My arse with Twitter. Help.

I was trying to explain the power of Twitter to a group of smarts the other day.

“It’s all about the network effect,” I said.

It’s, “all about who’s following you.”

It’s, “Errr, status updates,” I said, beginning to fail in my task at moving them into the Mobile 2.0 arena.

I even pointed to some Guy Kawasaki Twitter How-To posts (“How to use Twitter as a Twool“).

They weren’t buying it.

And neither do I.

Twitter works if you are somebody.

Whether you believe you are somebody or whether you actually ‘are’ somebody (depending on definitions here), Twitter works.

It works if you’re all about your own importance. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. But there’s a finite amount of time.

If your job involves you reaching out to folk every minute of the day, good. If your job enables you to sit and ‘stream’ in a state of continuous partial attention — without doing anything, great.

But if you actually have to do something, then the challenge with managing your Twitter interactions is rather large.

I like the concept.

The reality simply doesn’t work for me.

I don’t want to know what you’ve had for breakfast.

I don’t want to know where you are. Do NOT broadcast your location to me. That doesn’t work. When I want to know your location, I will ask for it. Or I will find myself in the ‘Waterloo area’ and hopefully my mobile service is smart enough to connect the fact you’re available for a pint at the same time I am. But don’t tell me on Twitter.

If I subscribe to you on Twitter, what exactly does that mean nowadays?

I was given to understand that it would help me connect to folk. People I already know and people I don’t know. I was hoping it would help give me an insight into folk. Discover what they’re up to. That sort of thing.

The model works for a few people. Follow more than, I dunno, 20 active Twitterers and you’re screwed.

I was particularly pleased to read a selection of Tweets whilst Chris Anderson was on stage at Le Web.

I’m assuming he was because a load of folk on my Twitter talked about the fact that he said — words to this effect — Continuous Partial Attention Doesn’t Work so shut up and listen. (To his speech, I imagine).

I found it highly amusing that he says this, only to have it Twittered to the world by folk who, amusingly, aren’t paying full attention to him. Because they’re typing stuff out on Twitter.

It’s entertaining, Twittering. You can see it when you read the consciousness.

I’m wondering, however, whether it isn’t rather rude of everybody. Twitter isn’t chat. It’s one-time messages. Not live chat. At least, that’s how I view it.

And this is probably my issue.

In a live instant message chat — one to one or one to many — continuous (chatty) messages are fine.

I’m not happy with it on Twitter though. Because of relevance.

In many of the Twitter streams I’ve looked at recently, a whopping 95% of output is bollocks. Bollocks that I don’t understand.


@someuser Yeah me too! x

What the flock is that about?

How is that enriching my experience?

That should be a direct reply. Right?

Why the fook am I being exposed to this drivel?

And why doesn’t the originator think about this.

Or have I totally missed the point of Twitter?

And if I have, then Twitter is a pile of shite and destined to go nowhere.

Can you IMAGINE 60 milion British Tweeters doing this? It’d be unusable and highly, highly irrelevant.

Here’s another flucking gem:

@someuser and @anotheruser alright chaps? See you there!

Yup. Bollocks.

What’s interesting to me is that the originator here has decided to ACTUALLY reference two friends in his message. Presumably those two friends then use something like TweetDeck or any number of other application/services to track their ‘public replies’.

And I’m sure they’re delighted to be mentioned, to get the message and to then react as they see fit.

But what about me?

This is, surely, the email equivalent of addressing a note to SomeUser and AnotherUser and BCCing your entire address book?

If I’ve subscribed to you, that means I’m interested in hearing from you.

Just ‘generally’.

I ‘generally’ want your updates.

Unless you’ve setup a username for a specific feed or the like, I am subscribing to read general stuff about you. I’m specifically expecting you to have some degree of self-awareness though.

My time and attention comes at a massive premium to me. Everyone’s time and attention is. Every moment spent flicking over to read drivel is another moment I don’t get to sit and relax. Or write a blog post. Or reply to an email.

So I’m in a bit a quandary. It ain’t working for me, this Twitter thing.

I think I’m pretty good at delivering Tweets. That is, you get automatic updates from @MIReview whenever we post and, now and again, when I judge it relevant, I’ll knock up a real time entry. Like if I’m sat in front of some chaps from INQ. Or the like.

Recently I’ve been experimenting with a bit of how I’m ‘feeling’ and some stuff semi irrelevant to mobile. And I’ve been making sure that any message I write is generally consumable in stand-alone form. You shouldn’t have to read back for hundreds of messages to get the context from my text.

So whilst a lot of other people are enjoying Twitter, I take heart that I’m not along. There’s another 3.something billion who aren’t bothering and aren’t really that impressed.

I’d really be missing something if Twitter was growing at the rate of Facebook.

But it’s not.

And that’s because it’s all ego based. And that’s finite.

I could only just keep up with the text messages being sent to me on the panel at Future of Mobile. Forget tracking the Twitter back channel. Too much irrelevance. Too many bollocks. Shite UI. Doesn’t matter what application or service you’re using, you can only properly track a back channel if you’re sat in the audience (or at home/work) doing fluck-all.

The other week I thought I’d check out the back channel ‘chat’ whilst sat on the Chinwag panel about the Future of the Digital Industry. I managed two glances at my handset before I really had to pay attention.

Similarly when I’m sat in the audience at these sorts of things, I find myself arsing about with my email and hitting F5 a lot in the hope that somebody-has-said-something-else. I often feel like a stupid rabbit or a hungry dog, sat there, pavlovian-style, waiting for input. And I miss half the presentation as a result.

Back to ego. I want to know what Stephen Fry is up to. I find his updates interesting because it gives an insight into his life and what he’s up to. Because normally you only get to interact with The Fry via a limited ‘public’ sanitised fashion via a 3 minute TV interview or the like.

