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The Truth About Twitter

May 11, 2009

A few days ago, I reached that point where you can’t hear any more bullshit without correcting it.  I actually called into a radio station to correct yet another pundit who, on the basis of the name alone or maybe 10 minutes worth of playing, thinks they understand Twitter, and worse, that they can summarily dismiss anyone who uses it as flaky.  So here’s my attempt to educate those folks who either a) haven’t tried it, b) have tried and are still new, or c) don’t use it often enough or in the right context to see it’s real power.  This post is not for those people who are just willfully ignorant or worse, active luddites who are resisting what Twitter is about just to resist change.  If you fall in either of these camps, you are beneath my contempt and therefore unworthy of further commentary.

Ok, so what is Twitter and why should you care?  First, let’s start with what it isn’t.  Twitter is *not* about micro-blogging.  Yes, it is described this way — yes even by it’s founders.  But they have also admittedly publicly that much of the innovation on Twitter has happened in the user base — the convention for retweets (RT), for example, came from the user base.  For those of you who are new, RT is just a way to a convention for sharing a message from someone you follow to your own followers.  It’s sort of citation plus recommendation plus message all wrapped in a little two letter acronym.

The use of hashtags is another user-generated convention which is now supported in dozens of Twitter clients or services.  Hashtags (#) are used to identify a message as related to other messages with the same tag.  Sometimes these are used to have something like real-time Twitter chat, sometimes as a way to flag a topic as related to a particular company or conferences, sometimes as a way to create virtual groups.  The uses are endless (though in certain specific cases they are being replaced by the much improved Twitter search capabilities).

You might be surprised to learn that another ubiquitous and central Twitter convention, the @ identifier, also did not come from the founders.  The @ emerged early as a way for users to direct messages to particular users.  Like the RT and hashtag convention, the @ identifier soon became a central element in virtual every Twitter client and has, of course, now become central to Twitter itself.

Is this enough to convince you that we shouldn’t look to the founders for guidance on what Twitter is or isn’t?  Ok, you’re right.  So let’s do one more:  shortened URLs.  While shortened URLs are now an essential part of many messages, URL shortening did not begin with Twitter though it is easy to see why people may think this is a “Twitter” thing:

  • a) most have not previously seen or used URL shortening technology
  • b) it’s part of a significant number of messages
  • c) it’s part of nearly every Twitter client.

But TinyURL, one of the more heavily used short URL sites, actually started in 2002, four years before Twitter was launched.  Like hashtags, the use of @, and the RT convention, URL shorteners emerged as a result of user behavior, not by design.

So what does all of this mean and why am I making such a point of referencing Twitter conventions that didn’t happen by design?  The point here is that Twitter has evolved – like any fundamental and fundamentally well-designed technology, Twitter has become what’s its users wanted, not what it’s designers intended.  Like the web or video, Twitter is a “base” technology.  It’s not a dialog box for messing with my router.  It’s more like the telephone (another piece of technology that was initially derided and misunderstood).

When newscasters, comedians, and otherwise intelligent people deride Twitter, it’s most commonly as a “micro-blogging” tool.  Brian Williams, in a February appearance on the Daily Show said this about Twitter:

“I don’t Twitter.  When you Twitter, the suibject line automatically is “What are you doing right now?”  And the answer I have to that question at any moment of the day isn’t interesting enough.”

If this were what Twitter was really about, I wouldn’t use Twitter either.  But this is really the heart of the problem.  This is exactly *not* what Twitter is about – at least for those of us that use it professionally.

In 24+ months and across 1000+ posts, I think I might have answered “What I’m doing” less than 50 times.  The rest of what I post?  Links.  Comments on other people’s links.  Responses to people’s questions.  Suggestions for people to connect.   Twitter, for me, is not about sharing the minutia of my day but about sharing the insights and sources that shape my professional thinking.  And by following the contributions of others, I can see what’s shaping their thinking, what sources they follow, how they connect their professional dots.  You see, a funny thing happened when the community began shaping Twitter’s usage:  it stopped being about micro-blogging and it started being about micro-sharing across personalized networks.

