Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Twitterpated Twitter Tweeters

I remember laughing when I first happened upon Twitter two years ago. I wrote it off as the "Facebook status on steroids." Since then, I have joined the Twitter fray with a more open mind, but I have yet to really feel like it's actually serving me in any positive way.

Right now, you might be asking yourself, "So what is Twitter exactly?" and that's a perfectly logical response. Despite the rampant Twitter-loving that's been going on in some circles, I think there are a lot of people out there (i.e. anyone who isn't a technology/social networking nerd and anyone who isn't a trying-hard-to-be-plugged-in journalist) who still don't really get what it's all about. Heck, I've been playing with it for a month or so and I still don't really get it.

Here are 7 things about Twitter that I do know:
  1. You have 140 characters to provide an update about what you're doing, a short comment with a link, a witty observation or anything else you want to say in 140 characters. But it can be no longer than that. These updates are known as "Tweets."
  2. You can "Follow" people so that their updates will appear automatically in your Facebook Newsfeed-style Twitter "timeline." The more followers a user has, the cooler the Twitter community thinks they are.
  3. You can reply directly to another Twitter user's update by adding @username to the beginning of your Tweet. It's kind of like commenting on a Facebook status, but all of your followers will see the reply because it's in your regular stream of updates.
  4. You can "direct message" another user, which serves as a private message.
  5. You can add a "hashtag" to your message by adding # to the beginning of a word. This will highlight your Tweet for people who are scouring the Twitter community for use of that keyword. It also allows people to see Tweets on a particular subject/person/noun that they care about.
  6. All of this activity can be viewed through a Web browser or on your cell phone. This makes Twitter a very mobile and (if you don't have an unlimited data plan) potentially expensive activity.
  7. You can also "re-tweet" someone else's tweet by copying their tweet and adding "RT @username" to the front of it. It's kind of like when you said something funny in grade school and the popular kid heard it and repeated it to everyone.
So what is the point of all this? I think that's still being determined and there are many schools of thought on the subject. Right now, I think the most compelling theory is that Twitter is a broadcast system. It's not great for conversations (140-character one-liners won't replace e-mail any time soon), but it's good for tracking what people are talking about via Twitter Search, getting a message out to your "followers" or seeking short and punchy responses from them.

This setup is perfect for advertisers, news outlets and freaky religious cults. But for casual communicators who are already on Facebook and G-chat? I don't think there is much of an impetus to board the Twitter bus just yet. My "followers" are mostly techies, journos or both. This makes for a very insulated conversation, which I believe is Twitter's greatest weakness--a tremendous lack of diversity. I am also following many friends who have created accounts and not updated even once. I can't say that I blame them.

I won't go so far as to say that Twitter is "just a fad," but I think there will have to be some added value to it before the general public will bite. Nevertheless, if you do decide to check it out, follow me @payolelly.

1 comment:

ap said...

"It's kind of like when you said something funny in grade school and the popular kid heard it and repeated it to everyone." LOL