Cafe Witness

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Why Twitter Scares People

Some people claim to fear Twitter (and social media in general) because of its seeming captivity at the hands of the inane. They worry that our culture is being hijacked by the mouth-breathers and the endlessly self-fascinated, and they refuse to give in to the urge to tumble into their own navels.

Fair enough.

But an equally large portion of the populace are petrified of Twitter for its disarming ability to cut through the BS and the way it encourages its users to remove their veils. Its 140 character limit is challenging, not just because it enforces brevity, but because it robs many of us of the flowery contexts we've come to rely on in blogs, or podcasts, or other social networking tools.

On Twitter, we have to be blunt. We have to be relevant. But most of all, we have to be ourselves.

And that's when people panic.

Not everyone, obviously, or the site wouldn't be growing at the rate it is. But, now that it's entering its 3rd or 4th iteration of acceptance, and ebbing further and further into the mainstream, it brings with it a host of new users who believe these highly-targeted opt-in services are their ticket to insta-marketing dominance.

Boy, Are They Wrong.

Whenever someone "follows" me on Twitter, I check their profile to see if it's someone I'd like to follow back. I read their most recent page of posts. If those posts are all links to their blog (or someone else's), I ignore them.

Why? Because Twitter leaves the power of the conversation in my hands -- and why would I want to voluntarily be talked at by a company while I'm otherwise engaged in useful conversation?

Likewise, the people who mistake Twitter for an invitation to repost their RSS feed, or to make PR-tinged statements designed to lure people to their own website, are missing the point. Instead of proving their merit through legitimate dialogue and adding value to the ongoing discussion, they believe disrupting that very discussion with a personal announcement -- essentially, an ad amidst the content -- will somehow be well-received by the participants.

How ludicrous.

Ask yourself this: who's more likely to get your business as a wedding photographer -- the person who takes great photos, is courteous and witty when approached, and engages you in conversation near the open bar, or the person who usurps the microphone during the best man's toast to remind the guests that she offers discounts on bulk prints?

Like social media in general, Twitter is all about personality. If you don't have one, don't bother.

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  • I agree with you that Twitter is valuable and especially useful for cutting through the fog.

    I also dislike when people link to their own posts in their twits. If I want to read someone's blog and be notified of new posts, I add their RSS feed to my reader.

    But so to my point: Why do you link to your posts in Twitter? Why don't you trust that your Twitter followers are subscribed to your RSS feeds?

    I don't think there's an acceptable ratio of blog-link twits to other twits. That line feels too hard to draw. Except if someone wants to use Twitter as a feed reader, hoping to be notified whenever someone blogs -- but even for that, I'd rather someone build a twitter add-on that merges blog RSS feeds with twits.

    I fear I'm singling you out on this, when you're definitely not the worst "offender." But since you raise the issue yourself, I'm interested in your thinking on this.

    By Anonymous Cynthia Closkey, at 10:50 AM  

  • I agree completely with your post, and am delighted to see how you address these issues in a unique and idiosyncratic way, meaning different from how I do it.

    You are a skilled debater and deep thinker. This is a post that is needed and you can sink your mind teeth into it.

    Hatred/fear of the core values of social media, Transparency, Authenticity, Integrity. Oh yeah, Accountability.

    That's what stalls CEOs and get rich quickers -- who merely wish to use social media as another exploitation venue.

    Love this post. Incredibly adept writing. You're also one of my favorite Twitterers.

    By Blogger steven edward streight, at 10:57 AM  

  • I think it may be going overboard to say that anyone is scared of Twitter. It's not so much an insult against other people for possibly being reticent to jump on Twitter, it just makes you sound like you know the only perfect way to use Twitter.

    Who are you to demand that people stop using Twitter to post links? And why in the world would you want to LIMIT something like that?

    What if your e-mail couldn't handle attachments, because someone didn't like the idea that some "company" might send them files. Or what if you couldn't put images on your blog, because some "company" might put an image up thats an ad!