Before the advent of the user conventions, Twitter was designed for users to post micro-updates about their day to the world at large.  You could follow updates from anyone without any permissions or approvals, just like a regular blog.  People were however required to subscribe to your Twitter account by following you.  They also had to have their own Twitter account to see all of the updates from their follows.  The result was that people could easily see who was following them and then follow them back.  And why not?  If someone is interested enough in your posts to follow them, maybe you are interested in the same subjects?  In fact, this is probably pretty likely when you think about it.  So pretty soon, what emerged were personalized, overlapping networks organized around domain interests.

I personally move between two main networks – a general Web 2.0 / social media network, and a social learning / elearning network.  I also have some sub-networks around soccer (I coach both my kids), HR (talent management and the like), and now a few vacation / business follows.  The point here is that this is *my* network.  I’ve selected and designed a personal network of 1000+ members to suit my interests, both professional and personal.

Which then raises the next big derisive comment about Twitter: “OMG, how do you actively keep up with all that content and all those connections?”  I don’t.  I keep up with some.  The rest I search or group or retroactively scan.  Think of websites:  some you personally go to a few times a day, some you RSS, some you just hit through Search.  And if you find one you really like via Search, maybe you RSS or maybe you check-in to the actual site now and again.

What makes all of this workable are the user conventions.  @ lets me send messages to specific individuals so I’m not just broadcasting posts, but responding to other people’s posts, sharing my ideas, and actually connecting.  # enables me to assign a tag to a post so it can be more easily grouped and found by others, in some cases enabling something like real-time chat or asynchronous message board uses.  RT provides a mechanism for sharing great posts and information across networks.  And of course, the use of URL shorteners enable Twitter to be the stem sentence of a much longer, more in-depth piece of content.

It *is* possible to use “Twitter as content” or “Twitter as media,” but it’s a bit tricky given the format.  While you can certainly learn new stuff and communicate in bite-sized chunks, it’s a bit like trying to drink a fast moving river.  The Twitter group @kevindjones started – @slqotd (Social Learning Question of the Day) brings a little more order to the chaos by focusing a wide range of people on a single topic each day.  And the Thursday night #lrnchat that Marcia Conner and Clark Quinn started serves a similar purpose, but it’s more wide ranging and tangent-prone because it’s real-time tweeting with sometimes dozens of active participants.  Marcia and Clark use the hashtag #lrnchat as a mechanism for participants to identify posts.

A more compelling use of  Twitter is “Twitter as conduit.”  In this model, the value of Twitter lies at the intersection between personalized networks and URL shorteners.  As more and more people began to share via shortened URLs, Twitter began to provide exponentially more value.  People weren’t limited to sharing information within a 140 characters.  That just needed to be the stem sentence – the intro to a much more nuanced and deeper piece of content.  Through the use of @, your followers could then engage you in conversation around the material.  Through the use of #, content could be grouped and more easily accessed en masse.  And though RT, this content could be easily shared across personalized networks.  This is the central value of Twitter — it’s basically a giant link exchange that is mediated by human expertise.

This will be a central area of continued growth on Twitter.  I’m sure it’s one of the reasons Twitter and Google are talking.  Human-recommended content that is shared en masse in real time is something new.  Human-recommended content that is shared en masse in real time across personalized networks is something revolutionary and game-changing.  We’re starting to see the first wave of tools that let you mine and manage this content from low-end tools like Tweetdeck to higher-end offerings like MicroPlaza, a tool that aggregates popular links and enables you to do “tribal search.”  Twitter analytics is also now a hot space, filled with tons of  innovation and new ideas.  And there are even Twitter social network graphing tools that either display your connections in a graph or recommend connections based on content and follower similarities.

Twitter will continue to evolve.  Search will get better.  We’re at the beginning of a brand new model on the web.  But even today, Twitter is incredibly powerful.  Let me share one brief story of how Twitter is changing the identification and sharing of expertise.  Earlier this week, I was asked via email if I knew of any non-profits that used Twitter.  I honestly had no clue, but I had a feeling that someone among my 800+ Twitter followers did – so I tweeted the question in hopes of someone pointing me in the right direction.  Within 30 minutes, I had over 10 replies, many of whom offered to connect directly to provide more info.  Others shared links.  Still others suggested people or Twitter accounts to follow including a Twitter account that only followed non-profits.  At the time, I did a conservative rough estimate on the reach of my tweet (looking at the RT and followers of my followers) and found to my surprise that my message reached several thousand people in under an hour.  As a result, I learned a whole lot about a subject about which I previously knew nothing, and I was able to help a colleague in some very deep and meaningful ways.

