The stated purpose of Twitter is to exchange answers to the question, “What are you doing?” with friends and family. There are a few obvious problems with the concept. In some sense, it’s really just a service to send a text message to a bunch of people at once, as though you couldn’t do that anyway if you have a half-decent phone. Then there’s the obvious question whether you, or your friends or family, would want your friends and family to know about every single thing you’re doing. There’s a limit to how much following you can do at once, especially if you’re getting text messages for every single tweet (meaning you’re constantly interrupted by each incoming text) and racking up your text message bill. There are all sorts of horror stories of people begging their friends, “don’t tweet me every couple of minutes!” and “I don’t want to know what you had for dinner last night!”
In fact, if Twitter was as simple as I just described, it probably would not be on its way to becoming The Next Big Thing(tm). Instead the makers of Twitter made several decisions that, in retrospect, represent them lucking out on something they could cash in on if they just found the right business model:
- Tweets are public. Anyone can read them, even people who haven’t signed up for Twitter (contrast, say, Facebook). This is why Twitter is called a “microblogging” platform instead of, say, a “mass text message” platform.
- Followers control whether they want to follow you, not the other way around. It would be at the very least impractical for Ashton Kutcher to send messages to a million-plus screaming fans all at once. Big celebrities and news organizations like CNN could set up a “text this word to this number and get alerts right to your phone!” service, and probably do (for one thing, they could charge their own fees for it). But Twitter allows them to save the expense of having such a system AND open them up to anyone who desires to read them, in the spirit of the Internet itself. In fact, followship is not even a reciprocal relationship as with most social networking services, so it doesn’t have the “commitment” of “friendship”, and you don’t have to follow someone you’re not interested in just because they want to follow you. (I suspect some celebrities and corporate tweeters don’t get this and blindly follow everyone that follows them.)
- It’s possible to run Twitter without using text messages, or even going to the site that often. Twitter has opened things up for anyone to “build a better Twitter”. I’m not really sure what the point is – either Twitter’s admitting their site sucks or it works just fine and there’s no need to use something else – but I do know I would like a Twitter platform that won’t go on the fritz if it’s disconnected from the Internet (i.e., it’ll pick right back up when you re-connect to the Internet). And that won’t prevent me from hibernating but there’s only one way to find out if that’s the case.
- I think Twitter itself anticipated that their service would not just be used to answer the question “What are you doing?” even though almost everything about their site works under that assumption. How else to explain the existence of “@replies” or “retweets” (admittedly the latter is unofficial) or other such things? Twitter clearly sees itself as a social networking platform of some kind.
At the same time, Twitter’s relative independence from social networking platforms like MySpace and Facebook work to its benefit as well, including the non-reciprocity of followship, which actually creates more of an incentive for people to follow you when it means strictly “receiving their tweets”. If Twitter were just another social networking platform it probably would never have been able to run down the giants. By focusing all its attention on a sole feature – quick, bang-bang updates sent out to as many people as want to hear them – and downplaying the social networking aspect of its existence, Twitter has established for itself a separate identity. You don’t go to Twitter to meet new people or whatever else you do on MySpace, nor should you, and you don’t go to Facebook to write a bunch of little blurbs every half hour.
Okay, so why tweet instead of blog? Isn’t tweeting just an extremely limited form of blogging? There’s the social networking aspects, but Blogger’s decided to ape those with its “follower” feature; there’s the ability to receive text messages instead of always going to a computer, but surely someone could have come up with a service that did that without outfitting it with all the bells and whistles of Twitter, right? There’s the ability to send text messages to tweet, but surely an outfit like Blogger could institute that capability too, right? So why is it that blogs – Blogger blogs even, like Fang’s Bites – not only have Twitter accounts on top of their blogs, but use them almost entirely to post links to their blog posts? I have to imagine it’s to allow text message notification to people for whom RSS feeds aren’t immediate enough, or blog promotion. (I personally actually prefer to read Fang’s Bites off the RSS feed than in its “original” form.)
Perhaps more interesting is those people who put some things in their Tweeters and other things on their blogs. Why not just put the stuff you’re tweeting on your blogs and stop antagonizing readers by either polluting their text messages or Twitter roll or withholding content from them? When I made Da Blog’s tagline “The ONLY blog written by Morgan Wick”, the intended joke was that of course it was the only blog written by me, because why would I create another one when I had this one? Why would anyone start a second blog – especially one that limited how much you could write so severely – when they already had one?
Twitter really hit mainstream consciousness with the Ashton Kutcher-CNN “race to a million” and Oprah deciding to get a Twitter account – but the mere fact that Kutcher and CNN could race to a million showed that Twitter had attained some sort of mainstream acceptance even before that. People have been pushing Twitter as the “next big thing” since at least 2007 (it only launched in 2006). Celebrities and ordinary Joes alike have flocked to Twitter in droves over the past year or so, convinced they have to get on board with this next big thing, and there is some evidence they eventually get confused or frustrated and quit.
Forget, for a second, whether or not the dropoff rate is the result of people using “better Twitters”, as opposed to using the website, as some have suggested. Newbies are less likely to know they exist, so there’s probably some genuine dropoff. I’ve listed above some of the confusing aspects of Twitter, areas where the uninitiated might wonder, what the hell is the point? I think some of the people wondering about Twitter should make sure they’ve looked at the tweeters of people who have already taken to it like a glove so they can really get a feel for the technology and what the community is like.
