January 16, 2008

Can We Talk About Twitter for a Second?

About a year ago, I wrote how I had completely sworn off instant messaging, and how, despite its fast-rising user base, I had no intention of using Twitter. And so far, I haven't given in to the siren song. While I hadn't expected to ever gain a Facebook account, and eventually succumbed, Twitter has remained on my personal "Do Not Call" list.

Meanwhile, as I remain a Twitter luddite, others swear by it. I find myself occasionally checking in on the Twitter streams of friends and others like Allen Stern, MG Siegler, Steven Hodson and Robert Scoble. I see quick conversations they have with Mark "Rizzn" Hopkins and Hugh MacLoed and Jason Calacanis, as they share ideas, comment on the news of the day, and spam each other with the latest blog URLs. I see them Twittering from my FriendFeed and on my Spokeo.

Yet as far as Twitter is concerned, I don't exist. I'm not part of the conversation. Do I need to be? Or can I remain, as MG Siegler called me, an "Anti-Twittite"?

Last night, I wanted to write to Mark Hopkins at Mashable in response to an article he'd posted. But, without his e-mail or cell phone, the only way I could get through to him was through a public comment on his blog. I could have used Twitter... in theory, but then, I'd have to sign up just for that one off, and I expect it'd be a slippery slope before I started adding everybody I knew to follow, and began measuring my self worth in the numbers of people I followed or followed me on Twitter. Not good.

So I was this close to finally giving in and signing up, just like I gave in on Facebook. Just like I gave in on getting a Nintendo Wii after listing it in my Ten Geeky Technologies Not Coming to Our House post back in March of 2007, along with Del.icio.us and Flickr. But I didn't give in. This time. For I believe, outside of the occasional focused conversation, Twitter remains a noisy, ineffective tool for typical communication.

So... for those of you who swear by it. Tell me why I'm wrong. Please. Tell me how you use Twitter, and why I should join you. I'm listening.


  1. I used to think the same way about Twitter as you - lots of noise and little info.

    However, since I started using it, I came to realize that it really is the backchannel of the blogging world.

    Stories first break on Twitter today, which is one of the main reasons I use it. But it is also a good networking tool. And on some days, its a bit like IRC, with discussions going back and forth.

    Of course, there are also times where it is completely useless, especially when Scoble posts ten tweets a second...

    Interestingly, it didn't turn out to be as much of a timewaster as I expected it to be either.

  2. As you don't have trackbacks it seems and I am not sure you are using google blogsearch (or technorati again ;)) daily, ... here is a comment:


  3. Oliver, great comments. Of note, Blogger tracks "BackLinks" which are close enough to TrackBacks, and your URL should be included. And trust me, I'm focused enough on stats to be all over Technorati daily, and Google BlogSearch regularly, if not religiously.

    Frederic, welcome back from your trip. Good comments as well.

  4. Glad to see you're at least thinking about reconsidering your stance on Twitter Louis. While there certainly is a lot of noise at times and people who use it for the wrong purpose, I definitely find the good outweighs the bad - especially since you can pretty much dictate how you use it.

    I will say that it is hands down my favorite mobile tool when I'm in a city besides the one I live in - met up with quite a few people via it.

    Now if they could just stop complete failures during events like MacWorld - I shudder at what it will be like at SXSW (which is where it initially blew up last year).

  5. It's not noise if you follow the right people and/or services. Drop people who have too much noise (I dropped Scoble) and add people whom other people that seem interesting.

    On the flip side, you need to be a good twitterer. Once you find your rhythm, stick with it.

    And there's always the chance that it's not for you. At least you can say you tried and have solid reasons for leaving.

  6. Ironically I caught the post through a twitter back channel.

    Heres what Twitter lets me do:

    I can drop ideas , thoughts, feelings, conversations, moments which pop into my head into Twitter. Given that I work on my own and for myself this helps me feel at least a little in touch with other people.

    Heres what Twitter gives me:
    A almost live pulse of what is occuring in my online friends lives. It also allows me to hear about news and events far quicker than I have experienced before.

    Thanks for reading, thanks for posting

  7. Why use twitter?

    That's a question that I've also been asking myself over the last year. I'm now interested in the response...