Stories like this one are why Twitter is used predominantly by working professionals and not by teens.  Unlike other social media technologies that skew younger, Twitter’s demographic is the mid-career professionals who use the technology to extend professional networks, share expertise, and otherwise increase the scope and breath of the resources they can draw on to be successful.  In my case, I have a network of 800+ professional colleagues through whom I can access a vast pool of knowledge, expertise, and wisdom.  This network also helps my find and make sense of relevant industry news and events.  This is the part about Twitter that new users and uninformed pundits miss.  You can’t experience the “network effect” until you have a network.  It takes time, patience, and active cultivation to create your own personalized network.  It’s a hell of a lot easier to be critical and derisive from the sidelines.

As discouraged as I am by the comments of Brian Williams et al., I guess I really shouldn’t be too surprised.  When the telephone was first introduced, it was pretty well slammed as well.  In early 1877, one famous British paper wrote:  “The telephone is little better than a toy, it amazes the ignorant people for the moment, but it is inferior to the well-established system of air-tubes.”  Later that same year, the papers had no choice but to surrender to the wonder of the achievement. By the end of 1877, the London Times wrote:  “Suddenly and quietly the whole human race is brought within speaking and hearing distance; scarcely anything was more desired or more impossible.”

Today we laugh at people who couldn’t see the value of a telephone or underdstand it’s uses.  I wonder how history will regard those who couldn’t see value in Twitter or the fundamental shift in communication and sharing that it represents.  I won’t be shocked when folks take me to task for comparing the two, but I’m prepared for that if for no other reason that I’m pretty sure I’m right.  For those of you who continue to wonder about Twitter and it’s value, I hope this has helped.  For those of you who continue to be derisive for want of effort or intellect, I hope history judges you accordingly.  Now, as you might expect, I will be tweeting about this post.

34 Comments leave one →
  1. May 11, 2009 7:13 pm

    Great defence of and twitter and fascinating history of its development. Will circulate this to colleagues who trot out the ‘why should I care what you’re doing right now’ line.



  2. May 11, 2009 7:15 pm

    You cover a lot here, Dave and let me be the first to thank you for a post that I am sure many people will use as a critical reference on this new medium. Another aspect of Twitter that I think makes it so powerful is its asymmetry, in that I don’t have to follow everyone who follows me. The norms around this are still being established but I really like this aspect and find it a major differentiator from other social media.

    • dwilkinsnh permalink*
      May 11, 2009 10:17 pm

      Thanks for the feedback Harold. Given how highly I regard your work, I really appreciate the kind words.

      I agree completely on the asymmetry point. I actually had a rough draft covering this a bit, but I ran out of time (and room!). The thing I like about the asymmetry thing is that it’s more like real life. By contrast, the forced symmetry of LinkedIn and Facebook sound a bit of a false note for me.

      I think maybe it’s a question of expectations. It seems to me that forced symmetry is based on an assumption of strong ties whereas asymmetry allows for weak ties. And at the end of the day, a big part of Twitter’s power lies in the ease with which you can establish and nurture weak ties.

      I think maybe we just stumbled on another whole group of posts worth writing…

  3. May 11, 2009 7:53 pm

    Dave, great post. I wanted to elaborate a bit on Twitter as Conduit. I really think Twitter can be disruptive, in the ease and speed with which a meme can propagate (which can be both good and bad :). I blogged this a week or so ago.

    I’ll also point any of your readers interested in more about #lrnchat to the associated blog with transcripts of previous sessions, hints, etc.

  4. dwilkinsnh permalink*
    May 11, 2009 10:45 pm

    Hey Clark,

    Thanks for the link to the lrnchat blog. Sort of an interesting inverse of “Twitter as conduit”. In the case of your lrnchat discussion group, Twitter *is* the content and the blog is merely an aggregation point. SLQOTD is that way too but instead of a blog, Kevin aggregates into a PDF.

