I’ve tried to like Twitter. Really, I have. And I haven’t given up on it entirely. But it just seems like too much about too little. My long-suffering not-as-technophilic-as-I-am husband took a look at the Twitter home page on my desktop the other day and said it looked like the stupidest bunch of nonsense he’d ever seen. And I can’t entirely disagree with him! It isn’t that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with Twitter; it’s just that I don’t like the current implementation of it. In this review of my two week’s time on Twitter so far, I’ll tell you what I didn’t like about my experience in Twitterville and what I would like to get out of it in the future.
For starters, I was disappointed to find that hardly anyone I know or care about following is actually on Twitter at this time. This experience was in sharp contrast to my entrée into the Facebook world, which was like showing up at a party where you expect to see the one person who invited you and instead you end up seeing almost everyone you’ve ever known. The lack of friends I know on Twitter was the first disappointment. Then there’s the fact that some of my friends who have Twitter accounts don’t even check them regularly enough to have update them or reciprocate my follow by following me.
Then there are the people on Twitter that I did know and have enjoyed “socializing” with on Flickr. It was like a bubbly drink going flat. It’s fun to look at people’s photos on Flickr, comment on them, and have them comment on mine. There’s a lot of mutual admiration and wittiness that goes on in Flickr comments. But now, on Twitter, suddenly I’m hearing about their every cappuccino and reading @replies like, “@janedoe I know, right?” and “@simone Mais oui!” These tweets mean absolutely nothing to me and are of no entertainment value whatsoever.
Then there’s the redundancy of the Twitter home page. It simply lists the most recent tweets (140 character updates sent from mobile phones or Internet devices either mobile or stationary) posted by people you follow in chronological order. This means that if some little bird you know (I won’t name names) is chirping like a bird in heat about every little thing — mostly @replies that make no sense to anyone but the @recipient — then what you get is a Twitter homepage full of a slew of meaningless tweets from one very chirpy friend. Now, does that mean there’s anything wrong with the way your friend is using Twitter? Well, yes and no. Yes, because I think it would make much more sense if they limited these private replies to “direct messages” (Twitter’s form of private 1:1 messages from one Twitter user to another). I mean why bore everyone on Twitter with short answers to questions they haven’t heard? “@barbie I’m like, so totally sure!” But no, it’s not all their fault; it’s also the fault of the Twitter UI. I mean, imagine if you logged onto Flickr and it was only a slew of images posted by all of your contacts in chronological order? I know with some people’s photostreams (you know the ones who upload every image they shoot, even if they all look the same?), my Flickr experience would be awful if that’s what I saw when I logged in. Why doesn’t Twitter do a little bit more to help its members organize their Twitter experience? It would be nice if, for example, your Twitter homepage could be configured to show only the most recent tweet from each of your contacts, allowing you to click on a control to view more if you’re interested.
I have some other ideas that I think would make Twitter more useful. Allow users to rate tweets either “meaningful” or “meaningless”, “helpful” or “not helpful”, or “interesting” or “not interesting.” Even a simple thumbs up / thumbs down would be an improvement. Other sites, such as YouTube, allow you to rate user comments with thumbs up or thumbs down (and God knows with all the immature “haters” on YouTube this is a good thing). Twitter does currently allow you to “favorite” particular tweets for yourself, but those favorites are not, to my knowledge, available to anyone else for their information or enjoyment. (Compare this to Flickr, in which favorites surfing can be a joyous thrill that both entertains and tells you a lot about the person whose favorites you’re following.)
There’s something else about Twitter that really bugs me. No, let me rephrase that; it makes me sick. It’s this whole “social marketing” thing that has everyone on Twitter trying to sell something. You’ve got your “social media experts” trying to sell their consulting services and be your guide through the maze of all this newfangled “Web 2.0” stuff. They want to help you sell your “brand.” And you know what that is? You! Yeah! You, Incorporated. You’re supposed to be a brand, now. That’s how you’re supposed to define yourself to the world and make money. And how do these people make money? Supposedly by telling you how to make money. But what do they do all day? From what I’ve seen, I get the feeling that what they do all day is sit and tweet on Twitter. Texting addicts now have a shiny new brand: social media gurus. And it’s not just the “experts” that use Twitter to sell things. It’s people promoting their websites, people promoting their businesses, people promoting their services, etc. And I have to admit: I’ve used Twitter to promote my uploads to Flickr and my latest blog posts. But most of that is stuff I give free to the world. If anything, I’ve used Twitter to “sell” the current show I’m in, Phoenix Opera‘s production of Aïda, and try to get people to support the local arts and have an amazing entertainment experience in the meantime. The sad thing is, though, that as much as I would hope Twitter would sell the opera, only one person I know on Twitter bought a ticket, and no one even came to the two rehearsals I invited the world to. (But then, they didn’t come from Flickr or Facebook either, so maybe that’s just the limited appeal of opera for you.)
