I wrote a post in June of 2009 called Calling Bullshit on Social Media. The goal of the post was to put twitter, and facebook, into an honest perspective, given all the hype and idiocy surrounding the phrase social media. It was picked up all over, as echo-chamber articles about social media often are, and has well over 100 comments and links to it.
In the six months since then my use of twitter has increased, warranting a follow up post.
I don’t retract what I said – but now I have more experience to explore similiar points.
Stats: I’ve been on twitter for 7 months. My follower count has doubled to 3000+ since the above post, while I’m still following about the same, ~350. Total tweet count is 1500+ over the 7 months I’ve been on twitter (@berkun). Which is an average of 7 tweets a day (although I’m not on every day).
- Despite its problems, the fact is people who like spreading information use twitter. I’m an independent writer and need all the mediums I can find to spread my work. My blog has thousands of subscribers, my books have sold thousands of copies, but posting a link to new writings on twitter spreads faster and, seemingly, wider. Even if all the criticisms are true, the people currently on twitter are people who like to spread things. And they do. It’s heavily populated by people who like to forward, email, tweet, post, blog, telegraph and anything else. I’m sure my traffic and book sales have benefited from being active on twitter. And I’m grateful for readers on twitter, just as am for the blog and the books.
- Twitter is fun in bursts and handy on the road. There is a breezy, sarcastic, side comment rich flavor to twitter, which makes it enjoyable if you’re on it enough. This seem possible only if you’re staring at a monitor most of the day, which many are. But if you’re not, twitter won’t make much sense. I doubt taxi cab drivers or anyone working retail will ever be a strong part of the mix. Twitter is fun as a break, as an aside, but if you show up expecting an event it doesn’t make much sense. If you travel often, a decent following guarantees someone can recommend something you need in that place, which is handy and life affirming in a good Samaritan kind of way. But is still something a concierge could do nearly as well.
- It’s clear many people are free (or distracted) much of the time. It is amazing how quickly, during the work day, I see things retweeted, or get comments on my blog posts that originated from twitter. I’m grateful for this of course. It’s awesome and empowering. But what’s curious is the twitter crowd seems to have notifications for everything on all the time. Someone needs to do some ethnography on the daily work habits of twitter users, but by observation there are many who jump in in and out many times in a half hour, suggesting they’re jumping in and out of their actual work frequently.
- Some of the positives are artifacts of the new. In the early days of email, it was amazing who you could get to answer you. This was, in part, because few were using it. Some of the thrill of twitter, where you can chat with various famous people, will decline as usage grows. It’s more an artifact of new media, than the medium of twitter itself. It’s still a new frontier and some if it’s charm will decline with each wave of mainstream users, in similiar fashion to how email and the web changed, and the small town frontier charm fades. It’s easy for megacorp to seem authentic on twitter, when there’s one guy online representing them. But when there is a team of 30 doing it, with the inevitable policies, and protocols, it will feel like something more familiar, and less interesting.
- 140 characters actually does prevent discourse. Twitter is great for snarky jokes, and for pointing people at things, but is a disaster for deep conversation. You haven’t had the full twitter experience until you’ve stumbled into an argument with someone who is incomprehensible and angry, and seems to find you equally incomprehensible and angry, even though, outside of twitter, you are neither. Direct messages are just as bad. I wish twitter was attached to a private chat feature free of the 140 limit, so attempts at deep conversation, or arguments where both sides don’t get the context of the other, can migrate and thrive, run their course, and then return people back to twitter.
- You can easily spot people confusing life with a popularity contest. It doesn’t take long to realize many people with huge followings have nothing to say. There are some good reasons people follow others, but bad ones too. Mostly it’s easy to figure it out. Some of it is taste. Some of it is not. If the signal to noise ratio is off, look elsewhere. If someone feels slimy, they probably are. You often can tell if someone is being genuinely nice, or is just trying to manipulate you into some kind of reciprocation. I try to say hi to people who mention my work, simply because I’m sincerely grateful. But sorting out people’s intentions on twitter isn’t much different than the rest of life.
- Twitter breaks often. It’s disturbing how often twitter acts strange, is broken in major ways, or doesn’t work at all. It’s understandable for something new, or experimental, but twitter is neither. The client apps are unreliable, and need major UI help. I’ve reverted to using the web page, which sounds primitive to twitter die-hards, but it’s the fastest and most reliable interface there is.
- The elements needed most in this age are clear communication, patience, and wisdom, which are all in short supply. All media depends on the minds of the people who use it, and twitter is definitely a reminder than many folks either: a) don’t read what they link to b) don’t understand what they read c) don’t really care and just like pushing bits around. I don’t blame twitter for this. Twitter spreads misinformation just as quickly as real information, simply because people do. No technology can ever distinguish between a lie and the truth. However, twitter is faster and sloppier, which has advantages, but also has natural disadvantages. It doesn’t reward the patient and thoughtful. It’s definitely not a tool for encouraging thinking, questioning, or introspection (the innovation I am waiting for), as the spreading of links is not quite the same thing. It quite possible twitter makes those three things harder, given how tempting twitter makes it just to read the next link.
In summary I’m a reluctant, cautious fan. I don’t expect anything to radically change anything else, but its sensible for me to use any new media that helps spread my work.
I don’t believe the hype, but I do see results for some of the things I need to do to be successful. I do get pleasure now and then in connecting with new people I don’t know, or joking with folks I’ve met on the road.
If you use twitter, has your opinion of it changed over time? And if you haven’t tried it, what would it take to give it a serious spin?