    I love, love, love your blog post. Obviously given my comments, I agree wholeheartedly about the speed of transmission. It’s one of the few valid criticisms of social learning that I’m willing to acknowledge – *if* bad information is surfaced, it has the chance to move through the network a bajillion times faster than word of mouth could have done. Rather than just affecting one division or one team, it could spread globally in minutes. On the other hand, good information can spread just as fast.

    About four months ago, we were talking to a national blood bank about using our Social Learning Suite. One of the problems they raised was that on several occasions, they sent their “blood collection teams” around to collect blood only to have to discard all the blood on their return. Why? On many occasions, alerts were raised that should have resulted in new screenings. But because the blood teams were already out in the field, they didn’t get the message.

    Part of this was of course, a whole different issue related to mobile learning, but part of it was related to the absence of any informal learning / sharing mechanisms. Some combination of Twitter and Courseware was probably all they needed, but they had no idea what to do. This was a case where the speed of the alert was at least as important the content of the alert. If the content came to late, it didn’t matter how good the new instructions were.

    Anyway, it’s going to be interesting to see where all of this goes and what new models emerge. I think Harold hits it on the head when he says “the norms around this are still being established.”

  5. May 12, 2009 9:02 am

    I really appreciate your putting this into words – I’ve done presentations about Twitter covering some of the same points and stressing the asymmetry, which I think is essential. Twitter’s asymmetry moves it from an included/excluded club (Like Facebook or LinkedIn) to an open, constantly flexing and flowing public square. Some have stages with large audiences, some are small chatting groups who occasionally look around and pick up on other conversations, some rant and declaim, looking for sympathetic audiences, some loners wander around looking for things of interest, and the hawkers keep yelling about their wares. I find Twitter a great source of information, conversation (albeit somewhat disjointed ;->)and, frankly, fun!

    • dwilkinsnh permalink*
      May 13, 2009 5:36 pm

      I like this a lot: “…an open, constantly flexing and flowing public square.” Great analogy. It made me think of a Middle Eastern bazaar. Not sure why, but that seems to fit somehow.

  6. David Haapalehto permalink
    May 12, 2009 1:03 pm

    Great resource on understanding Twitter as a medium! It’s a challenge to articulate the value it offers, but the right words are in your post. We’ve started using Twitter at my company, ExperiencePoint, and posts like this really help increase our team’s understanding of the spaces we participate in. Thank you!

    I agree with Joan, the network’s openness is the key difference between sites like Facebook or LinkedIn and services like Twitter. The focus is on communication, not network-building. The latter happens naturally, as you describe. I suspect the difference may lie between being centralized and decentralized thinking.

  7. DStev permalink
    May 13, 2009 5:23 pm

    I agree with everything you’re saying, especially to the degree that I’m experiencing it. But I’m still new.

    Here’s the rub: Is twitter the phone, or is twitter the air tube? The phone of that era certainly doesn’t exist in the same way now. Will Twitter be perpetually replaced by an evolving (& user driven) Twitter, or will it be made obsolete by a better product?

    Late adopters are made weary by how quickly the new thing of today ages. Some of the skepticism we hear is exasperation with a technology’s obsolescence occurring before the individual’s learning curve peaks.

    Regarding cultivation of networks—that’s the part that feels artificial to me. I see the value in a large network, but the cultivation appears distasteful to me. I’m talking about things like following people in hope that they’ll follow you (but not because you like their posts), posting lots of updates just to be visible, referencing blogs just for the sake of ingratiating yourself into certain networks, etc. In these instances, the content of the tweet is secondary to the intent of cultivating the network. It feels less than genuine, and at times appears to be transparent self-promotion.

    Agree or disagree, am I making sense?

    • dwilkinsnh permalink*
      May 13, 2009 5:46 pm

      Yeah, I agree with your points about the network, but I do think a legitimate case can be made when business try to grow their networks, provided they aren’t spammy or “talk at you” marketing focused. When people do it, it seems kind of skeezy to me.

      I’ve grown my overall network to some combination of 1000 ppl (both followers and followed), but it’s been in fits and starts over like 24 months. I followed maybe my first 50 based on “name brand” with no expectation of return follows. Since then, I’ve only followed folks who seem like they care about the same stuff I do.