    What you see as useless links are simply an illustration of the infinite customization potential of the internet. If you don't use Twitter the exact same way someone else does, good for you! As far as I was aware, the account grants you a small profile, a friends list, and 140 characters. I don't remember agreeing to any EULAs governing whether or not I can commit crimes against humanity like posting a blog link or god forbid using rss. I say post whatever you want, it's your damn account.

    If your feelings really are that Twitter must be used to meet some sort of standard justin dialogue protocols, then I hope it continues to expand into areas like RSS and blog echoing, just so it "scares" thinking like yours away.

    By Blogger UJ, at 11:09 AM  

  • Justin,
    We here over at SIDT also do the same as you and post when something new is on our site.

    I can understand some folks frustration with this but we feel that we are sharing this with our group ("followers"), who we consider friends.

    So, in a sense we are just letting our friends know what we are doing at any given moment since SIDT is a big part of our lives, we want to share it with the people we know.

    On a final note, we (mostly myself) also use the SIDT twitter account as a personal platform for whatever goes on in my twisted existence. Most folks we twitter with associate myself & Spoon with SIDT so it only seems natural.

    By Anonymous Brad (aka sickpuppy), at 11:11 AM  

  • Cynthia: No, I don't trust that my Twitter followers are subscribed to my blog feed via RSS because I know that I myself am not subscribed to anyone's blog via RSS. I actually find out about most people's blog posts via their Twitter updates, or by surfing through my bookmarks.

    Thus, if I'm not as organized in my information intake as you are, neither is someone else -- or a lot of someone elses.

    Josh: I'm not against the dissemination of relevant blog posts, podcast updates, or other seemingly "work-related" information via Twitter (or anywhere else). What I AM against is confusing that dissemination with "joining the conversation." If that's all someone brings to the table, they're not actually getting involved, they're just self-promoting to the detriment of a greater possible use.

    You wouldn't defend someone who used a tire iron to beat someone, would you? Of course not; that's a gross misuse of the tire iron...

    By Blogger Justin Kownacki, at 11:21 AM  

  • Great post! Love the wedding photog comparison. I just commented on Blonde2.0's post along these same topic lines.

    Unlike Cynthia, I don't object per se to people putting links to their blog in a Tweet. I like the immediacy of it. I like not having to wait for Google Reader to poll the site later today to find it, especially if I'm a fan of the person and/or their blog.
    I do object, though, to blog linking if that's all they Tweet about. Then it's just abusing the channel.

    By Blogger Joe C, at 11:23 AM  

  • I think the point of the article is to differentiate pure marketers & real people who are into the "conversation".

    If you never @anybody then you are not part of the conversation. If you following to follower ratio is way off, your not part of the conversation.

    If you don't acknowledge somebody that @'s you, your not part of the conversation.

    Be part of the conversation and you will go far with twitter, and we won't look down upon you when you pimp your wares every now and then.

    -Jeff O'Hara

    By Blogger zemote, at 11:33 AM  

  • I have just about everyone I know who writes a blog on my Google Reader. I don't mind seeing links on Twit to your blog because there is a chance I may have missed something but seeing it consistently is a bit much.

    In regards to SIDT and STBD though, if you choose to follow, you're following a show (even though sickpup uses that account) so it's expected.

    I honestly refused to get on Twitter at first because what I thought I knew of it and what it was were 2 different things. I didn't know that I could do this all via the web and not waste my 300 txt messages a month at the time. I didn't know I could turn off notifications so I wouldn't get 500 justine and Brogan updates and hour.

    Now that I've given it a shot though I like it. I love that now I also get an insight on friends from podcamp besides just the meetups.

    I think there's a fear in general for some people when it comes being involved online when there's human interaction. If you're not familiar with the technology you worry that someone will find out your personal information and cause problems. Hell, I still use a PO Box. but that's because its paid for a year at a time now.

    By Anonymous spoon, at 11:35 AM  

  • To jump into the socnet exploitation debate, there are two things I protest quite aggressively:

    (1) PayPerPost type socnet spamming, where you exclusively or primarily hype links to products, pretending to be a satisfied user, when your tweets are actually compensated. Incentivized messages break the trust web of P2P recommendations.

