Twitter me this, Twitter me that…

by Francis Wooby on May 24, 2009

By now you’ve likely heard of Twitter, and are aware of its basic function, at least in a vague sense. If not, please read this Wikipedia explanation of it. Or, if you’re not interested enough to read about it, here’s a very useful and entertaining video that does a great job of explaining.

 In case you’re not up on the latest snarky debate amongst Twitter users and other social media people (and good on you if you’re not, by the way), there’s been a backlash against celebrities (i.e., Oprah and Ashton Kutcher…Cushion…Kushi???—the dumbass from “That ‘70s Show”) joining Twitter, and the hoards of “normals” (read: not Web 2.0 nerds) they’re bringing with them. Now admittedly, I had fun throwing out stupid comments about Oprah and Ashley, but in fact I don’t really care about their Twitter involvement. I just like making fun of celebrities. Perhaps I envy them subconsciously. Whatever.

Apparently, these newcomers are inferior somehow to those of us who’ve been on Twitter longer, so their participation is going to dilute or pollute the conversation somehow.

This is an asinine argument; and that’s as politely as I can put it.

The whole point of Twitter is that YOU BUILD YOUR OWN COMMUNITY. You pick the people you’re going to follow, and thereby receive all of their little blurbs, or “tweets.” I don’t follow Oprah, therefore I am not going to see what she’s saying when I use Twitter. Same thing for  Ashley what’s-his-face.

So, unless so many people start using Twitter that it crashes the whole system (not an unreasonable fear in the early days, although the “fail whale” has been scarce lately), it doesn’t matter if people you don’t want to hear from are on it. You still don’t have to hear from them.

Twitter is what you make it.

You can use it to follow your friends, business associates, brands/products you like, your favourite artists, the weather forecasts for specific regions, celebrities, news, job postings or any mixture thereof. This is the beauty of the service. You aren’t obligated to use it in a particular way, or talk to anyone you don’t want to. It can be a fun social chat platform for you, or an effective business tool; whatever the case, you have the freedom to choose.

It’s really too bad that the versatility and huge potential of Twitter gets forgotten in silly nattering about how many more followers such and such a celebrity has than another, or who’s been using it longer.

Do you use Twitter? Do you hate Twitter? Have you even heard of Twitter? How does, or doesn’t it fit into your social and/or professional online life?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

wooby May 25, 2009 at 9:57 am

In response to this comment from Hannah:

“you know I’ve got a very conflicted relationship with Twitter. I never built up many followers and I still have less than a dozen; I don’t use it in the way many people seem to. But I have to admit, the whole superiority complex “original” twitter users developed when Oprah & Ashton came along cracked me up.

It’s such an inconsequential thing to brag about – “I was involved in a giant time-suck before you were! Nah-nah-na-na-nah!” – and I have to admit I just don’t get it… although didn’t something similar happen when Facebook went public? I seem to remember all the university students getting pissed off because regular suburbanites were able to network in.

I don’t think I have a point yet… just trying to show willing. Anyone else want to jump in?”

I think you’re right in that there was no sense in early adopters getting their backs up about new people getting on Twitter. Mind you, like anything on the InterWeb, I’m not sure how accurate the noise was in relation to the actual number of people making it. Perhaps, given how fast information spreads and expands online, it was merely the squeaks from a few discontented wheels that got the attention. At the same time, there were a number of level heads pointing out not only the harmlessness of new Twitter users, but even the benefits.

As for Facebook, I think the case was similar, but a little different. Before the rest of us were sucked into the FB Vortex, it was limited to college/university students. For them it became a very useful social tool, allowing them to arrange groups, nights out and other things quickly and easily. A good number came to rely on it. So it was more of a legitimate complaint from them when all of a sudden they had thousands of people flooding the space and complicating what was once a simple process. It wasn’t very easy for them to sift through all of the new people, junk apps, etc. they were being inundated with. Whereas with Twitter, unless you actively follow @Oprah, etc., their presence really isn’t going to impact you at all.

k. May 25, 2009 at 4:13 pm

Eternal problem. Technology and media evolve — human condition does not. Petty people pervade the world and web. People are always silly and proprietary about what they’ve made sacrosant — even if there’s no good reason.

I also have to say that I am more inclined to follow someone with some kind of public profile than not. Ultimately, it’s the quality of what they post that will keep me following, but you’ve got to base that initial decision on something. Is there maybe an issue of jealousy among people who’ve been at this for sometime watching their number of followers be dwarfed by those of some TV icon?

While it may make me superficial to follow a ‘star’ — even if it’s just a trial run, so to speak — my counter would be that if the covers of books really didn’t matter, they’d all be blank.

-k.