      More often than not they’ve followed back. And of course, the reverse has happened a lot too. But in most cases, I follow based on similar interests. Now and again, though, I do follow someone totally “outside” my worldview just to make sure I get some unique perspectives and avoid the echo chamber / balkanization issue. I strive for like an 80/20 signal to noise ratio and hope that some of the noise turns out to be signal. Seems to be mostly working.

      I feel good about how I’ve done this. It feels real to me – honest, authentic, and representative of who I am, which I think is what all of these social media tools are really about.

  8. thehl7guy permalink
    May 13, 2009 7:31 pm


    A long, albeit excellent, explanation to justify tweeters.

    I started using twitter a few weeks ago and now I have 106 followers and most are related somehow to my subject matter expertise: Healthcare IT.

    Honestly, I didn’t see much value of using twitter. Tweets to me looked like throwing thoughts in the ether.

    But then after a while I have started to make very good connections with other industry players. The networking aspect of twitter seems to be of value.

    Email used to be a good medium to network but that has faded away. I receive over 300 emails per day and I open only those that I consider belonging to active activities.

    In twitter I have thousands of updates per day that I can barely glance. The information is of little value although I do scan through them to see if I discover some hidden tip and this has worked somewhat.

    I found the twibes as a helpful way of organizing information by specific subjects and/or keywords.

    I will continue using it for a while longer to discover any benefits it may bring along.

    Your article clarified some details that I didn’t understand of twitter.


    The HL7 Guy

  9. May 18, 2009 12:23 am

    Love the “yet another pundit who, on the basis of the name alone or maybe 10 minutes worth of playing, thinks they understand Twitter, and worse, that they can summarily dismiss anyone who uses it as flaky”. It is true the most resistance is from people who actually haven’t used Twitter or have given up too soon. It took me about 8 months after I created my Twitter account before I actually started reaping benefits. And reap I did only after I started actively contributing to tweets and following people. So yeah, pundits should first actively try it out for a few months before passing judgment.

  10. May 19, 2009 7:47 pm

    This is an interesting article and discussion. I am experimenting with twitter, trying to understand its value. But as someone with a background and interest in technology adoption, I would say your defense of twitter, while compelling, also points to the key problem.

    You’ve spent 24 months building your network. Another reader mentioned 8 months until he started getting value out of using twitter. The question isn’t just whether twitter is useful, but what level of investment is required before you get a return.

    If someone told me that a new technology takes 6-12 months of work before it pays off for the user, I would categorize that as a serious usability or technology design problem. Nielsen reports that 60% of new twitter users fail to return the following month. You can blame the users for not having more insight and fortitude or you can acknowledge that there’s more to the problem than stupid users.

    Add to the learning curve and network-building challenges the issue of information overload that most of us face every day and it’s not hard to understand why twitter isn’t an appealing technology for many. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have value–just that the cost-benefit ratio may be unfavorable unless you happen to work in a field where hanging out in the public square is a good use of your time.

    I haven’t given up on twitter. But I’m not convinced that it’s the new telephone.

    • dwilkinsnh permalink*
      May 26, 2009 2:50 pm

      Hey Rob,

      I don’t disagree that the network building thing takes time. I’m not sure that’s the fault of the tool though as much as it is an artifact of network-building. Whether online or off, you need to put some time into it, particularly if you are tailoring your network to fit you.

      That said, there are tools emerging that recommend people to follow. Check this one for example:

      It shows my connections and suggests new connections based on who is linked to whom. Others do the same based on subject matter or geography. Groups are also emerging like #lrnchat where lots of folks get together at a set time for a free-flowing discussion on given topics.

      I agree that the cost-benefit may be tough for some, particularly those folks who aren’t “out there” as much. But I also think far too many dismiss the tool on false premises. Your premises are sound and you raise some real issues. When Brian Williams says he has nothing worth sharing, particularly given the industry he’s in, it’s proof of either a lack of effort or a lack of intellect.

      You raise some good points and they are particularly timely now that Twitter seems to be tripping to the mainstream.


      • May 26, 2009 3:37 pm


        Thanks for the response. I like the mailana tool you posted. Interestingly, I noticed that you have some people in your network who I know personally. That kind of information does go along way toward building a network more efficiently.