But Twitter is not all bad! Far from it. There are a few people I follow who tweet a few times a day, and their tweets are meaningful to me. One of them is Twitter CEO Evan (ev on Twitter) and another is Zappos.com CEO Tony (zappos on Twitter). They each tweet a few times a day, and their tweets are informative and sometimes entertaining. I would like to see more tweeps (that’s what Twitter members call each other) take after them. On the extreme of this brevity, though, are people like Stephen Colbert (StephenColbert on Twitter) who post only one meticulously crafted tweet per day– tweets they probably spend all day honing or hire someone else to write for them. These tweets may be witty, but they do not offer a genuine interview of personality or daily life. To me, these tweets are too “safe” and are probably just a careful “branding” of one’s persona rather than an authentic sharing of one’s thoughts and actions. (I now shield myself from the wrath of the Almighty Colbert.)
It would be refreshing to meet some tweeps who are neither trying to brand themselves nor chatting up a storm like a teenage girl (no ageism nor sexism intended, but then, I refuse to be politically correct, so there you have it). What I am looking for in people whose updates I’d like to follow are:
- Friends I already know and care about
- Strangers with like thoughts, feelings, and activities
- Colleagues in my professions / hobbies (interpreting, photography, performing arts, writing, etc.) who share war stories and laughs with each other.
- People who simply give good “interview” without TMI
As for the other tweeps? I block the ones who “follow” me but whose bios are nothing more than advertisements for their websites which, in turn, are advertisements for their products or services. And the too-chatty tweeters? I just can’t bear to follow them at this point; sorry. It’s not you; it’s me. Well… maybe it is you. 😉
So, do I have any hope for Twitter? I think so. Personally, and perhaps selfishly, I like to use my Twitter account to “microblog” (I love that word) about current events in real time. I have my Twitter account configured to place an HTML badge on the sidebar of my blog (I love the Flash badge, but I want my blog to be readable on mobile devices like my T-Mobile G1 with Google, so… no Flash for me). And I use the WordPress Twitter Tools plugin to send an update to Twitter when I publish a new blog post. I use Twitter as an experiment in brief, 140-character copywriting. As a writer who earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in Communications / Media Study, “tweeting” my thoughts and activities is a marvelous exercise in both writing and embracing new communications media. I use Twitter to let off steam. I use Twitter to be funny (if only to make myself laugh when I could cry). And I really do try to use Twitter to reach out to people, ask questions, give answers, and make friends. Sadly, though, I found that too many times, my questions went unanswered. And I fear I’ve made a few enemies with my criticisms of Twitter and the way people tweet, but who else is going to say these things? They need to be said.
What good is a connected world when it becomes so incestuous that you’re afraid to criticize it for fear of hurting people’s feelings? Critical thinking is one of the bulwarks of a functional society, as is social criticism. I was born and raised a New Yorker, and I don’t mean to use that as a copout for being rude, but I resist being some fake chipper person who pretends to like you and then stabs you in the back. If I have a problem with you, you’re gonna hear it from me. That’s what I like about New Yorkers– you know where you stand with them.
Lastly, I’m concerned about how much of a “time suck” Twitter can be, in the words of a tweep I know from Flickr. It has, in fact, made it harder for me to keep up with my Flickr contacts in terms of viewing, faving, and commenting on their photos. And it’s even taken some time away from my marriage; in fact, tonight, the one night I have off from a week full of rehearsals, I’m spending an hour or two typing this blog post instead of spending more time with my husband. I feel a bit bad about this, but I do need me time to write, and I haven’t had any until now, so I’m using my me time to write how I feel about things rather than just sit on the sofa with the hubby and watch TV. But maybe that’s TMI. We must all find balance in our lives whatever it is we take on as hobbies or professions. Tonight, I chose to be a blogger rather than a television audience. That’s not so bad. Now I’d better go and show my real friends (life partner and two dogs) how much I really love them. Good night and happy communicating!
P.S. The next morning: I should probably add that, if after reading all this, you would like to follow me on Twitter, my name there is — surprise! — danielgreene. And my Flickr name is also danielgreene.
P.P.S. Okay, I’m still learning the fine art of blogging. I am really hungry for answers, so let me ask the question. How do you make reading tweets work for you? How do you follow hundreds or thousands of people? Do you received text message updates? Do you browse Twitter Mobile, Twitter, the standard website, or some other app or mashup? I really want to know what makes Twitter work for you. Please comment below and tell me.