365,25 days and 500 tweets ago, I registered for a Twitter account. I was already one of the last people in IT to do so, but I did beat Oprah to it. While some of you may think they will never reach 500 tweets, I know most of you can’t even remember when they reached that number. People who don’t use Twitter don’t get it. People who use it, often don’t get it either. So the big question is: would I have joined Twitter a year ago, if I knew what I know now?
First of all, I must admit I joined Twitter for a specific reason. Zend approached me with the request to run DevZone in between Cal Evans and Eli White, so I needed a way to be one of the first to know the hot stuff. If I didn’t had to be on Twitter, chances are I would never have joined it in the first place. I didn’t get Twitter, and honestly, I still don’t really get it. There are some pros, and a lot of cons. Let’s try to list the majority of each.
- You get to stay up to date with your friends, even with information that’s too short for a blog post, or too insignificant for an email.
A couple of notes need to be added. First of all, ‘friends’ is a very grey area on social networks. It does include your BFF’s, but also people you run into once in a blue moon, or who wrote a great article, and you want to know more of. Secondly, there is no control on the updates. Most people I know about only tweet a couple of times per week, but there are exceptions that easily get 20 updates per day. While they may have one noteworthy tweet per day, there is no filter of any kind. You have to choose between ‘get all’ or ‘get none’. This forces you to make a decision on how you use twitter. Do you want to get some updates, and just tune in and out whenever you have a spare moment? Or do you want to get all updates, and do you reserve a timeslot in your day to read all new updates? If you choose to follow ‘heavy tweeters’, you will have to choose the former, or you won’t be able to keep up (assuming you have a social life, and a job). I have chosen the latter, and I decided to ‘unfollow’ the heavier tweeters, even though that included some of my better friends.
- One message can reach the whole world.
Got big news to share, and you don’t know all the email addresses or phone numbers of all your contacts? If you tweet it, it can be read by anyone, all at the same time. You may get unexpected congratulations from across the globe, or notice you’re big in Japan. Everybody who follows you will get it delivered into it’s client within minutes, and everybody else can read the news on your own Twitter page, where *all* your tweets (except Direct Messages) are mentioned. You don’t need to visit the States every month or so, or spend hours on the phone/email threads to keep people up to date. One status message every now and then will keep them as updated as if you were living together. Well, almost.
- Marketing people discovered it too.
If you sign up for an account, you are bound to get spam. The most aggressive seem to be the porn spammers (links to XXX websites) and the social media scammers (how to get a follower count of NNNN in X hours). Until quite recently, there was no way to stop these, but to block them. Your fellow Twitter users would still get the same spam, and there was nothing anyone could do about it, till Twitter itself decided the account was acting suspiciously, and started an investigation. A couple of months ago (years after the first spammer found Twitter), Twitter added a ‘Report for spam’ feature. Luckily, this actually works out. While there are still a lot of bots reaching you, you may find an account blocked when you check out their profile, and you will get a lot less than you used to get. Still, up to 10 on a low profile account like mine, is far from unusual.
- There is only 140 characters.
I hope for you that you don’t have much to say, as there isn’t much room to say it in. Yes, it does keep out the 3K word examples, but more often than not, you will find yourself rewriting content to have the same meaning, but fit in the 140 characters. Especially when you are replying to someone (and thus have to mention their full handle + an @), or direct-messaging (full handle *and* a 2-character control code) and have to use an url as well, you’ve pretty much run out of space to add. And when you finally managed to squeeze everything in, you get complaints from others that they can’t ‘re-tweet’ your message, because you didn’t leave space for your own handle. Either Twitter will come with something to solve this (really? after 4+ years?) or I will find time to work out my idea of extending the space, while still using the same protocol.
- The majority of the content is pointless.
Whether it’s spam, business ‘self promotion’ or just pointless babble, there is hardly any message which you really needed to know. Sure, it keeps you updated on what’s happening in someone’s life, at one degree or another, but you wouldn’t be behind if you missed it. Visit your friends in the local pub, and you will learn more about that them than you could do over twitter in a month. Some people think that the content of Twitter is worth big bucks because it gets you news first-hand, way before the regular press comes on-site. While there may be an occasional newsworthy tweet, I believe the vast majority of those tweets are emotions and opinions, instead of facts. Read 100, and you still may not know what exactly happened. Read a 1000, and you may have a hunch, but you know how 1000 people feel and think about the event.
- Nobody reads your tweets.
Because of the time zone differences, and the (social and business) lifes people have, there is absolutely no guarantee anyone will read your tweets. Unless your followers are obsessed with you, and use sophisticated clients that orders tweets into categories, your voice will likely get lost in the immense mass of tweets. So, you have over a 100 of followers? Cool! Maybe one or two read that tweet you just sent. What’s the point of it? Would you have said the same thing if you knew nobody would read it? Then why did you say it at all? If you really wanted people to receive it, email them, call them, see them in real life, or write a blog post about it.
- Everybody can read your tweets!
Enjoying a cool flash game you just found while you should be working? You better not tweet about it, because your manager will likely be reading it too. No, (s)he doesn’t need to have an account for that; the whole world can watch your tweets, if they want to. So not only do you have pretty much a guarantee that nobody will read your tweet, you will also have to adjust your tweet to the audience, in case someone does read it. And, as Marco Tabini mentioned in his latest column in PHP|Architect, that can also be your (to be born) kid, looking what daddy and mommy were up to several years ago.
After a year of using the service, and reading tweets on a pretty much daily basis, I still don’t get the point of it. Yes, I tweeted 500 times. Most of the times it was an @reply, because I was too lazy to email people, or didn’t know their email address. Sometimes it was a real message, mostly a shout out of frustration, to get it out of me into the emptiness of cyberspace. Given that Eli White is about to leave Zend, I’m holding on to my account in case Zend calls upon me again. But really, what’s the point?
Filed Under: Two Cents
Released: on Dec 07, 2009 under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs (CC-BY-ND) license