  8. I'm afraid the people you are dropping in to follow or catch up on are the select few who just pour noise into their twitter streams.

    This is giving you a truly atypical experience. A sampling error if you will.

  9. Louis,

    Like you, I was anti-Twitter until recently when I realized it was becoming another way to exchange ideas and communicate - much like e-mail and Facebook. The trick is making sure you use it effectively - however you want to define effective. Personally, I check it a few times a day to see if anything interesting has appeared as opposed to being obsessed with following a bunch of conversations. Good luck with your resistance!

  10. My year-old boy is up to something new almost everyday and I post all this new stuff to Twitter just as a journal. Since I can do it from web, IM, phone, nothing is missed. I doubt if I would be recording all this if there was no Twitter.

  11. I have also avoided Twitter. I was hoping to find a reason to participate, but you guys aren't selling it. Overall, it just seems like a tool for egomaniacs who feel the need to broadcast the minutia of their lives.

  12. I was anti-Twitter too until I found a client for BlackBerry. Now I use it as an always-available journal, notepad, or what-have-you. I've got a couple people following me, but I don't publicize my Twitter account and I don't generally reply to people. Because of those restraints, I'm almost completely off the radar and that's fine with me.

  13. For me, the value in Twitter isn't from following "celebrities" like Scoble or Calcanis. It's from following local folks or those whom I have some sort of existing relationship (even if it's only online). I don't follow everyone who follows me. I only follow those who provide value. As others have noted, Scoble twitters a lot, but he's not necessarily the best example if you're trying to figure out why you would join.

  14. I used Twitter for a while. Dropped it. Then started using again (sounds like a Narcotics Anonymous meeting) via Facebook when the app was created.

    I've stopped using again. It simply requires too much attention (and I only followed about 20 people). I often wondered how many conversations I missed when not plugged in (eyes on screen) continually. Especially when some of the folks I was following became ADHD Twitterers - filling my screen up in seconds with rapid-fire mental notes - many of which were rhetorical and/or ego stroking. I just couldn't keep up and do all of the other things that I had to do during the day. I don't know how anyone can.

    I created a comic strip back in April when I first stopped being a Twitter fanboy. Enjoy!

  15. first off, awesome post and blog :-)
    I would like to say that twitter has allowed me to do something I could never have done otherwise, get 'this-close' to any writers or producers who might be able to help with our Campaign to Save Jericho, and now to show support for the writers. It also allows me the ability and right to follow along with people like Jason Calacanis, Robert Scoble, and other biggies of the tech world, therefor allowing me a huge learning process!

  16. Hey Louis--Provocative questions. I have a feeling my post riffing on your Twitteritis won't provide a cure, but here's my take:

  17. I did break down and sign up for Twitter so I could follow the Ignite Portland news, but otherwise just don't know a lot of friends who use it. I haven't pushed too hard to get into it really since I'm trying to reduce the amount of time I spend glued into email and Google Reader already. That said I'd actually use it if I knew that it provided some tangible value.

  18. Great post.

    I'm with you, Louis. I swore I would not do it, and so far I've kept my promise.

    Looking at a couple of the Twitter feeds you mentioned right this moment, I've got better things to do than to know and potentially be Tweeting (wtf is the stupid vernacular about, anyway?) that Hugh "Just got back from London Seesmic dinner" or Jason's desperate attempt to recruit Mahalo writers " A collection of MacBook air reviews.... add them as they come in! help us build this page out" or to know that 35 minutes ago, Scoble let the Twitter world know "I'm streaming live right now."

    If you've got nothing better to do than to have micro-conversations about everything and nothing, then I guess it might be for you.

    If you're a freelancer or otherwise self-employed or not employed, then it might be for you since you've got plenty of extra time.

    More here on my blog:


  19. I have recently started using Twitter after staying away from it for long time. I have not gained any significant advantage so far out of it but I do have realized how people communicate on twitter. The best example I can give is of Guy Kawasaki (@guykawasaki) and Loic Le Meur (@loiclemeur). I think they specifically spend certain amount of time on Twitter in a day and they try to start some kind of communication. They both promote their startups Seesmic and Truemors heavily on Twitter and generate really good amount of traffic.

    I am learning to use twitter from them.