Gordon May 26, 2009 at 12:12 am

I am of two minds concerning Twitter. I honestly don’t care enough about anyone alive to need to know every gurgle, belch and fart of their existence. I could care less if “SoAndSo is making a banana sandwich”, or if “JohnDoe is happy that it’s sunny out.” In fact, I get a little irked if my friends change their Facebook status more than twice a day. I’m not sure if it’s at the end of the day most people really aren’t that interesting or if it’s that most people don’t have anything interesting to say. (I write that knowing full well that some may think that way about this very post.) That’s one of the biggest problems with the age of instant publication – readers demand more and more content and the average person doesn’t know how to provide it at a level of quality that is worth reading. As such, crap becomes the new median and pedestrian becomes the new brilliant. No thank you. If this is all that Twitter is (or has become), then I have no use for it and the sooner the next big thing comes along and kills it the better.

On the other hand, I do see the enormous potential of Twitter and similar systems for the dissemination of journalistic (as opposed to personal) news and information. As the managing editor of a group of non-daily newspapers, one of my biggest challenges is keeping our readership engaged between editions. Our current website (which is thankfully being killed on Thursday) is only updated once a week and can often feature content that is quite old. To have a system where we can send out advances about the stories we’re working on, teases for the print edition, quick hits about special web-only content and info on breaking news is a Godsend. If it is done properly, this “journalistic” Twittering should avoid the problem of having nothing to say as news is always going on around us that is a damn sight more interesting than some dude’s enjoyment of sunshine and bananas. It also solves the huge problem of using scarce newsroom resources. To get a new story online it has to be read by two editors and then put up. Depending on the length of the story such a process could take anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours – way too long in the digital age. Contrast that to something like “Swine flu confirmed at North Toronto Collegiate” which gets the basic story across, can be put up in under a minute and would allow us the time we need to get a proper story together for the website itself. This could be the best thing to happen to journalism in quite some time.

As a person, I hope never have to have Twitter inflicted upon me. As a journalist, I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

wooby May 27, 2009 at 8:43 am

K. I agree that many people in our culture tend to defend their “turf,” no matter how frivolous it is, or how tenuous their claim to it might be.

And yes indeed, I think the Green-eyed Monster, Jealousy, has possessed a few of the hitherto Twitter “celebrities” who suddenly found their follower numbers laughable compared to Ashton Kutcher, Oprah, CNN and other “real” celebs. There’s a real debate as to the value and definition of “influence” in the social media space. Some resent celebrities having it all of a sudden when non-celebrities have been working hard for years to build their name recognition and reputation online. I’m sure there are valid points in the debate, but I also think the arguments on both sides have a long way to go before they’re clear. Right now, I have a hard time seeing why an online communications expert, for instance, views Oprah as competition of some sort.

Back to the point of the post, Twitter is what you make it, so if some people use it follow celebrities, awesome for them. And if celebrities only use it to broadcast news about themselves, and not engage in the two-way conversational option, good for them. It doesn’t matter. There are not rules for how you’re supposed to use the thing.

wooby May 27, 2009 at 8:54 am

The beauty of Twitter, Gordon, is that it can be both things to your two minds. In the case of it being a channel for inane personal status updates, you can ignore and un-follow anyone who uses it this way, leaving you with nothing but updates you find relevant. If one of those streams goes astray in the quality of it’s content, get rid of it in seconds. No fuss, no muss. I don’t think it’s really necessary to discourage those who want to share the latest news about their cats, or how they enjoy the sun and bananas. To be trite but true, there’s enough room for everyone.

Gordon May 31, 2009 at 3:20 pm

The problem with that Francis is that is the mainstay of Twitter is publicist written drivel, boring dreck the medium won’t reach its potential. It’s just like TV and movies. If the majority of the content out there is garbage then people associate ALL TV and movies as garbage and tune out. Same with Twitter.

wooby June 2, 2009 at 9:20 am

@Gordon

How have you reached the conclusion that the bulk of “tweets” are “publicist written drivel?” From my understanding, most Twitter users are just ordinary people without publicists. The celebrity involvement is very new, and not all that significant, even though it of course received a disproportionate level of news media coverage.

I would argue that there is a wealth of information–useful information–out there on Twitter. The key to using it, though, is not by scrolling through endless screens of mostly irrelevant updates. Instead, search tools such as TweetDeck or http://www.search.twitter.com allow us to look for keywords, “hashtags,” etc. so we can see the Twitter buzz about a certain subject, person, place–whatever.

This can be incredibly useful. For instance, you can set up a search/alert for references to your paper and engage with the those who tweet about it. This creates another channel for reader feedback, news dissemination, reader-submitted news, subscriber relations or whatever else you want to make of it.

As a whole, I agree that Twitter can be an incomprehensible mess of random, personal and pointless information. But by creating and applying your own filters, you can focus only on what is interesting and useful to you.

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