Still not getting Twitter. Help me out.

I’ve been on Twitter now for a while (maybe four months?). And this is the second time I’ve joined. And I’m still not fully getting it. It’s extremely time consuming when I use it.

While it might only be little flashes of light throughout the day (using Twirl), it’s still distracting when you are working on a project. Or on the phone with a client.

In keeping with Darren Rowse’s recent post about batch processing, that’s the way I like to work (and play): in batches. I check my email, then close it. I install three shopping cart in a row. I do two or three wireframes in a row. I check my Facebook profile and comment and update there accordingly. When I go to a friend’s house to visit (or meet a new friend at a coffee shop), I get in the zone and just focus on that person, letting calls go to voicemail. In fact, when I’m on the phone, I ignore other incoming calls. The person I’m talking to gets my full undivided attention. The only reason I even keep call waiting on my phone is so that my wife can get ahold of me in an emergency if I’m on the phone - for her peace of mind. Else I’d cancel it. In other words, I don’t tend to jump from one thing to the next if at all possible. I multi-task (big time) but try to focus on only a few things at once.


The theory behind Twitter it is that you can keep tabs on what your “friends” are up to from day to day without being interrupted by intrusive emails (which I’ve already pronounced dead), or worse, from getting those awful email (or print) family newsletters. In other words, it’s supposed to be a way to stay in touch better. And with Twitter posts limited to 140 characters, it’s difficult to accuse anyone of being verbose and annoying. Pardon me, but that’s just a personal attack that people toss my way from time to time, particularly when they can’t find any solid points to make against my position.

So, wouldn’t everyone just like to receive little streaming bits of text to their desktop or their cell phone letting them know that their friend is heading out to the grocery store, or that their son is done playing his baseball game, or that the uber-blogger they secretly worship just got 500 invites to some new beta web application? I suppose that some people would.

But after using the service, here’s the problem as I see it: There’s already easy ways to do all of this.

I could, for instance, send a text message to someone (or an email). Probably the best option would just be to update my Facebook “status” update. My friends (real friends in most cases) would see it when and if they wanted to, not as an intrusive flash across their screen that says, “Been listening to a lot of Latino music lately. Upbeat, fun, & catchy. What music used to be. Of course, I don’t understand the words.” (an actual Twitter that I sent back on May 13).


Twitter allows anyone to follow anyone. So, instead of that message, as dumb as it is, going to people that know me, it only goes to those who choose to follow me. And while it might be nice if all my friends followed me on Twitter (and yes, I know I can have my Twitter feed forwarded to other services via FriendFeed, etc), the reality is that I have total strangers following me and reading this stuff. It’s one thing to say they could go to anyone’s Twitter feed and read the old posts, but they are actually following me, little ol’ me, live, as in “Live from Melbourne, Florida, the 140 character micro thoughts of a random guy named Lawrence!”

Let me give an example using my own real-world experience.

As of this writing, I’ve posted only 57 updates, which is Twitter-speak for “posts”. Go read them if you like. It will only take a minute or two for you to scan through them all since each one is no more than 140 characters. Yes, even on Twitter I tend to max it out and be verbose, usually finishing within one or two characters of the limit. So, at most I’ve only written about 1500 words worth of “tweets”, a little longer than my average blog post of 913 words. They are hardly worth the amperes illuminating the pixels on the screen.

Yet, and here’s the surprising thing, I have 26 people following me on Twitter. Who are most of these people? I have no idea. I can’t possibly convey an idea or a thought worth any Chestertonian influence on them in 140 characters. I’m certainly not a mover or shaker of industry such that entire markets rise or fall based on my words.

So, why are they following me? I’ve asked them that very question, so we’ll see if they respond here. Maybe they can help me understand.


The other thing I don’t like about Twitter is that your posts go to the entire world. Yes, there are ways to do only direct posts (private) to just one person. But, if you’re little Johnny, and you use Twitter on your cell phone to tell all your peeps and family that you’ll be at the mall until 9pm with your 3 best friends, the entire world can see that message, including all the people who probably shouldn’t. Twitter does allow you to make your entire feed private, but few people have that turned on. Eventually, they start to slip and start posting a bit too much information.

I know of one person who Twitters quite a bit about his personal life. And if I was a home-invasion bad guy, it would be simple enough to determine when and where he would be at any given moment. And I don’t need a login or his permission to read his Twitter feeds. They are all on his Twitter page. Of course, his lack of discretion isn’t Twitter’s fault. Or is it?


But here’s where Twitter is really being used well. By marketers. And bloggers.

Everytime a blogger has a new post, they Twitter about it: “New Blog Post: 10 Ways to Skin a Cat”. Nevermind that I’m already going to see that blog post in my feed reader later that day or week. I’m immediately interrupted with it’s sudden posting. You can just imagine the uselessness of this duplicitous information, particularly if I were to follow the “tweets” of every blog I read (over 100). It’s obnoxious.

Worse, there are a whole breed of marketeers (not a typo) who scour Twitter looking for people based on locale or career. Then, they “follow” you. By default, you will get an email saying “So-and-so is now following you on Twitter!”. Naturally, you click over to see who this mysterious admirer is and find a Twitter user who has about 12 friends, but is following 849 people. Then, you see what they wanted you to see all along: the link to their real home page which is, no surprise, a company of some sort selling or pushing some product or service.

So, while they could have been guilty of violating the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 had they just sent you an unsolicited marketing email, plus having the acquisition costs of acquiring a decent mailing list, they’ve effectively utilized Twitter, a free service, to gather up a whole round of potentially interested parties and circumvented the whole email service by deceptively “following” you such that you come to them. I’ve even had a few companies do this and almost immediately unfollow you. Of course, I’ve already gotten the email - which was the whole point of their shameful tactic.