The fact that he’s getting on a plane to film a new show in the States or the like is interesting to me. I didn’t wake up in the morning HOPING to get a Tweet to find out about Stephen’s travel plans. But learning of them via Twitter is pleasing. And I don’t get 50 updates a day from him either.

But sadly the vast majority of Twitter is not Stephen Fry.

Which leads me to my what-to-do-moment.

Switch it off.

I noticed that if people really want to talk to me, they phone me. Or they email.

What are your thoughts?

I *don’t* think I’m missing anything.

I’m sure that having 2,000 folk subscribing to your Twitter updates is useful in many ways.

But then again I’ve got about 300,000 folk popping in now and again here at Mobile Industry Review. Do I need to develop a Twitter ‘following’ as a separate project? Interestingly, the 300k folk who pop by do so at their leisure. And they rarely get fed utter bullshit about my breakfast. Or if they do, it’ll be in the context of me getting Phonejacked or the like.

So what am I missing about Twitter? Love the technology and the platform. Can’t stand the way most folk use it…

By the way, those Twitter messages I picked out — totally random. I made them up as examples. I’m not picking on anyone in particular.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

24 replies on “My arse with Twitter. Help.”

weeellllll it works if you're interested in updates from people you consider to be 'somebody'. that's why i signed up. not that i have much to announce to the universe – and it's all announcements (true that people don't review the importance of their announcements much – “watching some films”, oh no shit! fascinating). if you want discussion i propose jaiku.

I'm an avid Twitter user. I try to find people on there who entertain and inform me. Sure, I may not really care that someone's laptop has broken down or that they're moving house but as long as they're generally interesting that's fine by me.

Following about 250 people I can't keep up with everyone avidly but through keeping an eye on Twitter through the day I get a flow of information that can help me keep up with what's going on in the world and what's important to people. Through @replies I can build up online relationships with people that can be mutually beneficial.

You should only see the @replies between people you're following so as long as you find two people interesting their conversations between each other may also be relevant to you.

there was a recent blog post about the two types of twitter user – conversation and announcement (of course i can't find the link now 🙁 ), and how they both think the other one is doing it wrong.

this is my favorite quote about conversations on Twitter (especially as everything else; Jaiku, Friendfeed, Rejaw etc does it *so* much better)

regarding the use of the “back-channel” at conferences, this post… struck a chord with me (although i have only been to a few conferences in Europe)

@jonmulholland Dopplr does the serendipitous meeting thing a lot better than twitter *and* has a much lower level of overhead

The 'what did you have for breakfast' stuff is about “ambient intimacy” – it's useful for social networks, not business ones. I liked Twitter until people started doing their professional networking on it, then I lost interest.

Jaiku solves the reply problem, which is a big BIG bonus on its part. Plus it still sends SMS updates, although they're not configurable on a per-user basis which is a shame.

I really like Twitter. I’ve “met” a great many people on there, and people who read/listen to my books can chat to me on an equal footing. We can have intelligent/anarchic/strange conversations that include all kinds of people. There is also something about the challenge of compressing story into 140 characters. Ernest Hemingway was a great fan of being short and to the point, such as his six-word stories. I avoid people who use it to sell themselves or their stuff, and as a kind of communication tool. It’s much better than IM because the conversations are easy to join if you’re another follower, rather than having to be added to a group chat beforehand.

It suits the way I work, since I write for hours and sometimes need something to distract me. There’s a great creative challenge in conversation like this – you have limited space and often have the challenge of keeping up with entertaining responses. I’m also being exposed to a great deal more content (I found this post via Twitter) than I would ever encounter by merely surfing. I really enjoy it.

I don't mean this to sound like 'have you checked the printer is connected?' kind of advice, but have you found the view that's accessible by hitting right on the D pad after you launch the application? I'd been using the S60 client for a couple of weeks before I found that view by accident, and my gf also hadn't spotted it until I pointed it out.

I am entirely open to the possibility that we're both mentally incompetent, and everyone else found that view straight-away 🙂 I still think it should be the default though.

But Dopplr is Sooooo niche in that regard it will never get critical mass to be really useful. It needs to be a mainstream service like FB et al that is seredipitous.


Ewan – sometimes you sound just like Victor Meldrew!

I find Twitter operates on multiple levels for me. Some of the social chitchat is fun – particularly when you know the people well. I've had some great intros to tech companies via people who've contacted me on Twitter. I get news updates from BBC, The Economist, Breaking News etc. It's a ood source for tech stuff people are talking about. The 140 character limit keeps posts brief. Twitter isn't perfect but it's got great potential & can be a lot of fun.

fewer updates even though you follow multiple people due to the fact that most people don't travel that much (single city per day or less)

To keep up with twitter you need to login every day (or multiple times per day) to kep up with the constant cahngin of status, the Dopplr people seem to have tried to keep that to the absolute minimum required, whilst you still can get benefit from it.

Not sure about you, but for me at least there has been a recent “flood” of activity due to Dopplr asking for the answer to some questions (prompted via email so low overhead == i can do it when/if i want)

fewer updates even though you follow multiple people due to the fact that most people don't travel that much (single city per day or less)

To keep up with twitter you need to login every day (or multiple times per day) to kep up with the constant cahngin of status, the Dopplr people seem to have tried to keep that to the absolute minimum required, whilst you still can get benefit from it.

Not sure about you, but for me at least there has been a recent “flood” of activity due to Dopplr asking for the answer to some questions (prompted via email so low overhead == i can do it when/if i want)

Yes, you're missing the point. And you should probably use an app like Tweetdeck or a site like Tweetree to get the context that you're missing.

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