A Twitter Debate with James Whatley

I rounded on Mr Whatley this evening.

It’s been a while since I’d had the opportunity to fire stuff at him and see how he responds. If memory serves, the last great conversation I had with him was about how he manages his online/offline persona. The continual dilemma I was having was how I should deal with stuff going on in my life personally (e.g. opinions, happenings, whatever) with the apparent openness going on ‘online’. Do you care what I’ve had for breakfast? No.

Perhaps one person on this planet does. My wife.

Ergo I shouldn’t be sticking that on Twitter. Or should I. And so on.

This conversation consisted of me firing a series of questions at James, letting him answer, picking up his answers and firing them back at him to test my reasoning and see what he thinks.

And this evening I decided to have it out with him about Twitter.

Twitter is good. I am delighted that it emerged as a medium — particularly since it was mobile based in the first place. I am also rather fond of remembering that I was one of the first — at least as far as I know — who thought that ‘twttr’ (that was it’s original name) read as ‘Twatter’, which is DEFINITELY not a good look if you’re familiar with the four letter derivative.

(By the way, here’s my first post discovering Twitter back in July 2006)

The name was later changed to the full domain of Twitter.com. Good.

This tweet from James set me off:

I got him online on instant messenger a minute after it popped up and indicated I was up for a challenging discussion.

“That tweet,” I told him, “Is 100% useless to me.”

“I don’t know who ‘adelemcalear’ is. I don’t know what fun night you’re talking about. You’ve just wasted my flucking valuable time.”

To be clear I wasn’t having a go at James per se. I was trying out the argument on him.

“Useless to you, yes,” James responded, rising to to the challenge. There’s a reason half the media bigwigs in London hang on his every word. (I hear he’s been asked to start doing social media related classes).

“No, that doesn’t work,” I contend, “You EARNED my attention. Enough so that I follow you [and thus, that Tweet wasted my time.]”

“Ah but someone who’s following me AND Adele has context,” James replied, “And also another user on Phreadz knows what I mean.”

I got a bit hot at this point and started typing in capitals.

“I SUBSCRIBED. I clicked YES. I want to hear from you,” I wrote, “[But your text doesn’t mean anything to me].”

James was right in there.

“All I can do is tell you how I use it – it isn’t necessarily the right way.. or the wrong way – it’s how I choose to use it – if what I did was shit – i doubt I’d have 1650 followrs…”

He makes a good point.

You see, I like Tweets that MEAN something to whoever’s reading. Even if you’re not interested, I think they should be fully formed.

Here’s another Tweet from James around the same time:

That was useful. Helped me get a bit of ambient ‘community’ by finding out what James was up to.

I regrouped.

“My issue is every tweet you send out that’s irrelevant to EVERYONE doesn’t a little twitter angle die?”

I continued.

“Doesn’t your reputation suffer ever-so-slightly? I’m not talking about YOU specifically, I mean the medium. 1650 followers, right? You just sent a tweet that you KNOW to be 100% irrelevant to 1646 of them.”

I began to get to the nub of what’s been really annoying me about Twitter and continued.

“You EXCLUDED 1,646 people [with that Tweet]. They couldn’t participate.”

James objected.

“No, I didn’t. They COULD [participate].”

And I see his point.

You COULD look up and see what he was talking about. No doubt the ‘fun night’ is documented in James’ Twitterstream. And if you piece together the conversation between him and Adele, you’d begin to understand.

But isn’t it unhelpful to Tweet about stuff that is broadly irrelevant to most people?

James responded with this example.

“Ok – so I mentioned that I’m talking to you, @MartinSFP comes in with his tweet…”

Fair point. James’ comment encouraged Martin to join in. Then @Caarlo. Then @Phoneboy and @Rickyc88 and more.

James continued, “Someone else might chime in and ask what he said. Which sparks a further conversation spiraling out of my original conversation. So it’s organic.”

Yes. I’m getting that. But I think it’s all about context.

I prodded James on this point:

“If I tweeted the following message:

Arguing with @whatleydude

That is flocking useless, right?”

Anyone following me — unless they directly know James Whatley — is left wondering what I’m talking about. Highly unhelpful, surely?