    (2) Using Twitter as a passive advertising venue, in which to practice Business As Usual old skool anti-Cluetrain promotions, and not interacting with other members, not joining the conversation as a human personality, but as a vending machine soliciting product orders.

    RE: Twitter as "trivial", that chanrge can be levelled against telephones, postal mail, email, TV, radio, blogs, web sites, every type of communication.

    Why avoid a networking tool, simply because you don't like how some others are using it?

    By Blogger steven edward streight, at 11:48 AM  

  • PS I like it when people tweet links to their own posts, but not when they do only that.

    I don't use RSS, though I advise all blogs and sites to enable it for their audience members.

    So to say RSS supplants Twitter as link propagation, I just say "Twitter is the new blogroll". Heh.

    By Blogger steven edward streight, at 11:50 AM  

  • No, I WANT your links to things you find interesting, that's why I am following you.

    I do not want a lot of "noise", where some users may bombard my channels with questions.

    I follow some people for useful info, like you, some for ALWAYS links, like Mal Burns, and some for just out and out humour and funny gags/jokes.

    So clearly one approach is not where I am at, I am at a personal selection approach based on the individual, and of course as we can not follow it's perfect for swithing irritants off.

    I also have a few twitter accounts for some of my websites, new content new tweet, which some people like a lot as it's a good form of update.

    Different horses for different courses.


    By Anonymous Chris Hambly, at 11:55 AM  

  • I just want to read interesting content on Twitter. Lots of times that content is via links, whether to someone's own blog or something else a twitterer thought was worth sharing. I routinely read through twitter, middle-clicking on links as I go to open new tabs, then I go back and read the tabs.

    What's not interesting to me is a steady stream of links, with no other content, or context, and like you I generally won't follow back someone like that.

    As far as being afraid of Twitter, I've seen that in two types of people- those who don't want to give out personal information anyway, and those who know they'd be sucked right in and feel they don't have the time for it.

    Wait, make that three- journalists who've never tried it and don't get it but feel compelled to write about it.

    By Anonymous Annie Boccio, at 12:24 PM  

  • The tire iron defense is fair enough, but you still seem to be saying that people aren't using it the way you want to, as in it can only be used to "join the conversation.

    Someone may in fact kill someone with a tire iron, but I wouldn't turn it into a rant on how people don't use tire irons the way I want them to. You can change a tire with it, kill someone, or maybe display it as art. I don't really care because its your tire iron.

    Also, I wonder what you have to say about Twitterzens like the BBC or Go Left? They're "companies" that don't engage in the conversation. Do you think they should be banned from Twitter? Does Twitter require a constant linkless, blogless flow of conversation?

    I thought it was just 140 characters.

    I don't mean to be so caustic about this, but it seems to me this post should be about you and how you like to use twitter, not about making judgements about other people's habits. Who are you to call people scared of Twitter? Who are you to decide whats the proper way to have a conversation on twitter? And who the hell are you to say you can't have links?

    I, and I assume everyone else, reads your blog and follows your twitters because you are exciting and interesting. You stop being that when it becomes just another blogger judging some group of people for not using the internet the exact way you want them to.

    By Blogger UJ, at 1:05 PM  

  • I tend to agree with Annie's comments above. I use Twitter for the sum whole of the content, including links and such. I don't think there's anything wrong with a creator linking to a blog post or episode or anything of the sort. I love the immediacy of it and if I feel like someone is linking too much or just simply over self-promoting, I just drop them. Two clicks, bam, done. And I almost never bother following companies or people that dump their RSS feed into Twitter for that very reason.

    Isn't part of what makes new media "new", getting your message and content out there using every available means? Why pigeonhole yourself into getting new content by RSS alone?

