It seems like everyone who went to the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, last March came back talking about Twitter, the micro-blogging service that lets you broadcast bursts of information via text messaging. Alas, I didn’t attend, so remained a non-believer, as if I was a disciple who missed Jesus walking on water.
Nonetheless, I signed up to start Twittering (at mediatwit), and quickly wondered whether this was a waste of time. Does anyone really care if I’m picking up my son from preschool or having dinner with a friend? Rather than fight the tide, I decided to devote an entire week to Twitter and micro-blogging at MediaShift, to see whether the readers here could convince me that Twitter really was useful. Most of you have responded pretty positively about your experiences with Twitter, though some of you still couldn’t see the point.
In tallying your responses to my question — “Is Twitter a waste of time?” — as well as your comments on the other Twitter posts, I found that 11 people felt it wasn’t a waste of time, while four thought it was a waste of time. One of my worst fears about this whole week of Twitter came to pass when I got an email from Ian Elwood: “The last five posts [on MediaShift] have been about Twitter. This blog is starting to feel like a commercial.” I responded that that was not my intent, and that I was trying to take a more balanced, even skeptical, view of Twitter in my posts here.
And honestly, while others have been singing Twitter’s praises, I remain unconvinced. That hasn’t stopped you from trying. Joe Tao was practically gushing about Twitter. “Twitter is worth every bit of the hype they receive,” he wrote. “That said I would like a bit more public response to recent scaling issues affecting Twitter this past week.” Recently, there have been technical issues that have brought down the service for hours at a time.
Blogger/consultant B.L. Ochman is another of the many Twitter addicts. “I use it to stay in touch with business buds, and have found the community to be very generous with information and assistance, as I also try to be,” she wrote. “We’ve also broken a few stories ahead of MSM [mainstream media], which is fun. I used Twitter to create a community for a contest I did for Simon & Schuster…I don’t use Twitter on my phone because I just don’t need another form of distraction. So I am unlikely to switch to Jaiku or its competitors.”
Grayson is another blogger/freelancer who loves to use Twitter to stay connected and not feel as isolated. “I work out of the house, alone most of the time, in Atlanta,” she wrote. “This is often hard for a socially inclined person. Twitter is my, quite literally, window on the world…And when I was even more stuck in the house with a sick kid for a whole week, I got tons of support and empathy from Twittering parents too.”
OK, I get the business angle and the part about keeping in touch with colleagues. Kim Kreicker also points out the family angle, and just “checking in” with loved ones during the day.
“Twitter is great,” she wrote. “We have a circle of friends who all use it, and we all read each other’s posts. I am reminded that back in the 1960s, my grandmother would call her elderly widowed sister-in-law every evening, just to ‘check in.’ They rarely spoke for more than a minute or two. For us, Twitter is the same thing — just a little check-in without the bother of a whole personalized email.”
Despite all the praise and adoration heaped onto Twitter, there were a few people who remain unimpressed — besides me. Ra says Twitter has more hype than substance:
Personally, I don’t think it’s worth the hype it’s getting. It may be useful for very specific niches, but I don’t see what the company really brings to the table in terms of technology or concept. I’m sure most IM [instant messaging] infrastructures can be extended to do this.
Ben Rimes at Tech Savvy Educator didn’t like the format for Twitter as a way to communicate with people. “Twitter almost seems a step backwards from most chat programs, as the chat is relatively static, and requires users to seek out your posts rather than using a chat window in which the messages come to you.”
MediaShift producer Amanda Hirsch wondered if Twitter innovation was the right kind of innovation. “[Twitter is] another innovation that helps us communicate faster,” she wrote. “Where’s the innovation that helps us communicate better?
Tish Grier had probably the closest reaction to what I had when I tried out Twitter. She’d seen all this before.
“All this looks a heck of a lot like the early days of LiveJournal,” she wrote. “Maybe I’m just one of the few old people out here who remember those days, but my gosh! how my college roomies used to rush back from the dorm and post immediately what popped into their heads…So, really, is any of this new? Or is it just that the technology is there to magnify what folks started doing way back when…And just because it’s new, does it make it cool?”
That’s what I’ve been wondering ever since I started Twittering. Isn’t writing a blog already enough information for my readers? Do they really need to know my every move at every second? What are they gaining from this interaction, and what am I gaining from it? I know I should like it and believe in it, but I remain steadfastly unsure.
What do you think? Are you a Twitter believer or non-believer, and why? Share your thoughts in the comments below.