James responds, “Right – which is why, when I remember – I try to add as much context as possible..”

Right.

Yes.

I think it’s all about context.

And I think that irrelevant tweets should be wiped out. All of them.*

If you’re going to post a tweet, it should be a fully formed message that any of your subscribers should be able to understand. If you’re addressing a few friends, DM them. Or get them on IM. That’s the way ahead.

So thank you to James Whatley for listening, arguing and helping me shape my thoughts, finally.

And now for the news.

I’ll repost this in a moment in it’s own post — but you read it here first.

If you’re following the site, @MIReview, on Twitter, you’ve — now and again — got updates from me in there along with regular tweets every time we add a new article here.

I’m separating man from site.

MIReview will continue to deliver updates. I’ve updated it so you’ll just get the headline to every article we post, immediately we post it. Nothing else.

And you can follow me and learn all about my personal foibles and so on at the account @ew4n.

* Quote from Star Wars if anyone’s paying attention.

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  • Mike42

    I am still finding getting into Twitter just sooooo frustrating. The website is confusing, and getting hold of a decent Java Twitter client, understanding exactly WTF is going on, adding new people (Why can't I just search or enter a friend's Twitter ID?) is just a faff.

    Given how unfriendly the whole experience is to newbies I'm amazed that they have as many users as they do, and at the same time not surprised. I *want* to join in, but it's just too hard.

    /m

  • Mike42

    My suggestion: that when you write a Tweet, you can set its importance, just like in an email. So banal niceties that close friends and family might appreciate get marked low, engagement announcements or the fact you just broke your leg and need sympathy get marked high. Then for your followers, they can choose the level of update to receive on mobile devices, where time/attention is a premium. The dross can be mulled over online, sometime.

    ร‚ยฃ0.02.

    /m

  • There are clearly better ways to implement Twitter-like systems… just look at every subsequent micor-blogging system. BUT you're not there for the features, you're there for the community: Twitter is the crap pub you keep going to because that's where your mates hang-out.

    It isn't the place to go if you want to focus on conversations that are all interesting to you, but neither's the pub.

  • I have to agree with Mike about finding friends using the mobile site… its just not as easy as it should or could be at all. Why no search for a friend option or enter an address/username to follow?

    I like the idea of it but again, I haven't the foggiest whats going on with it most of the time…

  • Mike42

    Careful there Mark, the Twitterati will hunt you down and tweet you into submission with their frequent updates on the heath status of fellow train travellers, or indeed the status of trains/Tube in general ๐Ÿ˜‰

    ….

    In other news, one of our chickens escaped! OMG! (just knew y'all needed to know that)

    ….

    (I'll get me coat – mine's the one that updates all its fellow items of clothing as to where it's being worn)

  • for those frustrated with Twitter come to Jaiku.

    Twitter has lots of people, but you need to learn how to get the best from Twitter.
    Don't feel bad if it does not make sense, the biggest question around twitter, after “how will they ever make money?”, is “what is the point of this?”

  • Glad you blogged this – I thoroughly enjoyed the debate.. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • If you consider @replies to people you don’t know to be pointless, set the @replies option on http://twitter.com/account/notifications to “Show me replies to people I’m following”. I, or James, can send what we want to, and you can receive what you want to.

  • Pettsvaldo

    “If youโ€™re going to post a tweet, it should be a fully formed message that any of your subscribers should be able to understand. If youโ€™re addressing a few friends, DM them. Or get them on IM”

    That sounds suspiciously like an order. And I tend to respond to them badly!

    Tools are used for whatever people find them useful for – if you dislike the way someone uses their pencil case then (notwithstanding legal considerations), you are completely within your rights to do di*k all about it.

    If we want to apply rules to twitter, shouldn’t we assess in terms of the home page of Twitter itself,…

    “Twitter is a service for friends, family, and coโ€“workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?”

    What you’re suggesting seems to run contrary to Twitter’s understanding of it’s own purpose – so, essentially, you’re proposing that we modify the use of a tool. And if you can do it, so can everyone else.

    High horse no longer required – dismount.

  • 1) You can “overengineer” a system. @Mike42 – adding a little “importance flag” is probably one of those things that would make a simple system overly complex. Making contingent sets of rules about “how to use Twitter” is overengineering. Seriously.