    By Anonymous Jim, at 1:14 PM  

  • I don't mind links to blog posts. I do it myself. But if that's *all* that someone posts or if its an autmoated feed2tweet script then unless I *really* want to follow it, I probably won't. I'll just subscribe to the feed. Having something to say beyond just posting links is important. Sometimes that can be a one-shot comment, sometimes it can be part of a longer conversation.

    Now, to add another level of indirection to the conversation... here's a link to a tweet about my blog post that was inspired by this article.

    Sorry, couldn't resist doing that.

    By Anonymous McC, at 1:56 PM  

  • Josh: It seems our arguments aren't mutually exclusive, except for the semantics.

    You keep asking who I am to make proclamations about how you should use Twitter. I'd respond by saying, who are you tell me I can't? But that misses the point entirely, because the point -- as you've all been saying -- is that everyone is free to use Twitter as they see fit.


    As this is my blog, I tend to post my opinions. Thus, I'll certainly explain how I feel something should be used -- at the very least, for me personally. If people DIDN'T post their opinions, their blogs would be milquetoast observations about majority rule, and that's not exactly a compelling discourse.

    However, it does spark the idea for a number of other blog posts... (Who says commenting on blogs doesn't matter?)

    Oh, and for the record, I don't mind if the BBC or CNN use Twitter as a newsfeed, since I can opt in or out. But I process news differently than I do a litany of updates about one's company, especially when those updates are barely disguised press releases.

    By Blogger Justin Kownacki, at 2:22 PM  

  • I can't help but think of the original way that Twitter was supposed to be used.
    "What are you doing?" much like the Facebook status message.
    Instead, like Justin points out it's less what we're doing and more a conversation. There are a number of reasons for this but that's another post.
    As for 'Blog Tweets' (lets call them 'Bleets' ha ha!) I see a ouple of reasons to 'bleet' firstly it is to let your friends know you posted. I think that it is assumed that they are interested in your posting etc.
    Also, if your bleet timeline is public it increases blog exposure in general as it hits the 'public' timeline etc. Search engines love twitter time lines.

    On a side note. I've written about all this! Why does no-one read TechBurgh?!

    By Blogger Manx203, at 7:37 AM  

  • Outstanding post. I wrote one myself on this very topic the other day. I won't point it out because that might make me ignorable :)

    In all seriousness, Twitter is a fantastic medium for communication. It doesn't have to just be about "i just went to the bathroom" talk either. That seems to be a major misconception.

    By Blogger William, at 1:55 PM  

  • Uncanny how similar what I blogged just yesterday about Twitter is to what you're saying here, Justin.

    I loved the concluding sentence: "Twitter is about personality; if you don't have one, don't bother!"

    Am following you now :)

    All success


    By Anonymous Dr.Mani, at 12:07 PM  

  • I put my feed in my tweets. Two reasons:

    I've got some friends who don't get RSS, don't care about RSS, but care about me :)

    Plus I don't tweet too much (I'm trying to get in the habit). And many of my tweets get followed up by a blog post so it's sometimes/generally relevant.

    (I don't really do RSS readers but I should.)


    By Blogger Gary LaPointe, at 10:20 PM  

  • Oh my god finally! Somebody mentions the question that defines Twitter, and separates it from all other places. "Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?" If you take that question literally, the answer is perpetually, "I am twittering." Or at least "I am doing ....(something computer-related)". So I think that it's this question that trips everybody up, including me. Can you imagine sitting around with your friends (or family, or co-workers) and the only thing you could say was what you were doing? One sentence. Say what it is you're doing. That's it. Now communicate that way with each other.
    Twitter's home page doesn't say, "how are you feeling?" or "What do you think about that guy's twitter?" So even responding is confusing. Cause now I gotta respond to somebody's twitter with a statement of what I'm doing.
    "I'm sitting on my couch."
    Response: "oh yeah? Well I'm sky diving!"
    Like, look how much cooler my life is.
    Popularity contest? Followers. Leaders. High school? I don't get it.
    But that's what makes Twitter Twitter, it's that blasted question! Damn you Twitter!!
    just kidding. I'm likin' it.

    By Blogger Anissa, at 11:51 PM  

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