February 27, 2009

Is Twitter Broken, Or Are We Looking at It Wrong?

By Ken Stewart of ChangeForge (Twitter/FriendFeed)

Twitter is broken - again!?!

It's not the "fail whale" this time, but there is a lot of conversation going on about why Twitter isn't working for those looking for conversation. While Twitter reaches a point of critical mass and is being talked about more as a mainstream application among many demographics today, there is something fundamentally flawed with how it is being used.

Twitter has become, to many, a rolling billboard of information that might just give you indigestion. Dictionary.com defines the word twitter.

Twit - ter:

–verb (used without object)

  1. to utter a succession of small, tremulous sounds, as a bird.
  2. to talk lightly and rapidly, esp. of trivial matters; chatter.
  3. to titter; giggle.
  4. to tremble with excitement or the like; be in a flutter.

With a definition like that, why would we think it lends itself to having more than superficial conversations. Many might complain about the lack of threading and context, they also pin its success to the incredibly simplistic nature of the service.

"What are you doing in 140 characters or less?"

Wow, how did we get that mixed up? We grew hungry in our searches for massive followings, and feeling some quasi-social obligation to follow everyone that follows us. How many people in your subscription list do you actually converse with?

While some may argue that Twitter is an information source, and that following a massive number of people allows you to play the inevitable numbers game and find a few rare gems, in reality the chances of you missing rare gems is actually higher.

On FriendFeed, several threads have been circulation around, one from Robert Scoble, and one from Tina illustrating quite plainly the on-going debate many still have. Robert goes on to say,

"Twitter, you see, is really broken for interacting with large numbers of people. Friendfeed is much better."

Is Twitter any better or worse?

There is an old saying that goes, "If the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem you find looks like a nail." In this bold new world we find ourselves in, thankfully there are many tools from which we can choose - maybe even too many. Certainly FriendFeed has its merits, but is Twitter broken?

Twitter is working better than it ever has, but let's wake up and realize that we are trying to make an appetizer the main course. The problem isn't with Twitter, it's our expectations that Twitter is a panacea to solve all ills, when in fact it is simply a hammer.

Ken Stewart’s blog, ChangeForge.com, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology. To connect with Ken, you may visit him at DandyID.