My Take on Twitter

15:45 Fri 08 May 2009
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I’ve been using Twitter for about three months now. I was fairly skeptical about it, but decided to try it out, and while I don’t think it’s now a completely essential tool, I do find it useful.

I use it and Facebook status more or less interchangeably. All my Twitter updates go to my Facebook status, although the reverse isn’t true—but since I haven’t made any non-Twitter Facebook updates since I linked them, that might not matter.

Twitter, though, has significantly less overhead than Facebook status, somehow. I think that part of it is because Twitter isn’t there to do anything except handle updates, while Facebook has all this other functionality attached to it. Another reason is that following on Twitter has less significance than friending on Facebook. Making it a non-reciprocal relationship changes a lot of the dynamics, and so none of the “am I actually friends with that person?” stuff applies.

So it’s like Facebook status, but more lightweight. But what is it actually for? Also, given that it’s much more public (unless you lock it, which is a different mode as far as this discussion is concerned), why would you use it to tell people how you’re doing?

Before I started using it, I thought that Twitter would be a form of social connection in the sense that people I knew would be tweeting their evening plans, where they’d be, etc., and that I’d do the same, and that it would facilitate in-person socializing. That hasn’t happened—people I know use it less for that than I thought, and I use it less for that, and it’s possible that I still plan ahead a little too much for that to actually work. This might happen at some point, but for me, Twitter as social lubricant in terms of real-world interaction hasn’t worked out.

It does, however, work very well as social lubricant for online interaction, something I hadn’t really considered before I started using it. This is partly because it seems a little ridiculous. I have myriad ways to talk to people I know online—email, IM, Facebook, discussions on their blogs, LiveJournal, my blog—how much do I (or others) need?

Nevertheless, that’s been its prime useful aspect for me. When I update, I’m esssentially saying “here’s something I’m open to having a conversation about”, and friends will comment on it in one way or another, often via IM. I look at other people’s updates in the same way, and this has led to more interaction with people. This is ridiculous because I already have so many ways to get in touch, but the fact is that it often seems a little awkward to get in touch (especially after a significant period of time has passed) with no “natural” topic of conversation. Twitter basically solves that problem, because your or their tweets provide that.

I discovered this early in my Twitter lifetime, with Sarah Milstein (appropriately enough). She’s been in my IM list for ages, but we hadn’t been in touch for a long time. A classic “I should say hi sometime” situation, where “sometime” can easily disappear into a time horizon years away. After I followed her on Twitter, she posted about looking for vector graphics editing alternatives to Illustrator, and I suggested Inkscape via IM, and we did some catching up. It was only when thinking about Twitter a day or so later that I realized that the real value of interactions like that is in the social connections that they make easier as much as the information exchange about the topic at hand.

Twitter: social lubricant for the chronically online.

One Response to “My Take on Twitter”

  1. Niall O'Higgins Says:

    Yeah, very good point you make. I just set up Twitter Tools for Word Press on my blog today so future updates will be pushed to Twitter and then to Facebook.

    That way I’ll at least be pushing blog posts out to Twitter as a sort of more humanly-readable RSS feed.

    I still don’t see how people can make the time to write multiple tweets per day, however. I just can’t handle context switching that much.

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