attain complete focus on a task.

If you leave instant messenger open all day –  odds are you will never received enough time to truly focus on a task.

Twitter Is On-Demand Communication

On Twitter you can send someone a direct message (assuming they follow you). You can respond privately to this message. It works just like instant messenger.

However, Twitter does not list a current status. The person sending you a DM (direct message) doesn’t know if your there, away, etc. Therefore, you can respond at your leisure.

If you want to have a quick IM-like conversation, then you can respond immediately, they can respond immediately, and then you’re having an IM conversation.

However, if you need to go to a meeting – ignore Twitter and work – you can leave Twitter and not feel like you’re ignoring someone like you would with a blinking IM.

Hence, you get the best of both worlds. Instant messaging features, but on your time.

Can’t You Set Your IM Status to Away?

There’s actually three considerations.

Most of my Twitter DM/IM conversations have been with people who I’d rarely actually chat with on IM. We’re all busy people who don’t have time to invite all our friends and acquaintances to IM, keep an IM list of hundreds or thousands of people just in case we want to have a conversation.

With Twitter, it’s opt-in. If you follow someone, they can DM you. There is no need for email verification and a clogged IM list.

Is your status always accurate? I often find that many people who only use IM occasionally forget to change their status. Their computer boots, their IM client loads, they are now available for chatting. I can’t count the times I’ve seen status’s that are ‘out to lunch’ for days at a time or ‘in a meeting’ at 3am.

Because status isn’t always accurate, other people (especially bosses), have a tendency to ignore your actual status. You just need to turn off the IM client.

If you turn off the IM client, then no one can chat with you (yes, some do have offline messaging) so you miss those quick conversations or notes.

Just Use Email

If all this is so hard, why not just use email?

First, you have to know someone’s email address. While that might sound silly, I have many really good conversations on Twitter with people where one of us probably does not know the other’s email address. We might know their FaceBook name or LinkedIN data, but looking up someone’s email to send a short message is often too much effort.

Email is on the decline. For the first time that I can remember, email is reportedly dropping in usage.

I strongly believe communication will always be the number one online activity. Email has dominated so far, but projects like Google Wave, IM, Twitter, FaceBook, etc allow for alternate means of communication. Email is simple, but all it does for you is give you an avenue of communication.

I don’t think email is going away any time soon. It’s still one of the flexible communication methods. You can send a message to many at once (that’s saved in an inbox, twitter blasts often flow off of timelines), it is easy to collaborate between multiple people at once, you an add attachments, and keep archived communications on your own server (more privacy).

Twitter is a Communication Tool

Many have harped on Twitter’s functionality and given detailed instructions on how to use it – I don’t want to rehash all of that here.

I prefer to listen on Twitter than write. I think this is where a lot of people miss out on Twitter’s function. Since most Twitter communication is open, it’s an easy way to receive feedback on your brand, favorite topics, other people, etc.

However, if you choose to join in on the conversation (don’t just blast tweets, spend some time responding to others, retweeting, etc), it can open a lot of new possibilities to learn and communicate with those that you never would have even met otherwise, let alone, have a nice private message conversation.

So close your instant messaging client. Send a tweet (or private message). Go to work for a few hours and have uninterrupted productivity. Then, check back on Twitter to see what the world is up to knowing you actually accomplished something because you weren’t interrupted by your nagging instant messages.

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