        I have the impression that most people who use twitter seriously have a set of external tools that makes the system more usable. Maybe that’s part of the problem. Having to find external tools to take full advantage of a system is yet another hurdle. And an indication that the tool by itself is not optimally designed. Firefox has a plethora of add-ons that make it amazingly powerful. But “out of the box” it still does an excellent job at the core task of web browsing. I’m not sure you can say that about twitter.

        I do think that there is an issue with the twitter UI that goes beyond the networking problem. Part of it is simply the need to follow multiple random conversation threads at a time. That’s a new skill for many people. And the twitter UI doesn’t address the problem very well.

        I know the sparseness of the interface is an intentional strategy. It leads to novel uses for the tool as well as a marketplace for cool add-ons that helps drive the buzz. But it’s not the most obvious way to attract new users. I have a substantial network on LinkedIn that I created effortlessly and without a learning curve. I also have an RSS reader (feedly) that allows me to follow blogs from many of the same people I would follow on twitter. (Many twitter posts just point to blogs anyway.) Feedly organizes the information in a very easy-to-consume way and prioritizes it for me. Again, a tool with a very low learning curve and a lot of convenience. I’m going to try tweetdeck, which I understand serves a similar function for twitter.

        There is certainly a lot of buzz about twitter and a large group of enthusiastic users. So clearly there’s something there that resonates with people. I’m still trying to get my head around exactly what it is. Thanks for providing an interesting post and a place to further the discussion.

  11. May 25, 2009 5:48 pm

    A very interesting, informative and useful post. Thank you. I have been using Twitter for only a comparatively short time but have had some interesting experiences. When I first started using Twitter it was specifically focused on Twitter as a business tool. I knew that people in my real world networks were on Twitter so I thought this would be a good way to maintain and extend the professional interaction. This has proven true in many ways, however, I have also found a different problem that comes with it. Most of my professional network – and most of my actual clients – are in North and Central America and some in Europe. As a result, I am constantly out of sync with those I follow. I can keep up with the tail end of the North American day and the start of the EU day but suffer from “Tweet floods” first thing in the morning. I have only followed people because they are doing things of professional interest and I enjoy the personal review and thinking they stimulate and resources they provide as links in Tweets. Filtering etc is somewhat illogical. Why not just ‘unfollow’. So, Twitter is in some ways geographically mediated in ways that the larger aggregations of population may not experience.

    Your points about the multiple networks that comprise your larger network was the motivation behind the Twitter business model suggestion I made when the Insider magazine ran their competition. Unfortunately, even though they selected it as a finalist (must only have been 11 submissions 😉 ) they didn’t get it. They called it “Twitter: Split into three” which is not was intended. It was about providing the facility for differentially communicating or interacting across networks, personal, social and business. Anyway, it was interesting to see your reflection on the way you use Twitter and that the same interests/needs/”controls?” are in some used in the way you use Twitter.

    I will certainly add this to my resources about Twitter.

    • dwilkinsnh permalink*
      May 26, 2009 3:00 pm


      Thanks for a great contribution to the discussion. I had never considered the geography angle, but it makes a lot of sense. Given that Twitter is semi-real time, time-zones matter. This kind of stuff is what makes Twitter so interesting to me. It’s not quite blogging; it’s not quite chat; it’s not quite IM; it’s not quite Delicious; it’s not quite Google. It has some of weaknesses and strengths in all of these (and more).

      I don’t suppose you have a link to the article you referred to? I’d love to read more about what you’re driving at with network segregation.


      • Allyn J Radford permalink
        May 26, 2009 7:21 pm

        Hi Dave

        The article/”competition” to which I referred is still available at . It was interesting that they actually included my submission in the finalists because I actually regarded it as ‘non-conformant’. I didn’t do all the business modeling and revenue stuff they asked for because I thought it was a bit rich to ask for all that in a “competition” of that type. The formatting of the slides is also out of whack from the original. Anyway, having found out about it the day before closing I put the submission in anyway because I felt that if the approach were taken it would not only resolve the business model challenge but would in fact improve the user experience – okay, certainly mine – which was my primary motivation.


