Figuring Twitter out

The success of Twitter always puzzled me – it was probably the first massively popular web phenomenon that I just could not get. I don’t spend a lot of time on World of Warcraft, or Second Life, but at least I can easily understand their appeal, and why people use them. For Twitter, I just could not understand it.

‘Why would anyone use a service so restrictive and limited in use, and like it?’, I thought. For one, it’s full of self-promotion, utilised by many as one big PR tool. I felt like I was being spammed every time I visited (until, that is, I learned to un-follow any of ‘those’ accounts), and at other times it just looked like a whole bunch of ‘in’ people sharing ‘in’ jokes and having their own little private conversations to which I was not invited, but which were nonetheless put out in the public, as if to say ‘look at me, I actually have friends’ or ‘geek is the new trendy’.

To help myself to understand it – without necessary aiming to like it, but just to get a better grasp of why others did – I told myself eight days ago that I would put something on my Twitter (Tweet?) at least one a day.

  • Installing TwitterFox has helped. Now I don’t need to go through the hassle of loading a website just to do something which should be trivially easy to do, given you are writing just a few words.
  • The @ signs in messages annoy me. Twitter should just hide the @, allowing you to link to another user without it looking like some sort of secret geek language.
  • The need to use URL shorteners annoys me. Twitter should just hide the URL and show it as link text instead, allowing the link to show up as part of your sentence, you know, like in HTML. This is probably the single most embarrassingly backward feature of Twitter, so lacking that an entire industry of ‘URL shortening services’ has thrived as a result of this limitation. Imagine their lack of
  • Twitter is not open. It’s controlled by one company (and doesn’t have a good record of staying up). Can I host a Twitter site on my own server? I guess this point is kind of moot; as much as I find it mildly irritating, most people, unlike me, don’t really care too much about ‘freedom’ in that sense. But even a viable Twitter competitor would open up the market a bit. I may check out at some stage.
  • I have been inspired by the likes of Sockington, who I think uses the Twitter format really well.

All in all, I’ve found that it is actually easier to maintain a regular posting habit on Twitter than on my blog, which is refreshing. A week ago I didn’t understand the point of Twitter at all, and while I still see Twitter as largely made up of chaff I can now understand that it is like any other self-published media, including blogging: 95% of it is uninteresting, but the 5% that’s good can make it an enjoyable experience.

You can check out my Twitter here and tell me if I am a twit or not.

2 Replies to “Figuring Twitter out”

  1. Hey Tom,

    First, it’s great to see you on Twitter. 🙂

    Second, though, I think you judging this a little too much and thinking about all of this a little too hard man. 🙂 At the end of the day, if you enjoy it, use it… if you don’t, don’t. Twitter is what you make it, but it’s not for everyone. So, just have fun, whatever you do.

    But, I am glad to see you there. 🙂



  2. Tom, I also don’t get Twitter. But it’s an adaptation of SMS (short message service), right? And the culture is an adaptation of SMS culture. When I was living in Indonesia and in Uganda, people sent many more SMSs than placed phone calls. Cheaper (less than 1 cent per message), even faster when you have predictive text turned on. It’s addictive. So, the limit on character count, the inability to place links, all part of that origin.

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