I’m a nobody. I would imagine that people like certain high-profile bloggers get tons of this icky Twitter-spam, which I am now dubbing Twam. It has to be annoying for them.


I’m not opposed to Twitter (although I prefer Pownce). In fact, to really make better use of it, I think the key is to have multiple Twitter accounts - particularly a private feed and a public feed. I don’t know if that violates their TOS, so I’ll have to look into it.

Here’s the feedback I would really appreciate.

1. If you are following me, why? What do you get out of my very limited (thus far) twittering?

2. If you use Twitter, what (really!) has it done to better your life?

3. If you don’t use Twitter, but know of it, why have you not started using it (or a similar service). What do you think is keeping you from trying it? Time? Too geeky? Pointless? Something else?

4. If you are someone I know, but doesn’t use Twitter, when you read my Twitter updates, does it motivate you to join Twitter or to stay away forever?

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I twitter because I prob have some form of ADD! :-) Seriously. In the 5 seconds it takes a program to load up, I’ve caught up on my “tweets”.

I also have a 3 hour commute (round trip) so I catch up then or “tweet” then as well (traffic!).

Additionally, I have a very busy life, and not much time to make real friends, so these twitter-friends are nice to have.

This is where following you comes into play. You and I prob have similar ideals, so its nice to hear random thots from like-minded people.

The end

1. I follow you on Twitter so I know when you post rants like this.

2. Mainly Twitter helps me get my posts out to more people and helps me to see what other people are writing about in areas that interest me. It’s just another marketing channel.

3. I thought Twitter would be a waste of time, but it has helped stay connected to info I’m interested in.

4. If I didn’t follow you I would know when you write rants. I like to read rants. I suppose I could put you into a feed reader, but then that’s just another thing I have to look at.

PS - I won’t use a desktop app and be interrupted by Twitter. I’ll read it on my terms, not let it have control over my work habits by rearing it’s ugly head when I’m in the zone.

I read a comment of yours on another blog so came over and checked out who you are. I thought you seemed interesting based on your blog topics, background, and geography (we’re both in Central Florida). So first I sub’ed to your RSS (how I found this post).

Then found you on twitter so followed you just to see if anything passes me by that is interesting.

The way I use twitter is keep it open in twhirl. When I feel like it I glace over, skim, then keep going. I miss stuff but don’t care. It’s not like RSS to me where I want to at least check everything. Twitter is “catch it when I can”. I’ve had some conversations (like IM), use it to update my skype and facebook status (so I do it in one place), and find links sometimes.

I don’t post blog links all the time, just when I want to market it a bit more. When others do it, sometimes I read it now or just wait for the RSS feed.

I think it has some flaws, but there is a lot there that I like. I did a search on my personal blog where I’ve written about twitter at different times if you want to browse it:

One note is that there are a few twitter feeds I want to make sure I don’t miss. Those I use the device updates to pop up in gTalk. Most of those are when my wife tweets and for breaking news.

Twitter can be used like a social filter to my feeds. I like pownce a lot too, but didn’t see a lot of uptake with my friends. But its great for sharing ’stuff’ and then having a conversation about it (a thread). Twitter is like a conversation, but more social with the afore mentioned filter on it.

But just like email or IM - if you’re head down and working, then all alerts need to be off and those programs shut down.

I don’t really think there is one easy answer to why someone should use twitter — just a bunch of personal experiences everyone has.

For me, it’s pretty much replacing my blog (sadly). I use it to share brief thoughts or links with friends. I use it to monitor conversations amongst people I only know casually (and a few not at all). I use it to communicate instantly to a ton of people something from where ever I’m at — much of my twittering is done via cell phone (though, I only recieve on my cell phone from a select few when I’m at events. SxSW is a great example — ultimate communication tool in that situation — “meet at XyZ bar”.

Twitpic is fun thing I’ve started using lately to take a picture on my iphone of something I find interesting and share it with people. No real reason, it’s just kinda fun.

I’m relatively new to Twitter…just today actually. And, so far I’ve met some people I probably would never have otherwise. One of those people being you. You live right in my backyard and I never would have known it, but for Twitter.

I actually found this blog post of yours on another person’s comment and I followed it over. Which, I loved the rant and enjoyed the read. I don’t yet “follow you”, and don’t know if I will now that I see your blog.

I understand and appreciate a lot of what you had to say. Some of the features of Twitter, to many, would seem or actually be, meaningless nonsense! But to many, it’s just simply fun!

The whole privacy and safety issue is one to be aware of, like you said. I do see how it could be used for abuse. But, people need to police themselves. When we start telling others what they should or should not do within their own little personal sphere, the whole “freedom” thing goes out the window.

So, we’ll see if I still like Twitter in the coming months. Maybe I’ll rant again to let the world know. ;>)

Heya, I was one of those “randoms” that followed you, but not because our blog topics are related. I just moved to the area and wanted some twitter buds to follow from the surrounding areas.

So that’s *why* i followed you initally, but since, I’ve discovered your pretty darn cool blog and I like your witty interaction.

As for Twitter itself, I really discovered its usefullness when the recent minor earthquakes hit the St. Louis area (where I was living at the time). The earthquake news broke and spread at least 30 minutes faster on Twitter than on the TV/radio news. I felt better in touch. And I could see it becoming useful during hurricane season, at least up until the point we all lose power ;) . Where to go to get lumber, tornado warnings, evac routes that aren’t clogged, houses that have room on the mainland, etc.

Maybe I’m just naive though too. lol

Jami (aka Bionic Beauty)

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