    Twitter works for a couple of reasons, and one of them is that it's simple. Simple tools can often work well for lots of purposes: a screwdriver can screw in screws (or out) or it can be used to open a can of paint.

    Let people decide how they want to use it. That way we get exciting things like http://www.stocktwits.com/ and hashtags and stuff like that.

    2) In the way that light behaves like a particle AND like a wave, Twitter behaves partly like a chatroom (as you discovered last night) and partly like a bulletin board (yes – “bulletin board”, not the more sophisticated “forum”.) This ambiguity can be confusing at first, but only if you're trying to apply linear narrative analytic techniques (I so want to add the words “bourgeois” and “patriarchal” in there — but shall resist.)

    Go – as they say – with the flow. It will help you if you use something like Twhirl with the Growl notifier (PC users – I don't know what the Windows equivalent of Growl is, I'm afraid). That way you'll see little notes pop up in your peripheral vision. Ambient messaging. Very nice.

    Hope this is useful

    Si

  • Two links to fuel the MIR Twitter debate!

    For those that just don't get Twitter, why it can be useful and generally positive you should read this Wired article on how Twitter creates a 'Social Sixth Sense' – http://www.wired.com/techbiz/media/magazine/15-

    And for those who are convinced Twitter is a waste of time, only for attention seekers who want to share what they had for breakfast, you'll love 'Twitter Whore' – http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=ALbH63Ali9U&featu

  • nacho

    How did I miss this exchange? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • I'm in total agreement – You use it how you want to. There's no right or wrong way at all..

  • Sorry I'm late to this party. Hi Ewan – I'm Adele McAlear. I'm a marketer based in Montreal and a friend of James' from Phreadz. Now you know me ๐Ÿ™‚ Pleased to meet you. I'll endeavour to send a few non sequitur tweets in your direction so that you don't feel you're missing out ๐Ÿ˜‰ Great discussion with James and in your comments. For me, Twitter is a way to learn, help, share, meet, collaborate, connect, and converse with amazing people that I would not otherwise have the opportunity to know. Everyone uses it differently.

    You can experiment with the @ replies in your account settings to filter the noise, if that's what you're looking for. You can choose to not see @ replies directed towards people you do not follow. However, seeing those @ replies is also a good way to find new people to follow. You never know, you may just see something or someone interesting in one of those tweets that makes the rest of the chatter totally worthwhile.

    @adelemcalear

  • Sorry I'm late to this party. Hi Ewan – I'm Adele McAlear. I'm a marketer based in Montreal and a friend of James' from Phreadz. Now you know me ๐Ÿ™‚ Pleased to meet you. I'll endeavour to send a few non sequitur tweets in your direction so that you don't feel you're missing out ๐Ÿ˜‰ Great discussion with James and in your comments. For me, Twitter is a way to learn, help, share, meet, collaborate, connect, and converse with amazing people that I would not otherwise have the opportunity to know. Everyone uses it differently.

    You can experiment with the @ replies in your account settings to filter the noise, if that's what you're looking for. You can choose to not see @ replies directed towards people you do not follow. However, seeing those @ replies is also a good way to find new people to follow. You never know, you may just see something or someone interesting in one of those tweets that makes the rest of the chatter totally worthwhile.

    @adelemcalear

  • Sorry I'm late to this party. Hi Ewan – I'm Adele McAlear. I'm a marketer based in Montreal and a friend of James' from Phreadz. Now you know me ๐Ÿ™‚ Pleased to meet you. I'll endeavour to send a few non sequitur tweets in your direction so that you don't feel you're missing out ๐Ÿ˜‰ Great discussion with James and in your comments. For me, Twitter is a way to learn, help, share, meet, collaborate, connect, and converse with amazing people that I would not otherwise have the opportunity to know. Everyone uses it differently.

    You can experiment with the @ replies in your account settings to filter the noise, if that's what you're looking for. You can choose to not see @ replies directed towards people you do not follow. However, seeing those @ replies is also a good way to find new people to follow. You never know, you may just see something or someone interesting in one of those tweets that makes the rest of the chatter totally worthwhile.

    @adelemcalear

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