It might be that the nature of Twitter will either delight or infuriate those who consume its feeds. I’m not quite sure which side of the line I come down on, but I do continue to use Twitter.
My problem with Twitter is two-fold. First, there’s the low to very low signal to noise ratio of the information contained in the feeds. Second, there’s the public nature of conversations that occur that might better be kept private.
The Wikipedia article on Twitter contains an interesting analysis of 2,000 tweets from 2009, broken down as follows:
- Pointless babble: 40%
- Conversational: 38%
- Pass-along value: 9%
- Self-promotion: 6%
- Spam: 4%
- News: 4%
Your own mileage will vary based on the exact set of tweets used for analysis but I think that the point being made here is accurate: the vast proportion of tweets contain nothing but vapid emptiness.
It seems like the only way to avoid the problem is to be highly selective in the people that you follow. I’ve tried to do this and admit to getting value from @Techmeme, @GuardianTech, @ForbesTech and @Engadget, all of which I use as general-purpose feeds for technology news. The others in the 43 Twitter accounts that I follow are a mixture of technology and rugby commentators plus some personal choices. I’ve found that not falling into the “I’ll follow you if you follow me” trap and dropping those that I follow quickly if their output isn’t valuable are good ways to keep my feed relatively information-rich.
I do use Twitter for output, but the vast majority of my 254 tweets to date have been simply to advise those who care about new articles or blog posts. In short, I try and keep my output information-rich too as I don’t see the point in commentating on all and sundry in 140-character bursts. If people want to know what I think, they can read this blog!
I really don’t see the point of using Twitter to send messages from one user to another. Isn’t that what email was invented for? Or even SMS? OK, you might not have the email address of your correspondent but even so, why would you carry out a conversation in full view of the gaping public and have it lovingly indexed by search engines so that it can be recalled at a moment’s notice in the future? Although I cheerfully admit total bias on this point, a private email seems so much better.
On the plus side, tools are getting better in terms of making it easier to deal with the flood of tweets. I very much like the People application in Windows Phone 7.5 and have not bothered (at all) with the standalone Twitter application. I also use the Twinbox plug-in for Outlook to have tweets available there. I use Twinbox with Outlook 2010 but it also works with Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2003.
With access through People and Twinbox, I haven’t used TweetDeck much recently, but it’s also a powerful way to keep an eye on what’s going on, especially if you want to track some trending development. For example, I used TweetDeck a lot during the Office 365 outages last August and September just to keep an eye on what was happening around the world. It was also a good tool during the recent Irish presidential election when one candidate made some real gaffs on live television that provoked a tweet storm.
It’s entirely possible that I am simply an old fogey who doesn’t “get” either the import of or the right way to use Twitter as a communications technology. I’d prefer to say that Twitter has its place in the spectrum of available media but has to be used intelligently to extract value and hold to the point that there’s far too much useless noise in tweets sent today. If not, Twitter can absolutely make twits of us all by either exposing our inane thoughts to the public or by forcing us to read far too much rubbish in order to find any value.