A few notes on Twitter

January 9th, 2008 § 0 comments

Twitter:
[1] talk in a light, high-pitched voice
[2] idle or ignorant talk

The Oxford Pocket Dictionary, 2007 edition

In light of those definitions, one could wonder why Twitter chose such a name. Then again, maybe the joke is one us.

I’ve been using Twitter intermittently for a few of months now. I started using it in a BarCamp for which I provided live coverage for my Portuguese blog readers, and decide to experiment with both formats simultaneously: I would write a more elaborate entry after a particular discussions, and would try to post tidbits of the conversation on Twitter while people were talking.

The experience ultimately left me dissatisfied with Twitter. Maybe I’m not a multi-tasking person, but trying to post to Twitter, while listening to people talk, and also trying to keep with replies to the Twitter entries proved too distracting to me.

After a couple months of usage, I can’t say I have any special insights about Twitter. Twitter seems to be IRC done socially. IRC has long been a popular application among a certain kind of Internet user, but it depends on a very specific application and clear choice about what channels one should follow. Twitter changes the equation by allowing a user to subscribe to people instead of channels. Obviously, its lacks the focus of a dedicated IRC channel, although it provides a way for its users to reach across followers and follow specific subjects.

This mechanism can be used efficiently by people trying to keep or meetings and conferences, although some users will be uncomfortable with the flood of information tracking can unleash. But considering that neither IRC nor IM can provide such immediacy across people not linked by personal contacts, Twitter has a definitive advantage here.

The ability to follow people and occasionally track specific channels may prove the only advantage of Twitter to me. Using it, I’m able to keep updated about the notational Zeitgeist of the people I’m following–and, indirectly, of the people they are in turn following. Also, if the people I follow belong to my market, I may be able to glimpse trends by seeing what it’s calling their attention during the day. Of course, this can be quite misleading and people seeking insight may not find what they are looking for.

Twitter is a noisy tool. Keeping it continuously on is a sure way to lower productivity. More than IM, because most people still respect status messages, while Twitter gives an implicit permission to call your attention–if you are following somebody, it’s quite obvious you want to see what he or she is posting. This stream of consciousness can be very distracting.

Ultimately, Twitter has outsourced office talk, and the same restrictions apply. You may think people are not paying attention only to find your boss listening over your shoulder.

I will probably keep using Twitter by applying the same logic I apply to IM. I follow status conventions, and I rarely allow people to bother me when I’m signaling I’m busy. With Twitter, this mean turning it off whenever I need to focus on a problem. What Twitter itself may gain with my participation remains to be seem.

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