Saturday 23 May 2009

What is Twitter?

What is Twitter? I think that this is a damn good question because the more I see of it the less I see that makes me think it is a useful addition to the internet. People in their millions are scrambling to jump on the Twitter juggernaut; not to be left out of this great new…I am not sure what……What is Twitter?

I have a Twitter account and I use it to network and to try and publicise my site. I have a Twit this button on this site and the main Pictures of Cats org site. The idea is that if people like the page or site they bookmark it, in effect, by automatically generating a Twitter post on their home page. If you click on the Twit this button it generates a Twitter post that says, “Reading…[followed the URL of the page you are reading]”. That, on the face of it should attract some visitors to your site if you have sufficient followers of your Twitter account (see Twitter Helps Blogger Traffic new window). But if you are going to generate lots of followers you are going to have to spend time on Twitter making those 140 letter posts and searching for other Twitterers and following them etc. That takes away from the core of site building, building the site (i.e. writing content).

So, is is worth doing? – Not sure. The jury is still out. One problem is that there is a lot of what I would call “white noise” on Twitter. There are millions and millions of these short posts that ticker tape through your home page. They are gone before they arrive. I just miss most of them and most of the ones I spot are posts by cat people that say, “Meow”, or [in cat language], “I’m going to the toilet”. How enlightening is that? I get a strong sense that most people who subscribe to Twitter are desperate to keep making these short posts but have run out of ideas so end up saying, “I’m getting up”.

Another gripe I have (I’m a grumpy old….) is that I question what you can say that is meaningful in 140 characters. The whole raison d’etre of Twitter is the 140 character limitation of each post. What is the concept behind that? It must be speed. The name gives the clue, “Twitter”. The definition of to twitter is, “To utter a succession of light chirping or tremulous sounds”. It is used for birds normally. If the word is used in reference to people it means the person is saying nothing of use, “Oh, he’s just twittering on about nothing..”. It means light and frothy, unsubstantial. And that is what Twitter is. Do we need more light unsubstantial white noise on the internet, further clogging up the process of finding the good stuff?

I sense that people are grappling with how to make Twitter useful. Some "Power Bloggers” are attacking the Twitter thing big time. They follow tens of thousands of people and get followed by tens of thousands of people. That means that they receive posts at a frightening rate. Think about it. If you are following say 20,000 people on Twitter you will receive their posts. That is the purpose of  following people. If each one makes just one post a day you will receive 20,000 messages a day! You’ll have to stay staring at the screen full-time. Forget your website and the rest. Obviously that is impractical, which seems to mean that the more successful Twitter becomes (for the owners of Twitter) the less useful it is for the customers. If that is the case the business is self-limiting and will level off and stop growing.

A lot of posts are links to other sites. It would seem that, in answer to the question, “What is Twitter?”, the answer is, a means to try and promote websites, which probably wasn’t intended. I think the intention was to create a social network type site. But I don’t think it works like that. Think about it. If we are networking in “real life” (Twitter is not real!) we would talk for a while with someone. We would have a conversation, exchange information with each other. With Twitter I don’t think this is easy to do. This is because:

  1. The posts are very short
  2. During an exchange of posts hundreds and thousands of other posts intervene and create white noise, muddying up the conversation.

There is probably a way of isolating out a particular thread but I haven’t seen that. And I sense that people would rarely use it way. The shortness of post engenders a very casual approach; make a post and move on. The post is history almost the second it hits the ground.

What is Twitter? A super light social networking site abused to promote websites and which blinds us with white noise.

From What is Twitter to Home Page

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