  12. May 26, 2009 2:40 am

    I was on Twitter for nine months, which I think was a fair trial. I thought it was the most tedious and pointless waste of my valuable time I’ve encountered in 10 years on the internet, and I LOVE being on the internet. I gave up on Twitter when I got fed up with being spammed and it started to look like those FFA pages from 10 years ago. Maybe it’s changed since I got on with my life. And probably it’s more suited to commercial uses. But not for me though.

    • dwilkinsnh permalink*
      May 26, 2009 3:09 pm


      Please tell us how you *really* feel… ; ) The spammy thing? Yep – me too. But still much better than email. As for a waste of time or not, I say give it another go. The trick is finding the right people to connect with and secondly, figuring how to use Twitter to *your* purpose. Is it to connect and network? Share expertise? Replace your RSS feed with people feeds? All this stuff requires some effort and network building.

      But what about search? Twitter is effectively a real-time search engine for what’s happening in the moment. Disaster info? Real-time news accounts? There is value here too and these do not require network building.

      It may be you aren’t a Twitter guy. I’m not a phone guy (ironic given the analogy I used). I really don’t like to be on the phone. I prefer to express myself in writing. So Twitter works for me in ways in-person networking doesn’t. Maybe you prefer strong ties over weak ones? Easy to see why Twitter might not be your thing if this is the case.

      Thanks for sharing a different perspective.


      • May 29, 2009 1:54 pm

        A very informative and insightful post from someone whose work I hold in high regard followed by an equally exciting and passionte discussion. I have learned a lot and many of my feelings about Twitter as a “social learning” site have been vindicated.

        I just wanted to add my two penny worth as a proponent of social learning:

        For me, it is a powerful social networking tool that is fast becoming a social learning tool. The connotation of the word social is changing from one of “connect” to bring into its fold other meanings like collaborate, learn, share, give, participate, hear, be heard, ask, be answered…This is not a litany in praise of Twitter–it is in support of all social networking sites (SNS) that will help us to collaborate and build collective knowledge. The latter will be our saviour in this time of recession when corporate training budgets are at an all time low.

        I think like all new applications/technology, Twitter will face its share of scepticism and rejection.

        One primary reason why people would/could quit within a month or two:

        It takes about a couple of months to get the hang of how to “use” Twitter in a way that brings in returns–that is, makes one a part of a community of practice, helps to build a knowledge base, and connects one to like minded people. All of this takes about two months of diligently pursuing twitter. This learning curve often proves to be the hurdle and people who are not adventurous or naturally willing to explore are likely to quit before they have found the true usage.

        Also, I feel Twitter falls into the slightly advanced category of social networking site–more complex than Facebook or MySpace. For non-believers in social learning/advantages of social networking and first time users of social networking, Twitter is probably not the place. One has to come to Twitter willing to be a part of the huge collaborative learning space–prepared to give and receive.

  13. July 8, 2009 4:56 pm

    Excellent article, and a great showcase of the progress of Twitter. Also, it’s nice to note that not all networks feel the same way about using Twitter as the example. Many are using it to supplement their broadcasts to a much wider audience.

  14. decidavenceragora permalink
    August 16, 2009 10:03 am

    Great post, i’ve already subscribed to your feed. thanks

  15. Bobby B Singh permalink
    September 9, 2009 1:11 pm

    People are the New Search Bots! Go Figure Google..the infinite mess of Data, Opinions etc. that search engine algorithms could never allow you to see..the birth of human recommendation and conversation we ‘arrrogantly’ describe as new media. Fantastic Thoughts!

  16. October 30, 2009 4:27 am

    I love it when people defend Twitter so emotionally!

  17. Comment permalink
    March 3, 2010 12:31 pm

    The problem with Twitter (this is a common perspective) is that people just don’t know when to stop talking. No, many of us *do not care what people are thinking* – as most of the time people are self-centered by nature. If people could truly handle themselves in front of an audience they wouldn’t need Twitter to begin with… thuuuss you get your haters who say “Why do I care about what you are doing, thinking, eating, ect” and moreover “Why can’t you just tell me in person or (I don’t know) call me? Maybe what you have to say *right now* should be reconsidered or maybe it *shouldn’t* be said at all.” How metro.

  18. May 31, 2010 8:28 pm

    I have to say, every time I come to there is another interesting post to read. A friend of mine was telling me about this topic a couple weeks ago. I think I’ll send my friend the link here and see what they say.


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