Tuesday October 9, 2007

Twittering: Who, What, and Why

Shortly after I posted my recent entry on Twitter, I sent notes to various e-list groups I read regularly, asking if any of the members use Twitter. A former co-worker replied thusly to my inquiry:

Haven't used Twitter... I think these services are kinda silly. Who cares what I had for lunch today?

Well, that depends. Was it a particularly good lunch? Perhaps at a new and interesting restaurant you would recommend to friends?

Still, if that's your impression of Twitter, you haven't taken a good look at it lately. There's a lot more going on than just "what I had for lunch".

I agree with Jason Kotke when he says

Playing with Twitter reminds me of blogging circa 2000. Back then, all weblogs were personal in nature and most people used them to communicate with their friends and family. If I wanted to know what my friends were up to back then, I read their blogs. Now I follow Twitter (and Flickr and Vox).

The reaction to Twitter mirrors the initial reaction to weblogs...the same tired "this is going to ruin the web" and "who cares what you ate for dinner" arguments.

Who's Using Twitter?

In her weblog article, "Musings on Twitter", Meg Pickard identifies four "Twittering classes":

  • The Briefers, who provide only bulletins relating to current location or status. Example: Waiting for the bus. Cold.

  • The Detailers, who use Twitter to give an insight into what they're thinking, eating, listening to, looking forward to, planning, and so on. Example: Wondering what to have for tea tonight. Pasta, maybe.

OK. They might be telling us about lunch... But

  • The Kitchen Sinkers, who use Twitter as a new form of blogging, recording thoughts and links and opinions and ideas, addressed to no-one in particular. Example: Traffic lights broken at the corner of high street. Phoned work and told them I'll be late. That's the fourth time this week. Sigh.

That's more what I do. That's microblogging.

Finally, Meg says, there are

  • The Pongers, who respond publically to other users whose updates they are receiving via Twitter (so called because they return each IM ping with a pong). Example: @Jim: Hahaha! Yes!

OK, even I don't see the value in that... Moving on.

What's New?

Meg wrote her article in January of this year. Since then, other "classes" of usage have sprung up. I'm particularly interested in "Twitter as Newsletter", one of the uses suggested at Lifehacker:

You don’t blog because it takes up too much time and you don’t really have much to say. Maybe you don’t even have a website. What you would like to do is keep your clientele informed on a few things without all the hassle.

That's certainly one possibility. But Twitter can also be used as a complement to a regular, popular site. For example, I get daily quotes via Twitter. I've subscribed to various news feeds, including NY Times Science, MacWorld, TechMeme, TidBITS, and Ars Technica.

These sites post their latest headlines to Twitter, along with a link to the complete article. I'm using Twitter as an alternative to RSS.

Get Organized

Of course, you can also use Twitter for yourself or a small group of people. You don't even have to share if you don't want to. Lifehacker suggests using Twitter for people management, both socially

We can be organising a night out while at work, or keeping everyone in one house up to date with everything.

and professionally

Because we are now able to carry out a group conversation over the internet and mobiles simultaneously, managing a group of people can be a little easier.

Nancy White has been collecting Twitter collaboration stories in a Wiki. Add yours.

To Do or Not To Do?

Twitter can function as a minimalist To-Do list. This works best in conjunction with other tools, such as Remember The Milk [1] or Google Calendar [2], [3] Or, as Anne Zelenka proposes, you might use Twitter as a "done" list, logging your accomplishments for the day.
Send a twitter update when you’ve checked a new feature into your team’s source tree, posted a new blog article, or created a wireframe of a website you’re designing....Your Twitter friends will get to know you and your work better. They might be inspired to tell you what they’ve accomplished too.

Desert Topping? Or Floor Wax? **

So... if there are all these different ways to use Twitter, how should we describe it? What, exactly, is Twitter?

Rex Hammock says:

I enjoy reading the comments whenever Techcrunch posts something about Twitter, because for some reason, Twitter really riles certain individuals in the geekosphere. For example, here’s a comment from the afore-linked Techcrunch article today: “Twitter is useless and annoying regardless of all the hype around it.” I love that, because it sounds just like some print-centric editor reacting to the Internet, starting about ten years ago. That it’s coming from the type of geeky-readers who hangout at Techcrunch is delightfully ironic. I agree, if you just “observe” Twitter for a few days, you will quickly write it off as useless and annoying. However, the site’s users are, through “playing” with it, innovating some creative, meaningful uses. I’ve blogged before about Twitter’s potential in emergency situations and how, for example, the LA Fire Department uses it. I have no idea where Twitter’s users will take it, but I have no doubt that it is far from “useless.”

And Dave Winer describes Twitter this way:

  1. It's a network of users, with one kind of relationship: following. ...
  2. It's a micro-blogging system. ...
  3. [It's] A relatively open identity system.
  4. [It's] An ecosystem.

People who say that Twitter hasn't figured out how to make money don't understand the role technology companies play in the much larger media and communication ecosystem. Ideas gestate here, grow up, find users, and then find customers. In a way Twitter is a mega-enterprise product, and by using it, we're helping them prove it. Their customer is likely to be a telco or an entertainment network. But it's way too early to cash it out, they all took the right approach, seed it with some more capital to add more bandwidth, solidify the back-end, add a bit more functionality, and wait to see what the users and developers do with it.

For some, it's still what you had for lunch. For others, it's a lot more.

** New Shimmer "commercial"; SNL, 01/10/1976

Twittering: Who, What, and Why ( in category Special Interests , WebTech ) - posted at Tue, 09 Oct, 20:36 Pacific | «e»


I didn't see Adam Engst's Confessions of a Twitter Convert until after I posted this. (We passed in cyberspace, posting on the same day.)

Adam says

For the most part, as I acerbically noted before, no one cares what you're doing. However, that's not entirely true, and what I missed in my quick and disdainful overview is that a certain number of people do care what you're doing, as long as it's interesting, funny, or relevant in some other way. And here's the other thing - they, not you, get to decide if you're interesting, funny, or relevant.

To help you think about what to twitter about, let me suggest some alternatives to Twitter's "What are you doing?" question:
  • What do you think about some current event?
  • Tell us about something funny you just saw.
  • What neat thing have you learned recently?
  • What have you done lately that was particularly cool?
  • What question would you like to ask your followers?
  • Give us a link to the last great article you read.
  • What was your last blog post/Flickr photo/YouTube video?

Let me know if you're Twittering!

Post a comment

Any posted comments will be viewable by all visitors. Please try to stay relevant ;-) If you simply want to say something to me, please send me email.

All comments will be moderated. Thank you for your consideration.