Twitter isn’t just narcissistic; it can be a more two-way form of communication than almost anything else on the Internet, including ordinary blogs with their comments and even discussion forums, as you can have public conversations with anyone you’re following and/or who’s following you, from anywhere in the world – or even have a true “chat” room where just about anyone can come in and out. In this way it can be a way to elicit comments or contributions or other such things, invoking the “wisdom of crowds”. The immediacy of Twitter helps greatly with this as well; you don’t necessarily have to wait for a follower to go to the computer and actually look to check. You can use Twitter for personal purposes as well, such as to-do lists or notes, or to manage projects, or to cover events “as they happen” (impractical with a blog), or things you’d never expect to do with such a simple concept. There are a lot of rather unique Twitter accounts with some unique applications of the concept, more than I could possibly list here.
I said in Da Blog’s introductory post that I would never have a MySpace or Facebook account. I saw them as things that were overly popular that I was therefore, in some way, “too cool” for. I had no use for them, and if I were to hop on their bandwagon I would effectively be going along with the crowd and doing what everyone else was doing. But Twitter intrigues me. In an odd way, I actually have some personal interest in Twitter’s stated goal, of letting people know “what are you doing?” Since I was very young, I imagined any number of imaginary TV channels that in some way involved me and any number of… I won’t call them imaginary friends, per se, but imaginary people. Through various corporate acquisitions and permutations (I have very well-developed fantasies – I read Calvin and Hobbes as a kid), I’ve managed to maintain these fantasies in some form all the way to the present day. Through all these permutations, I almost always managed to have one channel that followed me around all day long in whatever I did, except maybe when I was eating. I’ve always had some interest in the rituals of my own life and how exactly I spent my day every day, what I was doing at each moment. Twitter and I were practically made for each other!
So I’ve been thinking about hopping on board the Twitter bandwagon for a little while – I’ve only had sufficient exposure to it to really think about it this year, but still. This is actually a little sooner than I had intended to do so, as I had intended to hop on board around the same time as certain other developments (that haven’t happened yet) came along, but I received an assignment from my communications class to (among other things) keep a log of my media usage for a four-day period. That aligns with one of the things I was intending to tweet about, and I just loved the irony of maintaining such a log on Twitter. From now until Monday, relevant entries in said log will be marked with the “#MediaLog” keyword.
So say hello to the real-life Morgan Wick Channel, also known as www.twitter.com/morganwick, your one-stop shop for all things Morgan Wick. Here you’ll find:
- Everything (or almost everything) I’m doing. Am I on the bus? In class? Checking feeds? Working on the latest blog post? Doing actual work? Watching TV? You’ll know.
- If I’m moved to leave a comment on something somewhere on the Internet, I’ll usually elect to write a mirroring Twitter post, depending on how much I’ve talked about the topic on Da Blog and some other factors. (Sports or webcomics? Yes. Global warming? No.)
- Anything happening in the Morgan Wick Online Universe (which I intend to tighten soon). Every time I make a post on Da Blog, it will appear on the Twitter feed with a link. This includes “web site news” items, so you’ll get tweets every time I update the web site. I’ll also tweet every time a new Sandsday goes up, which should be a more reliable and punctual option than the Komix feed, as well as alert you when I need to post the new comic on Da Blog. If I have other projects that for whatever reason I don’t post about on Da Blog every time a new one goes up, I’ll tweet those as well. This is another reason for me to go to Twitter: anyone who likes me for anything else will be exposed to any of my other projects!
- Other comments as I’m moved to leave them, including my more ranty moments, which will be phased off Da Blog.
I think there are enough problems with Twitter as constituted now that I’m not sure how full-bore I can go into it. Right now I’m (or rather, my mom is) charged for every text I send or receive, meaning I need to avoid texting any tweets if at all possible, and I either can’t go around following everyone under the sun or I need to turn off text reception of tweets. There are plenty of other reasons for the latter; simply put, as presently constituted there is a practical limit to how many people you can follow without getting overwhelmed by tweets, many of which you’re probably not the least bit interested in.
I’m laying down a few ground rules for my use of Twitter that will also affect what I post to Da Blog:
- Any post that could be a tweet will be posted as a tweet. If I’m ever tempted to post something shorter than 140 characters it will be posted on Twitter and not Da Blog.
- If I am ever tempted to write something that would span two or more Twitter posts it will be posted as a blog post instead. This could potentially actually counteract the loss of short posts to Twitter; I’ll go along and happen upon something I want to make into a tweet, but it comes out too long. Off to Da Blog with it, even if I would not have made it a blog post otherwise!
- Some Da Blog posts may have titles written with Twitter syntax. For example, I could write a post directed to the “example” Twitter account, and so I would have a post with a title beginning “@example”. If you decide to rely on Twitter to find out when new blog posts are up you’ll want to make sure you’re seeing all my @replies. (UPDATE: Okay, never mind. See comments.) Also, from now on if I have to put up Sandsday on Da Blog the post title will start “Sandsday #XXX” to mirror the Twitter format, as opposed to now when it’s just a random thought on the action.
- No retweets. I find merely copy-pasting someone else’s tweet to be essentially pointless. Instead I’ll just make it a reply to the tweet. (There’s a chance I’ll retweet in the title of a blog post once or twice.)
Links to my Twitter feed will be located in three places: on the right sidebar of Da Blog, on the front page and 404 page of the web site on the sidebar, and on Sandsday, both in the sidebar and below the comic. Da Blog’s sidebar, in particular, will contain “Da Tweeter”, which will display my tweets in real time.
Okay, now, I spent long enough writing this introductory post that I’m going to have lunch and immediately start working on a paper for my communication class. What will I do next? You’ll have to read my tweeter to find out.