Thoughts about Twitter…

I have been on Twitter just two weeks – and I don’t believe myself an expert in this medium – but it has already changed the way I interact with people through the internet, and I think it will continue to do so.

It is not without issues, though.

Here’s what I like about Twitter:

  • its immediacy: it feels like real-time
  • its brevity: being limited to 140 characters means that one has to create succinct, direct sentences – it can be used to great effect, and the best tweets can be very powerful because of it
  • its openness: using a client such as TweetDeck, you can find people discussing topics one is interested in anywhere and join in the discussions. It is easy to explore topics and follow people

Here’s what I don’t like:

  • its immediacy: there is a lot of inanity out there (some, I am sure, stemming from me!); the best communication warrants considered thought, and I definitely like reflecting on things before responding – but Twitter promotes rapid, unthought-through discussion
  • its brevity: being limited to 140 characters can hinder thought; there is no space to develop ideas – indeed, that isn’t what Twitter is for: that’s why I have this blog, and Twitter won’t replace that
  • its openness: anyone can read anything one puts on Twitter, and this creates privacy issues (I have decided not to give out information about where I am, reckoning that it would be easy for anyone to abuse that information); it would probably be easy to offend people or give out information one would rather not – a friend of mine realised her parents were reading her Twitter feeds, and felt somewhat uncomfortable as a result

Twitter is of course simply a tool: how one uses it depends on why one is using it. It is however all too easy to stumble into it (like any social media): before I used Twitter, people I spoke with promoted it with an evangelical zeal – “you can’t understand it if you haven’t used it!” – and they are right. But that also means that I am not certain quite why I am using it. I find it valuable, but I am not approaching it with any real reason, other than just to try it. (This post is part of developing my understanding – both of the medium and what I do – and, more importantly, could do – with it.)

There has been a lot of discussion about the relationship between Twitter and Facebook. I have found that Twitter has largely replaced my use of Facebook. I was never a heavy user of Facebook – I wasn’t entirely happy with the control it gave Facebook over what I considered my intellectual property, and I never got into the culture of games and apps the environment provided. All I really use Facebook for is status updates and poking people. I still do this, but much of use has been transferred to Twitter.

I perceive Facebook as being a closed system: the people I am sharing my status updates with are those of my friends who are the system. Most of them I know in real-life (and I accept the distinction between real-life and online may well be a false one – they are all people, and it is the medium rather than the relationship which is the issue here). With Twitter, it is the ability to find people – with whom many of which the only connection is an interest – and join in their discussions.

What Facebook does well – something I have only just discovered – is continuing the discussion. Twitter is not good at conversations (at least, I haven’t found how to make it work for me – yet!). When I find someone discussing something which interests me, it is hard to track back through the discussion – Twitter isn’t threaded. Still, I think the best place for in-depth debate remains blogs and journals – especially now that WordPress supports threading.

The issue of brevity is an interesting one. Twitter seems great for simple statements – “hey! Look at this!” – whilst blogs allow one to go so much deeper – “hey! Look at this! And this is why I think it is important, and this is what it means to me, and here is how it has affected me and …” You can’t say that in 140 characters. Twitter lacks what I feel is the all-important context behind a conversation; I believe this is crucial, and it may limit the way I work with Twitter. Twitter is a very broad, shallow experience; reading blogs is harder work, but provides for a much deeper, richer – and thoughtful – interaction.

I think Twitter will complement my use of blogs very well. It can be ued to publicise my blog (and my work, and my views…); it facilitates a rapid exchange of views to as many people as want to find it (and probably many who don’t).

So far, I have only used Twitter in a social sense; I haven’t worked out how to use it for work or business. I can see how I could use it to sell myself, and, once I have worked how best to follow several topics, I can see it will be valuable to helping me to keep up-to-date and develop my work (as well as social) network. At the moment, I am being quite choosy who I follow – I feel the need to manage the number of connections I am making, and there are (a few) people following me whose tweets I have read and decided not to reciprocate – reading their tweets wouldn’t add anything to my experience. As I grow more experienced and confident in using the medium, this may change – especially as I follow more topics more frequently.

Lacking the context and percieiving Twitter as very much a one-to-one medium (albeit one in which anyone can eavesdrop), I feel Twitter lacks the community that can develop in other media. I find this very interesting – because I don’t necessarily recognise communities – it isn’t a concept that I value particularly; but it seems to matter in, say, the relationship between Facebook and Twitter. Facebook facilitates the buiding of a community – one full of shallow connections, perhaps, but it is still there – and I don’t think Twitter does: it links or individuals or (probsbly better) ideas. This may change. It is something I think some social blogging sites such as LiveJournal do very well – although possibly at the expense of being open networks: being part of a community may require a closed system (let’s park that for now and reflect on it for later use…).

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3 thoughts on “Thoughts about Twitter…

  1. Pingback: How to explain radical feminism in 140 characters « Francesca Elston

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